Maine's Child Labor Law on Hardball

MPA's new ad on the attempts by Governor LePage and Republicans in the Legislature to roll back child labor protections was featured on Hardball with Chris Matthews last night:

Defense Vouchers: A Modest Proposal

With the growing consensus of the job-killing unsustainability of federal spending, an idea that has long been whispered in the corridors of power is now finding a wider voice among a striking coalition of fiscal conservatives, religious pacifists, Six Sigma business black belts, and traditional gun nuts.

On Thursday, Senator Horst Gelignite, ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee made the case for defense vouchers - excerpted below - from the Senate floor.

“For over two centuries strict constructionists have conceded the federal government a monopoly on national defense. Over that same period, per-capita spending by the military has increased in adjusted dollars at twice the rate of inflation. Yet is the world a safer place?  I submit that it is not.  By all objective measures, government militaries are an expensive failure. It’s time to boldly flip the status quo on its ear.

“Foreign relations are twentieth-century relations. American priorities need to reflect the times.  A disturbingly growing number of citizens no longer feel safe in their own homes. They’re choosing to practice their own defense paradigm, which is their natural right.

“Many of these people are choosing to invest directly in their own defense, whether it’s extra sash locks on their windows, weekend karate lessons, or a comprehensive basement arsenal.

“It’s not fair to make these people pay out twice, once for hardware and then again in government taxes. In today’s uncertain world, the defense dollar should follow the citizen. Read more »

Young People and Activism

My organizing mentors (those who have been in the struggle for 20, 30 years) often ask me why more young people aren’t out in the streets rallying, acting and pushing the way they did in the 60s. As someone who works directly with people aged 16 to 35, I often ask myself the same question.

The one answer I hate is: “They’re apathetic.” Well, excuse me, but I am not apathetic. I give a damn, but my actions today won’t be the same as if I had been 27 in 1968. It’s time that we all acknowledge that the world young people are living in and the realities we are facing are quite different from those of a generation ago. We must refrain from pointing the accusatory-finger-of-apathy at young people and take a look in a mirror. There are tons of reasons that youth activism today looks and feels very different from the 60s. However, for people who are most concerned with getting more young people involved in politics and political action, there are three challenges that young people face that I believe are the most significant. Read more »

LePage's First 100: More Bridges Burned Than Built

My assessment of Maine Governor Paul LePage's first hundred days is up over at Newsweek / The Daily Beast. The abstract: he's caused himself a lot of damage over matters peripheral to his agenda and shows little indication that he's going to stop doing so anytime soon.

While I wrote the piece with in mind, it was published wearing Daily Beast livery, as the operational merger of the two outlets is now complete, giving the latter control of all original digital content. The piece ran as written, but with a tabloid headline: "Maine's Madman Governor Paul LePage strike s again." I'd prefer they'd have substituted "volatile" for "madman," as the latter term calls for speculation.

For Maine politicos, a couple of tidbits that didn't make it into the piece: Read more »

Maine Leads Nation in Student Debt

Post-secondary education funding is one of those issues that I could go on about forever. My time as president of my student union in college and as chair of the Alliance of Nova Scotia Student Associations exposed me to too many books, studies, policy papers and personal stories on the subject to begin to summarize in a 750-word column.

This week in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, however, I try to lay out in basic terms where Maine is in terms of the financial burden we place on our students (the first or second worst state in the nation, depending on how you interpret the data), what this means for our long-term economic prospects (bad things) and some first steps to make things better (improving the Opportunity Maine program, re-investing in our public higher education system).

I restrained myself from spending the entire piece wonking out about the relative effectiveness of up-front versus after-graduation grant and tax credit programs on increasing access and decreasing debt, but despite that forbearance still barely scratched the surface of the issue.

I believe that the lack of investment in higher education and in Maine's young people is the largest sleeping threat to our state. It's ignored by politicians because it doesn't have the immediate effects of an issue like the economic recession and because current students, graduates repaying their loans and the tens of thousands of Maine children and families that give up on school for financial reasons don't have the organization and lobbying power of even Maine's whoopie pie industry.

Soon, however, as Maine faces an outmoded economy and demographic winter, it's going to become clear just how short-sighted we were.

