Letter to Susan Collins

Senator Susan Collins
413 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Sunday, July 8, 2018

You have stated that you will not ask any nominee by Donald Trump their opinion on Roe v Wade, and that you will trust their commitment to upholding precedent in order to uphold it. You took this same stance with Neil Gorsuch. Just because he literally wrote a book on precedent does not mean that he will uphold them. I assume that you have paid attention to the batch of SCOTUS decisions that came out last week. How many of them did Neil Gorsuch vote with the majority to overturn decades of precedent? Last time I counted, the answer is “all of them”.

Mr. Gorsuch was pre-vetted and supplied to Mr. Trump by The Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative organization dedicated to raising ultra-conservative lawyers with the goal of getting them into court seats at the State and Federal levels in order to overturn decades of social progress. Such as Roe v Wade.

Every name on Mr. Trump’s list of 25 has been pre-vetted by this group. All of them would vote for overturning Roe v Wade.

And that is not the only “settled law” that Mr. Gorsuch, and whomever Mr. Trump nominates, would overturn. Considering their judicial origin, also on the potential chopping block are marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, the American With Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, and maybe even Brown v Board Of Education.

In other words, every single piece of Civil Rights legislation and judgement for the past 60+ years is in YOUR hands.

I therefor urge you to vote “no” on whomever Mr. Trump nominates. I would even urge you to withhold voting altogether.

In 2016, when Justice Scalia died, your leader, Mitch McConnell stated that he would refuse to entertain even any discussion of a replacement nomination “because it’s an election year” and The People should have a say in the next election. 2018 is an election year. If what he said two years ago is true, it’s also true today.  He then went on to break the precedent and change the rules. If this is supposed to be a non-partisan position, then changing the rules to allow a confirmation on a mere simple majority is a betrayal of that, and the prior rule of requiring a supermajority of 60 “yea” votes must be restored.

You allowed yourself to be lied to and betrayed last year with the vote on the tax bill that has decimated the Affordable Care Act. Learn from your mistake. I assume you have principles, though you split hairs so fine to justify your votes it’s hard to tell at times. Assuming you still have any, it is time and past time to make principled stand and stick to it. All of Maine is watching. All of America is watching. All of the word is watching.

Jeffrey Kaplan
Biddeford, ME

LePage’s Destruction of Democracy and Legacy

Five times since the Affordable Care Act was passed and signed into federal law, the Maine State Legislature passed and sent to Governor Paul LePage bills to expand MaineCare to more people in Maine. Five times, LePage vetoed it.

Let that sink in.

Maine’s Republican governor, who only got there with a mere plurality of votes (his first term, he got less than %40 of the vote hardly a resounding mandate from the people), has defied the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. This lead directly to the Citizen’s Initiative that became Question Two on last November’s ballot to force the issue directly from the citizens of Maine, a referendum that LePage cannot veto, to expand MaineCare to cover approximately 70,000 more people. Most of the money required to pay for this is provided by the Federal government through moneys already budgeted and allocated, all Maine has to do is say “yes”. And Maine has the money available for the downpayment before the federal funds kick in this year, and the ability to easily budget it in each of the coming years. The Referendum passed 59-41. It passed with not merely a simple majority, but an almost supermajority. More people voted for this than for LePage in either of his campaigns for Governor.

The referendum set a deadline for April for the LePage administration to submit a plan to the Federal government on how it plans to implement the expansion, with the expansion itself to be implemented by July 2. By law.

So what happened? The LePage administration ignored it. Let that sink in.

Various groups have since sued the LePage administration to force him/it to follow the law. The Maine State Attorney General, Janet Mills, refused to defend the LePage administration in this, so LePage hired outside council. The Court rendered its verdict on June 4: The LePage administration must follow the law as written and submit a plan, deadline June 11. With the implementation date on July 2. What happened next? On June 7, the LePage administration through the Department Of Health And Human Services filed an appeal.

This is just the most recent and most inhumane way that LePage is destroying democracy in this state. By acting contrary to what the people have repeatedly said they wanted, including by a direct ballot question. Then ignoring the result.

And all of the Republican candidates for Governor have pledged to follow LePage’s lead.

RCV in Maine

Ranked Choice Voting. What a sticky issue.

