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“Think The Midterms Don’t Matter?”: Tell That To 70,000 Poor, Uninsured People In Maine

The stakes of the 2014 midterm elections, as many have noted, seem awfully low. Yes, control of the Senate is up for grabs, but there’s only so much Republicans will be able to accomplish in the face of the veto and filibuster. As my own colleagues have pointed out, this is an overly sanguine view of the matter. But the tendency to underplay the election is especially misplaced when it comes to races for governor and state legislature. Consider Maine, where a new development in the race for governor may well have just won some 70,000 people health coverage.

Maine’s current governor is Paul LePage, a Republican elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave whose defining legacy—even more than outrageous comments such as telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” saying President Obama “hates white people” and comparing the IRS to the Gestapo—will be his profound antipathy to the social safety net that so many people rely on in Maine, New England’s poorest state. As the Wall Street Journal recently summarized, LePage, a former millworker who was the eldest of 18 children in an abusive home and a teenage runaway, “pushed for new laws that required drug testing for certain beneficiaries linked to drug crimes and created stricter income limits on childless workers who collected Medicaid. He also let a food-stamp waiver expire, a move that effectively terminates benefits for able-bodied childless workers after three months. His changes to food stamps, Medicaid and cash-assistance programs helped cut the beneficiary rolls from recent peaks by 11%, 12%, and 56%, respectively.”

And he has vetoed—not once, but thrice—the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would cover nearly 70,000 people in the state—that is, more people than live in Portland, the state’s largest city. This explains Maine’s remarkable singularity on the lower of these two eye-catching maps, where it stands out as the only state in New England with large numbers of uninsured.

How did Maine, a state that went for Barack Obama by more than 15 points in 2012, elect such a person as its governor? By a fluke. LePage got only 38 percent of the vote in 2010, but that was enough to win, as Democrats split their votes between Eliot Cutler, a wealthy businessman running as an independent, and Libby Mitchell, the Democratic state Senate president.

And as cringe-inducing as LePage’s tenure has been for a state known for a more sober form of politics, it’s been looking like LePage might just pull a repeat. Cutler is running again this year alongside a different Democrat, Congressman Mike Michaud. Cutler’s drawing less support than he got in 2010, when he far surpassed Mitchell, but he’s been getting more than enough to pose a real problem for Michaud: a Portland Press-Herald poll released over the weekend found LePage getting 45 percent to Michaud’s 35 percent, with Cutler drawing 16 percent. As averse as Maine liberals are to see LePage reelected, many simply have felt more drawn to Cutler than to Michaud, himself a former millworker who is more conservative than Cutler on abortion, gun rights, and other issues. (Michaud came out as gay last year, yet even national gay rights groups have been ambivalent about backing him over Cutler.) After months of LePage’s being declared one of the most endangered governors in the country, his prospects were improbably looking up.

Until Wednesday. At a morning press conference, Cutler sent a cryptic message that, while far short of a resignation from the race, was taken by many as a hint that it was time for his supporters to put beating LePage above all else. “I truly believe in democracy and the ultimate authority of voters to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason and I don’t think any voter, whether a supporter of mine or not, now needs or ever has needed my permission or my blessing to vote for one of my opponents,” Cutler said. “Nevertheless, I want to reiterate what I said six months ago: Anyone who has supported me but who now worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or by their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud should do so.”

If this message was a bit too ambiguous for the liking of some Michaud supporters, it was given a whole lot more clarity later in the day. Angus King, the highly popular former governor and now U.S. senator who is an independent but caucuses with the Democrats in Washington, announced that he was switching his endorsement from Cutler to Michaud. “Like Eliot, I too am a realist. After many months considering the issues and getting to know the candidates, it is clear that the voters of Maine are not prepared to elect Eliot in 2014,” King said. “The good news is that we still have a chance to elect a governor who will represent the majority of Maine people: my friend and colleague, Mike Michaud. And today, I’d like to offer him my support….This was not an easy decision, but I think the circumstances require that those of us who have supported Eliot look realistically at the options before us at this critical moment in Maine history.”

