Friday, January 12, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog # 2
For people new to these Observations: You might want to scroll down to Legislative Blog # 1, and read up. 


First week here my biggest challenge was finding my way around Augusta streets. This week a bigger challenge is finding my way around the legislative process in order to decide which sessions I want to attend in keeping with my major areas of interest: $ in Politics, Environment, Health Care, and Education.

Wednesday morning I wanted to attend Public Hearings on the Biomass Bond bills. It took more time than I planned to find parking as I passed by the parking garage before I knew it was there. I had to navigate my way around other parking areas and back to the garage. Then my printout didn’t tell me which committee was holding the hearing, and I assumed it was Energy and Natural Resources. So, going into the State House where my print-out told me I needed to be, I asked the attendant at the Check In if I was in the right place for the ENR hearings on the biomass issues in room 228 of the State House. He sent me to the scheduling office where I repeated my request. She said the ENR committee was meeting in the Cross Building right across the way. I went there and repeated my request at their information desk. She said ENR was meeting in Room 216. There I found myself listening to the tail end of a public hearing on Diversion of RGGI Funding. I had no idea what RGGI was. 

By then, I figured out I must be in the wrong committee, it was nearing 11:00, and I was frustrated and hungry, so I came back to my temporary home, ate lunch, and spent the rest of my computer time on Wednesday researching the Biomass Bond bills and trying to put together a schedule for Thursday.  So Wednesday was a loss in terms of observing the legislature at work. But, I keep telling myself, I get all these brain-health benefits from responding to such challenges.   

The two Biomass Bond bills propose funding for biomass infrastructure and low interest loans for capital investments.  An article in the Portland Press Herald by Scott Thistle  reports that sponsors agreed Wednesday to merge the two bills. Senator Troy Jackson, sponsor of the bill to provide low interest loans said, “By capitalizing on biomass energy, we have the ability to be a world leader in this industry . . . . The potential for developing new markets, innovating the industry, growing the economy and creating jobs is too great to pass up.” Governor LePage opposes the effort, calling it “corporate welfare at the worst, it can’t get any worse than that because they are coming in and they are telling you up front the only way they can survive is by you giving them a subsidy.”

In keeping with my core interests, I need to do much more research on environmental impacts from biomass, but from what I understand now, “Use of wood as a replacement for fossil fuels has thepotential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change mitigation.” 

However, the criticism about corporate welfare is troubling. According to a Portland Press article referring to an earlier proposal, taxpayer funded subsidies are proposed “to support biomass plants that are owned by a multinational private investment firm worth an estimated $33 billion and another publicly traded market capital company that reported $1.6 billion in revenue last year."   So this issue, too, raises the specter of the power and influence of big corporate money to affect our politics-- like the one I reviewed briefly in my Legislative Blog # 1 below about a proposal to give another multi-million dollar corporate subsidy to General Dynamics, owner of Bath Iron Works.  

And so it goes—always many complications in the legislative business of solving problems. I am a long way from being ready to testify on these issues.

As complicated as my effort is in scheduling my own time here and researching to prepare, I am gaining a new appreciation for the complex process the legislature faces in getting its work done on several hundred bills between now and April: hold public hearings and work sessions in committee to debate each bill; make committee decisions—ought to pass or ought not to pass; debate again when the bill comes before the full House and the full Senate; reconcile any differences between House and Senate. I suspect I have hardly scratched the surface of that process in this brief description.

Thursday was much better for me: parking and finding the right room in the right building in less than 15 minutes, hearing the issues I wanted to hear debated in the Health and Human Services Committee, and realizing I need to do more research to fully prepare for observations and writing about the issues. 



Friday, January 5, 2018

OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog # 1

I moved to Augusta for this Maine legislative session to pay more attention to issues I care about, to be close enough to testify frequently, and blog about my observations at least once a week. Full disclosure: I am a registered Democrat, a fiscal conservative, a liberal for social justice, a capitalist on micro-economics, and a socialist on macro-economics. I am sure I hold various other values I can’t think of at the moment that might mean I ought to register as a political independent. But “habit is habit and not to be thrown out the window but coaxed down the stairs one step at a time” (Mark Twain, I think). Besides, this life is so full of complications and challenges that I must fly by the seat of my pants with all my ideals. Hopefully, you will discover along with me and along the way what I mean by this introduction to my current project(s).

I moved in here Monday, New Year’s Day 2018, an appropriate day to begin one more time to change my life. At least for the next several months. Here is a room in a house with 5 other tenants and common kitchen, dining room, and living room with a TV which I vowed not to watch while here, and already failed at that by watching PBS News Hour every night. So preoccupied since Monday with setting up computer equipment and settling in (which involved way too many hours of finding my way and shopping for things I forgot or that don’t work, like my GPS car charger)  I missed an important public hearing yesterday on a bill attempting to prevent the gathering of petition signatures  at the polls. 

So now, to the meat of observed political matters for this week: 2 issues related to the influence of money in politics.

On Wednesday, January 3rd a public hearing was held on the effort to restrict the right of voters to petition the government. I did not hear about this hearing until after 1:00 PM, the time it was supposed to start. It seems many if not most of our state legislators, both Democrats and Republicans as well as our Secretary of State are bothered and frustrated by the referendum process that includes the gathering of signatures at the polls to get a referendum on the ballot. SOS Matt Dunlap has proposed a bill LD 1726  that includes a provision to ban signature gathering at the polls. He says the ban is not intended to restrict voter rights, but, he says “Sometimes signature gatherers are very, very aggressive [. . .] They take things right to the very edge and it causes issues [. . . .] this is a response to complaints we get from townclerks and voters themselves who complain to the heavens.” 