Initially, I was all for this. After all, since 1974, only twice has a Gubernatorial Candidate in Maine won with an actual majority of votes rather than a mere plurality, and both times it was the incumbent’s reelection:

  • 1974: James Longley (I)  39.7%
  • 1978: Joseph Brennan (D) 47.8%
  • 1982: Joseph Brennan (D) 61.9%
  • 1986: John McKernan (R) 39.9%
  • 1990: John McKernan (R) 46.7%
  • 1994: Angus King (I) 35.4%
  • 1998: Angus king (I) 58.6%
  • 2002: John Baldacci (D) 47.2%
  • 2006: John Baldacci (D) 38.1%
  • 2010: Paul LePage (R) 37.6%
  • 2014: Paul LePage (R) 48.2%

There are many reasons for this, not all of them due to political polarization between the Left and Right, as this trend has been going on for decades, during times of cooperation and freeze-outs between the Left and Right. A large cause of this is Maine’s tradition of Independent or Unenrolled candidates. It is not uncommon for there to be multiple Independent candidates for elected positions up and down the ballot, so even after primaries, since Independent candidates pretty much by definition do not have primaries, there can be three, four, five or even more candidates on the General Election. So it’s the outlier that can get an actual majority rather than the norm.

And the lack of majority support is a problem. When someone gets elected with a mere plurality, there WILL be lots of contention between that person and the majority of the people, who did not vote for them. This needs to be fixed.

Ranked Choice Voting is a way to do this. But even though we are using it in the primaries on June 12, and depending on the outcome of Question 1, may use it for some positions on the ballot in November. We’d be using it for US Senate and US House seats, it will NOT be used for Governor due to a 19th century Amendment to the Maine Constitution that specifies that State positions are to be decided by Plurality Vote.

I was initially all in favor of RCV as the way to fix this. After all, it’s an instant run-off method of voting. If your preferred candidate came in last, they are eliminated and your second choice then gets your vote. Lather, rinse, repeat until one candidate gets that 50%+1 vote magic number. Faster and cheaper than having run-off elections to accomplish the same thing. Perfect!

Then I started listening to people who’s opinions I trust who are opposed to this. Most of them aren’t opposed to it because they prefer the plurality method. They are mostly opposed to it because RCV itself can skew the results away from a true majority pick. Consider the Senate race. Two Independents, a Democrat and a Republican.

As a Democrat, I am going to rank the candidates Democrat, then Independent 1, Independent 2. And not rank the Republican at all. The Republican candidate is going to rank the Republican first and the Democrat not at all. They will probably rank the two Independents the same way as me and for the same reason: Independent 1 is the one we know and is better than the other party, Independent 2 is better than the other party. The Independent voter will likely vote Independent 1 first as he’s the known candidate not affiliated with either party, then it’s a coin toss for the rest, depending on the stance of Independent 2 and the voter’s left/right general leaning.

That is, assuming that all voters even rank more than one candidate. If Voter 3 only ranked one candidate and that candidate gets eliminated, then that voter has less say than Voter 1 who ranked all candidates.

Conversely, if Voter 1 ranked all candidates and their number 1 rank makes it all the way, then they too have less say because they did not get any input in the elimination rounds. Dose that matter? Yes. Because when factored in with the lack of ranking Voter 3 did, the final runoff may have had a different set of candidates, and thus maybe a different outcome as each lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated.

I am still voting YES on Question 1 to Veto the Legislature’s attempt to delay-and-repeal RCV in Maine. But only because it’s better than what we have now, not because I think it’s the answer.

Ranking the Democratic Candidates

Here in Maine, we are going to be using Ranked Choice Voting in the primaries on June 12, and there are seven Democratic candidates running. That means, that with the always-available Write In slot, we can rank up to eight candidates. I am ranking five. Two weeks ago, I was only planning on ranking four. So who am I voting for and why? Let me start with who I am NOT voting for.