This was surely not an easy concession for Cutler (and secondarily King) to make, but they deserve credit for acknowledging, if somewhat belatedly, where things were heading. Politics is about real people, and in the case of Maine, starkly so. Tens of thousands of low-income Maine residents are far more likely to get a lot more economic security as a result of what happened on this one day.

 

By: Alec MacGillis, The New Republic, October 29, 2014

October 31, 2014 Posted by | Gov Paul LePage, Maine, Mike Michaud | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In America, Being Poor Is A Criminal Offense

It takes a special kind of bully to target the most vulnerable and neediest families in society, which millionaire politicians like to argue are draining America’s treasury.  I am referring to Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who recently introduced a bill that would require states to implement drug testing of applicants for and recipients of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.  This is reminiscent of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) failed legislation last summer to drug test the unemployed and those receiving other forms of government cash assistance, which ultimately died in the Senate.  So far, Boustany’s proposal is following the same fate as Hatch’s, but around the country states are taking matters into their own hands.

In at least 30 state Legislatures across America, predominately wealthy politicians are quite impressed with themselves for considering bills that would limit the meager amount of state help given to needy families struggling to make ends meet.  Many have proposed drug testing with some even extending it to recipients of other public benefits as well, such as unemployment insurance, medical assistance, and food assistance, in an attempt to add more obstacles to families’ access to desperately needed aid.

Florida’s Legislature has passed a bill that will require welfare applicants to take drug tests before they can receive state aid.  Once signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, which is likely, all adult recipients of federal cash benefits will be required  to pay for the drug tests, which are typically around $35.  In Maine, Republican lawmakers introduced two proposals that would impose mandatory drug testing on Maine residents who are enrolled in MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled residents.  Under a similar bill that passed both the House and Senate in Missouri, recipients found to be on drugs will still be eligible for benefits only if they enter drug treatment programs, though the state wouldn’t pick up the tab for their recovery.

In Massachusetts — where about 450,000 households receive cash or food assistance — a bill introduced by state Rep. Daniel B. Winslow (R-Norfolk) would set up a program requiring those seeking benefits to disclose credit limits and assets such as homes and boats, as well as the kind of car they drive.  His reasoning is “If you have two cars and a snowmobile, then you aren’t poor. If we do this, we will be able to preserve our limited resources for those who are truly in need and weed out fraud, because we know there’s fraud and we’re not looking for it.” State Rep. Daniel K. Webster (R-Pembroke) filed a budget amendment requiring the state to verify immigration status of those seeking public benefits.  Webster made it clear that his proposal does not mean he dislikes poor people or immigrants, but “this is all unsustainable and the system is being abused.”

This is rather shocking because I can’t recall any Republicans or Democrats demanding that the CEO of Bank of America or JP Morgan disclose inventory of their vacation homes, private jets, and yachts before bailing them out in what amounts to corporate welfare.  Nor did they insist that these CEOs submit to alcohol and drug screenings before receiving taxpayer money.  No objections were made regarding the immigration status of the people running these companies or whether they happen to employ undocumented workers for cheap labor.

Some would argue that corporations are different, in that they create jobs.  To that I will point out that corporations are making record profits, even as they layoff workers and pay next to nothing in Federal income taxes.  And this doesn’t even begin to scratch at the surface of corporate abuse by the very entities that are soaked in taxpayer money.  Just contrast these proposals with the way the rich are treated in this country with billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks.

This is simply an extension of a conversation that began in 1996, when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich passed bipartisan welfare reform, whose results have been tragic to say the least.  The 1996 Welfare Reform Act authorized, but did not require, states to impose mandatory drug testing as a prerequisite to receiving state welfare assistance.  Back then, unproven allegations of criminal behavior and drug abuse among welfare recipients were the rationales cited by those in support of the bill’s many punitive measures that were infused with race, class, and gender bias.