LePage Communications Director Resigns

Communications Director Dan Demeritt’s resignation today is not unexpected for the under-fire, inner-circle member of the Lepage administration. Demeritt was listed as both communications director and legislative affairs staffer. His resignation followed media reports yesterday in the Portland Press Herald that he faced, “possible foreclosure on five buildings he owns…”

Demeritt was becoming a liability for the Lepage administration well before yesterday’s revelation. His emails caused concern in January.

“Once we take office, Paul will put 11,000 bureaucrats to work getting Republicans re-elected.” Dirigo Blue wrote: “But reading through the entire document, it is apparent that the incoming administration was preparing to use – whenever possible – the apparatus of government as a promotional tool.”

It appeared slipshod at best to make those comments in a written forum, brazenly arrogant at worst. In the weeks leading up to and following, Demeritt was prone to answering media questions in ways that befuddled the average Mainer. When asked about closing state government for bad weather, he said “The rule of thumb is: if Marden’s is open, Maine is open.” Read more »

Maine Gov. LePage vs. The Environment

The current conversation around political campfires here in Maine focuses on whether Gov. Paul LePage's star has already set, less than four months after taking office. I've argued here that he's certainly taken a hit, while Portland Press Herald columnist and editorial writer Greg Kesich has gone so far as to declare "the LePage era is over."

Murals aside, one of the principal causes of Mr. LePage's loss of influence has been his ill-considered assault on Maine's environmental and product safety laws, which has featured a range of proposed regulatory rollbacks that appear to benefit only the out-of-state chemical, toy, and pharmaceutical companies whose lobbyists wrote much of the governor's reform agenda. In this month's Down East, I explore the origins of and political reaction to the governor's rollback plan, much of which has been stricken from the relevant bills by the Republican-controlled legislature. Read more »

Church Schools Seek Public Funds

Maine’s private schools, like most other enterprises, are feeling the vise of recession. 

Over the past decade, Maine’s shrinking student demographics have disproportionately drained private school enrollments which are now 34% off their peak. Over the same period, public school enrollments have declined by 26%.

Religious schools, in particular, are now turning to the government for relief.

“Adequately financing these schools has always been a challenge,” Marc Mutty, lobbyist for the Catholic Diocese of Portland, told the Legislature’s Taxation Committee on April 6. “They need financial assistance if they are to survive.”

Recently remembered for warning against the consequences to schools from government sanctioning of gay marriage, Mutty and other religious school advocates hope to stem the decline in private enrollments by persuading the Legislature to appropriate ten million dollars in new public subsidy via tax credits to those who support private schools through tuition.

Two vehicles are proposed for this transfer of tax dollars: Read more »

LePage's National Embarrassment Continues

As Tea Partiers and the Maine GOP continue to drive the mural censorship story to new heights,  the national debate over Paul LePage's temperament continues. Today, it's The Economist, the high-brow news magazine, weighing in in their print edition on the state of Maine's politics.

MAINE’S politicians are mostly a polite bunch: think of George Mitchell and Edmund Muskie or the state’s two current senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of them Republicans respected for their moderate stances. Paul LePage, Maine’s governor for the past three months, is decidedly not cut from the same cloth as these worthies.

Gov. LePage Begins Paying Political Price

Maine's controversial governor, Paul LePage, has been in office less than three months, but he's already galvanized progressives, lost the support of two-thirds of self-declared moderates, and reportedly alienated leading figures in his own party, including party chair Charlie Webster and, now, nearly half of the G.O.P. Senate delegation.

Readers need little review of Mr. LePage's ill-advised actions and remarks, as they've been sufficiently outrageous as to have him in the national media spotlight on an almost weekly basis. From telling the NAACP to kiss his butt on the eve of the M.L.K weekend to joking (ho-ho) that the reason he supported the return of the banned substance BPA to baby's bottles and sippy cups was that the worst thing that could happen is that some women would "grow little beards" to marking the anniversary of the infamous Triangle Fire by announcing he would dismantle a mural of Maine's labor history hanging in the Department of Labor to kicking off Sunshine Week by denouncing users of Maine's Freedom of Access Act as being engaged in "internal terrorism," Mr. LePage has appeared hell-bent on making as many enemies as possible as quickly as he can. Read more »