Written by David Carkhuff
Health care coverage under Maine's Medicaid program took center stage Tuesday when President Bill Clinton campaigned with U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud in Portland.
Michaud, the Democratic candidate for governor, vowed to extend health care to nearly 70,000 people in Maine by accepting federal funding under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and expanding MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program.
Clinton and Michaud both took aim at Republican Paul LePage, who vetoed legislation aimed at expanding MaineCare.
"His friend, Gov. Chris Christie," expanded Medicaid in New Jersey, "but this governor still doesn't get it," Michaud said in front of a crowd estimated at 1,600 at the Portland Expo Center.
"His policy has hurt individuals here in the state of Maine," Michaud said, rousing the crowd while joined on stage by President Clinton.
"They will stop at nothing to tear us down," Michaud said of his opponents, warning that positive polling leading up to this November's elections should not overshadow the toll of negative ads against his campaign.
President Clinton said MaineCare expansion would improve the economy and reduce health care costs.
"This Medicaid expansion is for people who are working," and struggling to make ends meet, Clinton said.
MaineCare expansion proved to be one of the most contentious and controversial issues during the LePage administration.
In January, state officials revealed there was a $119 million shortfall in the state budget, most of which was caused by cost overruns in Medicaid, according to Republican legislators at the time.
The prior year, LePage noted that over the past decade, Maine's Medicaid program grew rapidly and moved away, he said, from its original intent to provide services for the most needy.
"Maine's Medicaid enrollment has gone from nearly 200,000 people in 2002 to 336,000 today and the total spending in Maine's Medicaid program has increased by one billion dollars since 2002,'' he said at the time. "Maine's previous welfare expansion did not significantly decrease the uninsured in Maine, which numbered 136,000 in 2001 and stood at 133,000 in 2011.'
The LePage Administration also has argued that expanding the system would be a betrayal of people on waiting lists.
Late last month, Michaud said, "Everyday that Maine waits to provide access to health care for nearly 70,000 people – including 3,000 veterans – lives are put at risk and money is lost. We shouldn't wait another day."
On Tuesday, Michaud said LePage was "too wedded to ideology," portraying him as a rigid governor who won't listen to differing views.
"What we need right now is real leadership," and a governor who can "bring people together to solve our problems," Michaud said.
Clinton echoed this theme, urging inclusive, cooperative decision making.
Citing his five terms as governor of Arkansas and two terms as President, Clinton said working across the aisle was critical.
"Everywhere in the world (that) people are following a model of inclusive decision making," the results are positive, but "everywhere in the world people favor division over inclusion and conflict over cooperation," the results are negative, Clinton said.
"There are actually places in this country now that are actually better off than they were before the financial crisis," Clinton said.
"Leadership is about having a vision, having a strategy," and Clinton cited standards of leadership success, including: "Are people better off than they were when you started?" as well as "Do children have a brighter future?" and "Have we come together or drifted apart?"
The audience roared when Clinton concluded, "The rest is all background noise."
Crossing party lines was another theme from Tuesday's rally. Michaud for Maine Communications Director Lizzy Reinholt said in a press release, "We want to make sure every Mainer who wants to attend this event is able to come and learn why Mike is the best candidate to lead Maine and bring Democrats, Republicans and independents together to strengthen Maine's economy and create jobs."
Michaud on Tuesday referred to his role in passage of "comprehensive, bipartisan" reform of the scandal-ridden U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and accused LePage of trying to "score political points by attacking me for a bipartisan veterans bill, a bill that even ... Mitch McConnell had the good sense to compromise on."
Brent Littlefield, Gov. Paul LePage's senior campaign consultant, in July challenged news reporting of Michaud's role in the VA reform legislation, arguing that his claims of credit for the legislation were overblown.
Recounting Michaud's advocacy for military veterans, Skip McIntosh, a Vietnam veteran and firefighter from Levant, described unwavering support from Michaud, particularly behind the scenes.
Describing himself as a "lifelong Republican," McIntosh said, "I thank you for being there for me."
Mayor Michael Brennan noted that the Portland City Council voted to join a compassionate community charter, championing these principles.
"There is one person every step of the way that stood in opposition," he said, "and that is Paul LePage."