Anna Kelly from the League of Women Voters of Maine says eliminating the ability to gather signatures at the polls would “give an advantage to groups that have a lot of money [ . . . ] funded usually from big donors out of state,” 

A brief anecdote to further illustrate how this issue relates to money in politics: I have gathered signatures for referendum petitions at the polls, most recently for Ranked Choice Voting in the November election. I sat beside one other signature gatherer for a different cause who was being paid $180 for the day to gather 300 signatures. In a 12-hour day, he gathered something over 250 signatures by the time I left. I do not know what was to happen if he didn’t complete his goal. Perhaps he would have to gather the remaining signatures elsewhere to get paid. I hear about some gatherers being paid as much as $25.00 per signature for a well-financed campaign. At 300 signatures that gatherer would earn $750. In contrast, the gatherer paid $180 per day would have only earned a bit less than $1.66 per signature for the same number of signatures. At the polls both gatherers would have equal access to voters. Being denied that access, which gatherer do you think will have the best success in gathering signatures?

I do not and will not get paid for gathering signatures. I oppose getting paid for gathering signatures, for causes I support as well as for those I oppose. I do not fault paid signature gatherers. Knowing how onerous the job is, I believe it to be worth $25 per signature, but I do fault the gross wage inequality. I do fault the  elected officials who pay attention to donors more than voters when they legislate. I do fault the power of money.

I might have more sympathy with the complainers at the polls and with Dunlap’s bill if it were not for the consequences of allowing the power of money to control our Democracy. Restricting the will of the voters may not be intended, but restriction will be the conseqence. The increasing influence of money in politics is a major cause of the increasing disconnect between elected officials and the voters they represent.

Instead of restricting voters’ access to each other and to their government, we should look harder for a solution that eliminates the power of money in politics, the root cause of so many of our problems.

Next week, I hope to have more news of a proposal to give another multi-million dollar corporate subsidy to General Dynamics (owner of Bath Iron Works). According to Bruce Gagnon from Global Network, the bill sponsored by Rep. Jennifer DeChant (Dem-Bath) and Sen. Eloise Vitelli 
(Dem-Arrowsic) “to give GD $60 million over the next 20 years is still not written.  It appears DeChant continues to work with GD’s lawyers and lobbyists to complete the bill for Taxation Committee hearings that would be on January 22.”   

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

LOCAL WRITERS @ THE LIBRARY




THE MARK AND EMILY TURNER MEMORIAL LIBRARY
CELEBRATES THE FIRST SEASON
of
LOCAL WRITERS AT THE LIBRARY

featured writer: MARTIE PRITCHARD


celebrating winter holidays, a round robin of readings by

ALICE BOLSTRIDGE
LLOYD ARCHER
ORPHEUS ALLISON
LARRY PARKS
LARRY BUBAR

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 6:00 TO 8:00 PM
39 Second Street, Presque Isle



LIGHT REFRESHMENTS  FROM SORPRESSO’S



Contact 768-5827. 
Look for new season to begin in January 
with organizer Vaughn Hardacker.




Tuesday, October 24, 2017

LOCAL WRITERS @ THE LIBRARY


Readings, Talks, Book Signings, & Sales

PRESQUE ISLE—The Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library will host the 3rd in the 2017 series of local writers presenting their work at 39 2nd Street, Presque Isle, Maine, November 2, 2017, 6:00 to 8:00 PM. This event is free and open to the public with refreshments from Sorpresso.

FEATURED WRITERS:

Ginny White, a 1970 graduate of UMO, is a retired high school English teacher.  Born and educated in Easton, Maine, she has taught in Aroostook County—in Houlton and in Caribou throughout her professional career.  Since her retirement she has served on the SAGE board and has presented courses  for seniors at UMPI. Since her retirement, she has enjoyed reading, writing, and other creative pursuits. 
Jim Pritchard: worked on and managed the startup of various power projects including nuclear, coal, environmental, biomass, and wind; developed and patented a nuclear waste treatment process and subsequently consulted with the Soviet Union during the Chernobyl crisis. Now "retired," Jim assists Martie with her projects and is writing an epic thriller about stolen hydrogen bombs, Lost. Together Martie and Jim share a farm with a "new" puppy, and many other animals. They were the first farm where crops were grown for Catholic Charities’ “Farm for Me” project.
Martha (Martie) Pritchard: retired teacher, author of From Bombs to Babies – The Life and Times of a German War Bride, and facilitator of the book A Gift to the Future from the Leisure VillageWriters.

   




Thursday, September 14, 2017

BOOK PRESENTATION



OPPRESSION FOR THE HEAVEN OF IT
by Moore Bowen
pseudonym for Alan Mountain & Alice Bolstridge



Monday, July 10, 2017

Local Writers at the Library


July 19, 6:00 to 8:00 PM
at the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library 
39 2nd Street, Presque Isle, Maine
.
READINGS, TALKS, BOOK SIGNINGS 
with local writers  

Kathryn Olmstead: Publisher, editor, and designer of Echoes; columnist for The Bangor Daily News. Author with Philomena Keller Baker of Flight to Freedom: World War II Through the Eyes of a Child.

(photo unavailable)
Lloyd Archer: Author and poet, published in magazines and four chapbooks.  

Dennis Curley: President and CEO of Channel X Radio. Recipient of the 2017 NMCC President’s Award for 30 years of broadcasting excellence, outstanding local news coverage, and professional investment in our region. 

Vaughn Hardacker: Writer of thrillers; his 4th, WENDIGO, is just released; 5th is under contract.  

Alice Bolstridge: More than 100 stories, poems, and essays in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies. Author of a docu-fiction, Oppression for the Heaven of It, and a poetry chapbook, Chance & Choice. 

Refreshments from Sorpresso. 

Free and open to the public. 

Contact bolstridgea38@gmail.com.