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Economic Advisor Charged With Domestic Assault

Not much to say about this one:

"A well-known local Republican activist and investment counselor who is also a member of Gov. Paul LePage's Economic Forecasting Commission was arrested Saturday on a charge of domestic assault.

"Lawrence E. Dwight Jr., 54, better known as J Dwight, was arrested at his Wilton home after an incident involving his wife."

Dwight is also a member of the Maine Heritage Policy Center advisory board, a regular columnist for the Sun Journal and a prolific poster on As Maine Goes.

Update: From the Governor's Office:

"I expect Mr. Dwight will voluntarily step down from his position while the legal issues regarding his recent arrest are pending. Domestic violence is a serious crime with far reaching consequences. I don’t want these allegations to interfere in any way with the important work of the Consensus Economic Forecasting Committee."

Maine Health Care Showdown Looms

In case you haven't heard, this morning the Maine House will vote on a proposal to roll back health insurance laws in Maine. The bill would allow insurance companies to charge more based on age and area of residence and to bypass regulations by setting up shop in another state with weaker protections and selling across state lines.

It will likely harm seniors, people with pre-existing conditions, small business owners, and people who live in parts of Maine with less access to health care.

I say likely because at this point, Maine people haven't actually seen the whole bill, much less been given time to understand it. These provisions were rammed through as an amendment on Friday, increasing the bill (LD 1333) from four to 29 pages without a public hearing. Then, more changes were made yesterday afternoon after it was discovered that portions of the bill violated federal law.

In fact, the only people that seem to know everything that's in the law at this point are the insurance companies and the right-wing Maine Heritage Policy Center, both of whom bill supporters admit had a hand in writing the legislation. Read more »

'Flipping the Curve'

At the Governors' meeting in Washington on Monday, probably no one welcomed Bill Gates' gift basket book, Stretching the School Dollar,  more than Governor LePage.

Indeed, with every state executive facing down his own little bit of Madison, who would want to disbelieve that, to flip the achievement-spending curves, all we need to do to beat the test scores of the pesky Finns and Singaporeans is fire the bottom 15% of the nation's teachers and convey the savings as merit bonuses to the remaining stalwarts in compensation for the minor inconvenience of larger class sizes?

Then, one presumes, a similar supply-side subroutine could be turned loose on the medical field by retiring the bottom tier of doctors (as rigorously evidenced by -say- patient mortality) subsequently realizing both a dramatic uptick in longevity and a decimation of expense.

Plainly still jacked from this news at the conclusion of his own testimony at Wednesday's Appropriations hearing, Governor LePage sought to reassure Representative Fredette, whose teaching spouse stands to lose benefits under the Governor's budget, that teachers who survive the performance cut will enjoy some spoils. Read more »

The Past and Future of Maine's Anti-Poverty Efforts

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it can not save the few who are rich."

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy spoke those words in his inaugural address.

Understanding the moral and economic value to us all in lifting people out of poverty, some of the nation's and Maine's greatest achievements in public policy have been in fighting poverty: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Maine Equal Justice does an excellent job of explaining the programs where the state has a major role to play.

It should be no surprise that – because the programs are designed that way – use of income supports and medical assistance by Maine families has increased since the global economic collapse 2 years ago. And directly or indirectly, we all benefit when our neighbors have the resources to participate in the economy and when they have access to treatment that prevents illness. Read more »

MHPC Attacks Otten for Latest Plagiarism

Can't say I'm surprised that Les Otten has continued to appropriate other people's work for his own purposes.

Matt Gagnon caught the plagiarized passages, which are from this report by Steve Bowen at the Maine Heritage Policy Center and were used in this response to an education policy questionnaire by Derek Viger.

This, obviously, comes after several other instances of plagiarism were brought to light early in his campaign.

The Otten campaign offered a stunningly inept denial/apology.

Now the author of the report, Steve Bowen, has written a long post on the MHPC blog criticizing Otten for both the plagiarism itself and his campaign's response once the deed was uncovered.

Some excerpts:

Had the Otten piece simply been comprised of big sections of unedited text from my work, they could plausibly argue that they cut and pasted it into a new document with the intent of later adding quotation marks and citations. But what they did was rewrite and reorganize whole sections of it. You don't accidentally turn a paragraph into a bullet list, take out the bullets with which you disagree, then accidentally forget to cite the author of the original paragraph from which the bullet list was crafted.