Brennan said cuts to revenue sharing resulted in higher property taxes in Portland.
"He pitted one community against another, and one resident against another" by cutting general assistance, Brennan said.
Brennan also argued that "thousands of people in the city of Portland should have health insurance," foreshadowing the MaineCare expansion theme.
"As mayor of Portland, I need Mike Michaud to be governor," Brennan said, stating the same was true for residents.
Shenna Bellows, candidate for the U.S. Senate, delivered perhaps the sharpest barbs, saying, "Paul LePage has shown just how destructive Republicans can be when they are in charge. They don't seem to care who they hurt."
Bellows recalled a government shutdown under President Clinton that she blamed on Republicans at the time.
"It is time to stand up and be counted and make sure that President Obama does not face in his last two years what President Clinton faced with impeachment hearings," Bellows said.
Emily Cain, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, Second Congressional District, said, "You need a representative in Washington, D.C. who is willing to work just as hard as you do to make the tough decisions that will have to be made to move forward."
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said, "Just like the Republicans in Congress, we have a governor who is trying to take us backwards."
Clinton said Michaud possesses the temperament and leadership style to succeed.
"I believe this guy is going to an unbelievable governor," he said, after rattling off lessons of leadership and policy success.
Reciting a story of people in Africa greeting each other by saying, "I see you," as a token of respect, Clinton said, "This man sees everybody in Maine."
Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 02:20
Written by David Carkhuff
Michael Pock calls himself a "common sense person on the city council" in South Portland, but as an amateur politician seeking re-election this fall, he described himself as a "dark horse."
In City Council District 1, Pock won a seat vacated by Tom Coward in a special election in March 2013, carrying the election by two votes.
Last week while rallying for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Pock confirmed he has submitted his paperwork and ordered lawn signs for his re-election bid.
Being a conservative Republican in Southern Maine can be lonely, Pock admitted. He opposes a marijuana legalization referendum facing voters in November, and he pushed back unsuccessfully against opponents of "tar sands" diluted bitumen crude oil in their campaign to prevent the pumping of this Canadian crude to South Portland's harbor. Pock was the sole dissenting vote on the council as a Clear Skies Ordinance cleared passage this year.
"I voted against 'tar sands' (regulation) mainly for jobs, I mean I'm not in favor of 'tar sands' but I'm in favor of jobs," Pock said. "Right now the city is setting up a contingency fund, a legal defense fund, supposedly people will be volunteering money but I have a feeling if they do sue the city, it does get big, the city council will probably switch that."
Pock said he's being challenged by Rick Carter, a former chairman of the school board, who lost 180-178 to Pock in 2013.
Pock is the treasurer of the Republican group in South Portland and a recent addition to the "tea party" movement in Maine.
Asked about the political disparity in Maine, Pock was matter of fact.
"Up north you see LePage signs everywhere, but around here. ... Cumberland County and York County are pretty heavily Democratic," he said.
Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 21:52
Written by David Carkhuff
Three cities in Maine could be voting this November on initiatives that would direct local police not to arrest adults age 21 and over for possession of small amounts of marijuana — with the Lewiston City Council poised to forward the proposal to voters on Tuesday.
On Aug. 18, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to place the question on the Nov. 4 ballot.
On Aug. 27, the Marijuana Policy Project submitted more than 900 signatures to York Town Hall to allow for a public vote in November in that community.
On Tuesday, the Lewiston City Council is expected to either pass the measure or place it on the ballot, according to David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
In York, selectmen voted 3-2 against putting the question on the ballot, which prompted advocates to gather enough signatures to push for a referendum vote. Selectmen may review the renewed effort for a public vote at their Monday, Sept. 8 meeting.
In South Portland, councilors have voiced opposition to the legalization measure, but members felt they had little choice but to place the measure on the ballot, according to one opponent, Councilor Michael Pock.
"They put up a petition to bring it before the voters, so the city council could have adopted it right there on the spot but we decided we're going to send it to the voters," Pock said.
"They're trying to get one town at a time, and if they get enough of the big towns, then they will take it to the state," Pock said. "Based on the information we're getting out of Colorado, that's the last thing we need in this state. It's a mess in Colorado."