The majority of the proposals for drug testing require no suspicion of drug use whatsoever.  Instead they rest on the assumption that the poor are inherently inclined to immoral and illegal behavior, and therefore unworthy of privacy rights as guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment.  These proposals simply reaffirm the longstanding concept of the poor as intrinsically prone to and deserving of their predicament.  Jordan C. Budd, in his superb analysis Pledge Your Body for Your Bread: Welfare, Drug Testing, and the Inferior Fourth Amendment, demonstrates how the drug testing of welfare recipients is part of what’s called a “poverty exception” to the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment, a bias that renders much of the Constitution irrelevant at best, and hostile at worst, to the American poor.

Kaaryn Gustafson extensively documents the trend toward the criminalization of poverty.  She demonstrates how, in her words “welfare applicants are treated as presumptive liars, cheaters, and thieves,” which is “rooted in the notion that the poor are latent criminals and that anyone who is not part of the paid labor force is looking for a free handout.”  I would argue that given the disdain that has been shown for “entitlements” over the years, it won’t be long before this treatment extends to Social Security, Medicare, and even Financial Aid recipients.

The notion that the poor are more prone to drug use has no basis in reality.  Research shows that substance use is no more prevalent among people on welfare than it is among the working population, and is not a reliable indicator of an individual’s ability to secure employment.  Furthermore, imposing additional sanctions on welfare recipients will disproportionately harm children, since welfare sanctions and benefit decreases have been shown to increase the risk that children will be hospitalized and face food insecurity.  In addition, analysis shows that drug testing would be immensely more expensive than the acquired savings in reduced benefits for addicts

With regard to welfare legislation, it’s beneficial to highlight where on the class ladder members of Congress stand.  According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics released late last year, nearly half of the members in congress — 261 — were millionaires, compared to about 1 percent of Americans.  The study also pointed out that 55 of these congressional millionaires had an average calculated wealth in 2009 of $10 million dollars and up, with eight in the $100 million-plus range.  A more recent study released in March, found that 60 percent of Senate freshman and more than 40 percent of House freshmen of the 112th congress are millionaires.

Why is this so important?  Because very few of our lawmakers understand what it’s like to struggle financially.  Millionaires can generally afford healthcare without grappling with unemployment, foreclosure, or an empty refrigerator.  The majority of our representatives haven’t a clue what the daily lives of the people they represent are like, let alone the constant struggle of single mothers living below the poverty line.  They are constantly arguing that we all must sacrifice with our pensions, our wages, our education, the security of our communities, and with the belly’s of our children, while they sit atop heavily guarded piles of money.

With the ranks of the underclass growing and the unemployment level at a staggering 9%, it’s more clear than ever that the wealth divide between “we the people” and our representatives has caused a dangerous disconnect.  State and federal legislators claim to be acting fiscally responsible, but they support budgets that create unimaginably difficult circumstances for the lives of the most vulnerable people, especially children.  There is no question that these newest proposals amount to class warfare, and the longer we ignore it, the more it will spread.

By: Rania Khalek, CommonDreams.org, May 14, 2011

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Economy, GOP, Gov Paul LePage, Gov Rick Scott, Government, Governors, Health Care, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Maine, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Unemployment Benefits, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaparty Republican Governors Seek Big Cutbacks To De-Regulate The Environment

Gov. Paul LePage wants three million acres of North Woods forests opened to development. Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children’s products. Mr. LePage said workers’ and businesses’ interests should be defended “with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs.”

Another Tea Party ally, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed eliminating millions of dollars in annual outlays for land conservation as well as cutting to $17 million the $50 million allocated in last year’s budget for the restoration of the dwindling Everglades.

And in North Carolina, where Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, leaders recently proposed a budget that would cut operating funds to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources by 22 percent.

In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs. But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.

Governor LePage summed up the animus while defending his program in a radio address. “Maine’s working families and small businesses are endangered,” he said. “It is time we start defending the interests of those who want to work and invest in Maine with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs and Canadian lynx.”