Are they joking with this? [...]

We do not intend for our work to be used in a way that implies we endorse a specific political candidate, nor do we expect candidates to slyly suggest in their statements that we are somehow working behind the scenes to advance their campaigns. That appears to me to be what the Otten campaign is implying and it is both offensive to me and to the organization and potentially damaging to our credibility.

The Otten campaign has taken steps to apologize to me and to MHPC, but not for stealing our work.In their mind, it seems, this was simply an unfortunate accident, not a blatant attempt to pass off my work as the work of Les Otten.

I, for one, am not buying it.

In related news, fake Leslie Otten is back up on Twitter.

Update: Gagnon has found more plagiarized passages sprinkled throughout the policy documents on Otten's website.

One Down, Two to Go

Word was handed down by the Secretary of State's office yesterday that four citizen-initiated referenda were approved for the November ballot, including a referendum on providing medical marijuana, a proposed veto of the school consolidation bill passed last session, and two tax measures written and supported by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Maine Leads, a pair of conservative interest groups.

These two groups had also submitted a petition for a third referendum which would have deregulated Maine's health insurance industry, but every single signature was rejected due to a mistake in the signature gathering process. Apparently, the pages on which the legislation was printed were presented out of order, making it difficult for signatories to judge the full intent of the referendum.

Even if the petitions had been printed correctly, other signature collection and administration mistakes would have invalidated 9,509 signatures, according to the Secretary of State's decision, dropping the number below the 55,087 needed to secure a spot on the ballot.

All of these measures will make for an interesting election in November, but the campaign for the new TABOR referendum may be the one to watch. Will Mainers resent the fact that these groups are trying to push a piece of legislation that's already been rejected once, or will they feel that the state fiscal and political situation has changed enough (or has failed to change) so that this kind of blunt tax reform is advisable? We'll start to find out soon.

Republicans Split on Local Preference Bill

Martin Sheehan, Communications Director for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, responds by email to my post on Rep. Butterfield's local preference bill:

"I like this column, but disagree with the legislation because the government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers, or in subsidizing Maine companies by putting a "tariff" on out-of-state firms."

He reiterates his group's opinion that the state should spend more money with Maine companies, but stops short of advocating for creating a legal preference.

One Republican that has declared his support for the bill, however, is Cary Weston, the chair of the Bangor City Republican Committee (and who I wrote about in this column). Weston had this to say about the proposed legislation:

Being a small business owner in Maine, I think this is a fantastic bill to support our own. This bill deserves a lot of respect and consideration and I'm hoping both sides of the aisle participate in the discussion and move this forward.

That's high praise coming from someone tasked with working to defeat Butterfield in the next election.

Weston's vocal support has prompted a spirited discussion among the posters at AMG, a right-leaning message board.

Down East: Buy Local

I take a look at LD 327 over at Down East today. The bill would give a preference to local businesses when they bid for state contracts. (the links in that post seem a bit wonky, but you get the picture)

Lance Harvell was indeed sworn in as a legislator wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers tie. The Bulldog has a great photo:

MSEA: Open Government Website "Despicable"

The Maine State Employee's Association has weighed in on MHPC's new website, calling it "underhanded" and "despicable".

I'm trying to figure out the benefits to be gained from this denunciation. The state isn't likely to change its freedom of access laws and this rhetoric just raises the profile of the website. My guess is the MSEA wants to appear to its membership as if it is standing up for them and their privacy.

I'll admit I'm a little biased on the issue. My salary and benefits for the past two years have been publicly available, printed in the local paper and debated in public meetings. I don't see what the big deal is.

Two last points: as a commenter noted in the last post, despite standing as champions of transparency, MPHC is reluctant to reveal their own expenditures and funding sources. Second, what kind of tracking software are they using that was slowing down their site so much that they could only record "several thousand" hits? That's just weird.

New Open Government Website

MaineOpenGov.org is a new site created by the Maine Heritage Policy Center using information from freedom of access requests. It provides a searchable database of government expenditures including employee salaries, pension payments, and state contracts.

One would think this is the kind of thing the government might create themselves. After all, they did spend $481,411 on web site production contracts last year, according to this database.