A group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana — describing itself as an "alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of 'incarceration versus legalization' when discussing marijuana use" — cited "early data showing increases in poison center calls, hash oil explosions, and stoned driving in Colorado."
SAM reported in a July press release, "In that state, where the legalization of retail marijuana began on January 1, crime has increased and marijuana revenue has barely reached a third of projections. The American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, and National Alliance of Mental Illness all oppose legalization."
Pock said South Portland's experience with the issue of "tar sands" bitumen crude oil made him wonder if a "no" vote by the public in November would settle the marijuana question. In South Portland, "tar sands" opponents lost at the ballot box, when a citizen-initiated "tar sands" ordinance was defeated by 192 votes in November 2013.
The City Council then acted "because of the widespread public opposition to tar sands," opponents said, and the council began deliberations on a moratorium the day after the loss at the polls. On Nov. 25, 2013, the South Portland City Council held a first reading on a "tar sands" moratorium and voted 6-1 to adopt it, with only Councilor Pock voting against it. In July, the South Portland City Council passed the Clear Skies Ordinance, which effectively reversed the public vote and banned "tar sands" from the city.
With marijuana, Pock said history could repeat itself.
"I'm hoping it will get voted down, but if it gets voted down, it's like with 'tar sands,' they could come right back at us," he said. "That's what was so bad about 'tar sands,' we won that vote. It was voted down, but then they put up a moratorium."
Saco and Lewiston also are poised for marijuana votes, as Citizens for a Safer Maine hopes to build on success in Portland.
In Portland, a legalization ordinance passed last fall, with over 67 percent of the vote. The ordinance referendum, on Nov. 5, 2013, was spearheaded by the Portland Green Independent Committee. The ordinance allows for adults aged 21 and over to possess under 2.5 ounces of marijuana as well as use on private property while specifically banning usage in public areas such as parks, sidewalks and roads, according to the Portland Green Party.
In South Portland, Citizens for a Safer Maine collected more than 1,500 signatures to forward the measure to the council. According to WCSH-6 TV, Pock said at the time, "That's the democratic way of doing this. Let the people decide."
Boyer said politicians continue to walk out of step with the public with their opposition to the concept of marijuana legalization.
"It's just another case of politicians being behind on the times.
Boyer noted that despite Maine's decriminalization of marijuana, pretty hefty penalties still face people who use the substance, outside of the medical marijuana program.
"The majority of Mainers and Americans are ready to move forward," he said.
"Opponents will jump on any headline that could be construed and use it to say making marijuana is a failure. But the Brookings Institute did a report and said it's a success," Boyer said, refuting some of the criticisms stemming from Colorado's experience.
In South Portland, where councilors passed a resolution unanimously against the proposed measure, Boyer could not predict an outcome.
"In Lewiston we have more support," he said, "and in York we have two selectmen who are supportive."
The Maine Marijuana Project reported, "If all goes well, Maine will have four localities where marijuana is legal for adults after Nov. 4, putting the state on the right track for passing a comprehensive measure to regulate marijuana like alcohol in 2016."
"This November we're going to be focused on crafting a statewide policy," Boyer said, predicting legislation out of Augusta. In 2016, a statewide initiative would require a signature drive, poised to start next year, he said.
Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 21:52
Written by David Carkhuff
In what might be a first in the phenomenon known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, employees of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Scarborough received a dunking courtesy of a ladder truck from the Scarborough Fire Department.
Typically, the challenge — an Internet craze that raises money for medical research — involves individuals being filmed as someone dumped a bucket of ice water on them.
On Saturday, Aug. 30, more than 30 employees of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, located near the Wal-Mart in Scarborough, stood in front of the eatery and waited for a ladder truck hose to douse them.
"They wanted to do it better," said Glen Deering, deputy chief with the fire department, who was on hand for Saturday's ceremony.
The group of employees, including manager Nick Malogerakis, gathered with bins of ice, while the truck's ladder extended over their heads.
The Texas Roadhouse Scarborough management estimated that more than 20 managers, wait staff, bartenders, cooks and meat cutters took the challenge on Saturday. The Texas Roadhouse team also accepted monetary donations for ALS at the event.