When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority. Almost all state environmental budgets have been in decline since the start of the recession, said R. Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, which works with environmental agencies across the country. What has changed this budget season is the scope and ambition of the proposed cuts and the plans to dismantle the regulatory systems, say advocates who are already battle-hardened. “Historically, we’ve taken pride in being a leader in environmental quality in the Southeast,” said Molly Diggins of North Carolina, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. “But there is now such fervor to reduce the size of the environmental agency. The atmosphere is the most vitriolic it’s ever been.”

David Guest, the managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national environmental law firm, said Governor Scott’s budget was “the most radical anti-environmental budget” he had seen in two decades of environmental work. Comparing Mr. Scott’s proposed changes with those of Florida’s previous Republican governors, including Jeb Bush, he called them “a whole new world.”

The strategies have been similar across the affected states: cut budgets and personnel at regulatory agencies, prevent the issuing of new regulations, roll back land conservation and, if possible, eliminate planning boards that monitor, restrict or permit building development.

In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Chris Christie, another favorite among Tea Party loyalists, has said the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, which preserves more than 800,000 acres of open land that supplies drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s residents, is an infringement on property rights. Mr. Christie has moved to shift power from planning boards and government agencies to administrative judges, political appointees who, environmentalists say, tend to rule more often in favor of developers’ interests.

In Florida, Governor Scott has asked to cut staff members to 40 from 358 at the Department of Community Affairs, which regulates land use and was created to be a control on unchecked urban sprawl. Lane Wright, a spokesman for Governor Scott, said the cuts would enable businesses to grow again in Florida. The governor “does care about the environment,” Mr. Wright said, “but feels it is more important to get people back to work.”

In the first round of federal budget fights, Republicans appear to have won some of what they sought: $1.6 billion in cuts from the E.P.A. and $49 million from programs related to climate change. But they fell short in other areas. Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington policy group, said that by his calculation the Republicans had sought nearly $10 billion in cuts related to efficiency and renewable energy but got less than $3.7 billion. “The Democrats successfully defended investments in clean energy,” Mr. Weiss said.

The eventual outcome at the state level is much less clear. Florida and North Carolina’s budget battles are in the early stages. In New Jersey, where Governor Christie has been in office since 2010, he has held up stricter drinking water standards, saying he is waiting for further research by the E.P.A. And yet, in Maine, Governor LePage’s agenda has engendered such an angry response that the newly elected Republican majority in the State Legislature seems to be backpedaling from many of its strongest components. Mr. LePage’s proposal to open the woodlands has not yet been introduced as a bill. And this month the Legislature made a point of enacting a ban on a chemical detected in sippy cups. All but three legislators voted for it. (Mr. LePage has questioned whether the science is strong enough to support such a ban.) Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Mr. LePage had not gotten everything he wanted, but pointed to some victories. The governor just signed a law that will reduce restrictions for building on sand dunes, and his proposal to provide incentives to businesses to police themselves on a variety of environmental regulations is still in the Legislature. “‘We will continue to move forward,” Ms. Bennett said.

By: Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times, April 15, 2011

April 16, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Energy, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Global Warming, GOP, Gov Chris Christie, Gov Paul LePage, Gov Rick Scott, Governors, Greenhouse Gases, Lawmakers, Maine, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Maine Labor History Mural, US Department of Labor: “Put It Up Or Pay Up”

If Maine Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t wish to display a mural depicting the state’s labor history, then the U.S. Department of Labor wants back the federal money used to create it.

The department said Monday that LePage violated the terms of a federal grant that paid for most of the mural’s $60,000 cost when he removed the artwork from state offices last month.

The request for reimbursement came in a letter to state labor officials from Gay Gilbert, administrator of the U.S. Labor Department’s office of unemployment insurance. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

Gilbert’s letter is the latest twist in a growing national dispute over LePage’s decision to remove the 36-foot mural from the state Labor Department headquarters. LePage said it was biased towards organized labor at the expense of his pro-business agenda.

The removal has prompted a federal lawsuit against LePage and two others.