I am NOT voting for Donna Dion. While she received enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, she tried and failed to qualify for Maine’s Clean Election funding, which shows a lack of broad support, or a lack of organization or both. I had seen her gathering signatures for her petition to be on the ballot, in person.  I have never seen anyone collecting signatures on her behalf, which again points to either a lack of support or organization, or both. Since she failed to qualify for Clean Elections financing, I had tried to find a campaign contribution site for her as part of gathering that info for ALL of the Democratic candidates for all positions that include Biddeford, and failed. When I attempted to reach out to her campaign to get this info directly, it took a week and a half to get a response, and it came from her directly, not from a staffer (again, lack of support and/or organization), and she does not have one. She takes cash or checks only through a PO Box. I am not voting for her because she doesn’t stand a chance, and has not shown any ability to even run an effective campaign, I am not going to trust her with the State government.

I am NOT voting for Janet Mills. I think overall she’s doing a good job as Attorney General, but that is a very different job. She has been able to block some of LePage’s bad policies. She has been able to work around some others (using a court awarded windfall to buy and distribute Narcam to multiple police departments after LePage kept blocking the availability through health care), using her discretion to decline to defend LePage’s policies in court, etc. However, she has also used her discretion badly.

She has been fighting to prevent the Penobscot Nation’s water rights to the river of the same name. Water rights codified and guaranteed in their Treaty with the United States. When she failed to block those rights, she has sued the EPA to loosen water protection laws as it pertains to one specific river, the Penobscot, which has the effect of denying the Penobscot peoples from using the river for sustenance because the water would then be too polluted to be usable. Janet Mills then joined in on a similar lawsuit in Washington State that has the same effect to a Native People there.

While she currently has a failing grade with the NRA, at one time she did have an A+ rating with them during her time in the State Legislature for voting down common sense gun laws that are again in the national consciousness after multiple mass shootings at schools and public venues.

(I am not going to address gun issues elsewhere in this column as everyone else is straight-forward in supporting common-sense gun legislation while still supporting gun rights in general.)

So, on to those that I AM going to rank.

In fifth place, Diana Russell. Honestly, one of the main reasons I’m ranking her at all is due to her work to get RCV a reality, even sacrificing time and energy from her Gubernatorial campaigning to fight to get the Citizen’s Veto on the ballot to restore RCV after the Legislature tried to kill it, then defending it in multiple lawsuits by the GOP. However, from what I have seen of her, she is a better activist than administrator. She was elected to the Legislature previously on an activist agenda, and from what I can tell, didn’t accomplish much. Her campaign now is one of an populist activist that is destined to be fighting the Legislature rather than working with it to accomplish even common goals. And she has now run into a couple minor campaign finance violations, one may have been a legitimate error, but the other is a definite should-have-known-better issue.

In fourth place is Mark Dion. I was going to leave him out until a couple weeks ago when I finally had the chance to hear him speak, just him not part of a panel discussion/debate. Former police officer, former Sheriff of Cumberland County, former State Rep, current State Senator. He is definitely more on the Conservative side of the party, but still, his Law And Order stance is tempered in a big way by basic Humanity. His law enforcement career has always had the focus of helping and working with the community. He helped setup community centers to get kids and others on the edge off the streets and into productive activities. Prevention, rather than clean-up.

Slots one, two and three, however, keep shifting, and mostly because of Adam Cote.

Last Summer, Adam Cote wasn’t even on my list, then over the winter as I heard more of and from him, he slowly moved up my list to number one, but now has slipped back down to two or three. Army vet, very involved in Clean Energy both in and out of uniform. He created and ran a company that dealt with assisting with making clean energy policy around the world.  But of all the candidates, he seems to be in a feud with Mills, with both of them twisting facts about the other. As noted above, I’m not voting for Mills anyway. So this is a bit of a knock down, but as it’s the only thing I have against him, he’s still on the list.

Probably my number one pick now is Mark Eves. Former family councilor, former State Rep, former Maine Speaker Of The House. In that position doing his job, he earned the ire of Gov LePage who used his bully pulpit to block an unrelated job offer to Eves when Eves got term-limited out of the House. Of those I’m ranking, Eves has the most experience in Maine State Government leadership. Mark Dion may have more time based experience, but not as high, which in my opinion gives him an edge on how to get things done, and get them done right.

Which leaves Betsy Sweet in positions two or three. She hasn’t worked IN the State government, but has worked WITH the government for decades on multiple issues and topics. She is also one of two Democratic candidates that applied for Clean Elections funding and the only one to qualify. I think that for me, Eves nudges above her only on the basis of in-government experience.