Deering said the department used a new 105-foot aerial truck, acquired this spring, which replaced a 1988 105-foot ladder truck.
The hovering ladder contained a hose, which sprayed the employees from above while they did the rest with their containers of ice.
Malogerakis said, "We got challenged by two other restaurants in town, Red Robin and Bubagoo Creek of South Portland."
Roughly 350 gallons of chilly water sprayed down on the employees, the fire department estimated.
Prior to taking the challenge, Malogerakis issued a challenge of his own to other Texas Roadhouse restaurants in the region, in a message that was taped.
On Friday, the ALS Association announced that donations had topped $100 million worldwide due to this summer's Ice Bucket Challenge. As of Aug. 29, the Association has received $100.9 million in donations compared to $2.8 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 29), the association reported.
"The word gratitude doesn't do enough to express what we are feeling right now," said Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO, in a press release. "We recognize a profound sense of urgency and are engaged in discussions about how we're going to put this money to work in the short term and into the future."
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, the association reported. The ALS Association welcomed the creativity of participants in the challenge, urging teams to use the hashtags #icebucketchallenge, #alsicebucketchallenge and #strikeoutals. "The Ice Bucket Challenge may not be suitable for small children, the elderly, anyone in poor health or animals of any kind, so please use good judgment," the association cautioned.
For more information, visit http://www.alsa.org. For more about Texas Roadhouse, visit http://www.texasroadhouse.com.
Last Updated on Saturday, 30 August 2014 21:54
Written by David Carkhuff
SCARBOROUGH — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said her reputation as a builder of compromise has resonated with voters, even as the tone in Washington, D.C. grows more strident.
On the third day of a bus tour that brought her to Mainely Wraps in Scarborough, Collins said the voters she has met during her tour appreciate her work to reach across the aisle.
Collins noted she led a group last fall that helped reopen the federal government following a Republican-led shutdown. The "common sense coalition" ended a government shutdown launched in the face of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
An impasse that could lead to another federal government shutdown has been foreshadowed by news reports this week. The Huffington Post, citing a Des Moines Register article, quoted U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, commenting that "all bets are off" about the fate of a continuing resolution to fund the government "if President Barack Obama decides to unilaterally take action to provide deportations relief for undocumented immigrants."
"If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear," King is quoted as saying.
Asked about concerns that President Obama acts outside of the scope of the Constitution by ignoring Congress, Collins said, "I believe the President has overused his executive authority. When he said, 'I have a pen and a phone and I'm going to use them,' that really troubles me. Because what he should be doing is building relationships with both Republicans and Democrats to allow him to come up with compromises. ..."
The Collins for Senator "All of Maine" bus tour charted a path through Penobscot, Somerset, Androscoggin, Oxford, York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties. On Thursday, the tour began at Congdon's Donuts in Wells and continued with stops in Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties.
"I've met hundreds of people along the way," Collins said of the bus tour, calling the outreach effort "a concentrated period of time to get to virtually every community in the state."
The bus tour will travel more than 350 miles in the first three days, and Collins and her supporters will continue the tour through all 16 Maine counties until election day on Nov. 4, her campaign announced.
The number one issue I've found is jobs and the economy," Collins said Thursday during her lunchtime stop. "People are still really concerned about whether their jobs are safe, whether their place of employment is still going to be there. That's been the number one issue. Second, I've found that people are sick and tired of the hyper-partisanship in Washington, that comes up over and over again. And people thank me for being one of the few who is willing to cross the bridge to the other side and try to devise real solutions."
Collins started the day buoyed by the endorsement of three unions representing workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers/AFL-CIO, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades — New England Council/ AFL-CIO, and the Laborers' International Union of North American/ New England Council all officially endorsed Senator Collins' re-election on Thursday.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, who launched her own tour earlier this summer with a 350-mile Walk Across Maine for Jobs and the Economy, has highlighted the importance of electing "progressive women" to Congress as the best way to protect women's rights. Bellows has made "reproductive justice, equal pay for equal work, overturning the divisive Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling and raising the minimum wage important themes of her campaign," according to a press release.
Last Updated on Friday, 29 August 2014 02:31