The mural, in place since 2008, depicts scenes that include a paper mill strike in the town of Jay, a strike at a shoe plant in Lewiston, women shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works and former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, a native of Maine.

Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor, said he did not have any immediate comment on the letter.

LePage’s removal of the mural attracted attention at a time when lawmakers in Wisconsin and other states are considering measures to restrict collective bargaining by public workers. Labor advocates, artists and others say the mural depicts an important part of Maine history and belongs at the state’s Department of Labor office.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said last week that the mural is in storage and awaits transfer to “a suitable venue for public display.” She did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the demand for repayment of federal funds.

The mural was created in large part with a federal grant that provided 63 percent of the cost of art work. Gilbert’s letter said the state must return 63 percent of the current fair market value of the mural, which could now be higher than the $60,000 it cost to create it.

“Alternatively, the state could again display the mural in its headquarters or in another state employment security building,” the letter said.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has not commented publicly on the mural dispute. Her spokesman, Carl Fillicio, said she “has monitored the situation and asked staff to look into it.”

LePage’s decision to remove the mural was prompted by an anonymous letter to the governor’s office — signed by “A Secret Admirer” — that said the mural was propaganda in line with “communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”

By: Associated Press, Bangor Daily News, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, GOP, Gov Paul LePage, Ideology, Labor, Maine, Politics, Republicans, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Maine’s Assault On Labor History Really Means And Why Governor LePage Can’t Erase History

Maine Governor Paul LePage has ordered state workers to remove from the state labor department a 36-foot mural depicting the state’s labor history. Among other things the mural illustrates the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston. It also features the iconic “Rosie the Riveter,” who in real life worked at the Bath Iron Works. One panel shows my predecessor at the U.S. Department of Labor, Frances Perkins, who was buried in Newcastle, Maine.

The LePage Administration is also renaming conference rooms that had carried the names of historic leaders of American labor, as well as former Secretary Perkins.

The Governor’s spokesman explains that the mural and the conference-room names were “not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.”

Are we still in America?

Frances Perkins was the first woman cabinet member in American history. She was also one of the most accomplished cabinet members in history.

She and her boss, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came to office at a time when average working people needed help – and Perkins and Roosevelt were determined to give it to them. Together, they created Social Security, unemployment insurance, the right of workers to unionize, the minimum wage, and the forty-hour workweek.

Big business and Wall Street thought Perkins and Roosevelt were not in keeping with pro-business goals. So they and their Republican puppets in Congress and in the states retaliated with a political assault on the New Deal.

Roosevelt did not flinch. In a speech in October 1936 he condemned “business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”

Big business and Wall Street, he said,

had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

Fast forward 75 years.

Big business and Wall Street have emerged from the Great Recession with their pockets bulging. Profits and bonuses are as high as they were before the downturn. And they’re spending like mad on lobbying and politics. After the Supreme Court’s disgraceful Citizens United decision, there are no limits.  

Pro-business goals are breaking out all over. Governors across America are slashing corporate taxes as they slash state budgets. House and Senate Republicans are intent on deregulating, privatizing, and cutting spending and taxes so their corporate and Wall Street patrons will do even better.

But most Americans are still in desperate trouble. Few if any of the economic gains are trickling down.

That’s why the current Republican assault on workers – on their right to form unions, on unemployment insurance and Social Security, on public employees, and even (courtesy of Governor LePage) on our common memory – is so despicable.

And it’s why we need a President who will fight for workers and fight against this assault — just as Perkins and FDR did.

By the way, Maine’s Governor LePage may be curious to know that the building housing the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington is named the “Frances Perkins Building.” He can find her portrait hanging prominently inside. Also portraits and murals of great leaders of American labor.

A short walk across the mall will bring Governor LePage to an imposing memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt, should the Governor wish to visit.

Governor, you might be able to erase some of Maine’s memory, but you’ll have a hard time erasing the nation’s memory – even if it’s not in keeping with your pro-business goals.

By: Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, March 23, 2011

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Dictators, GOP, Gov Paul LePage, Governors, Ideologues, Maine, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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