Monday, March 28, 2011

We Can Get There From Here

From around 1991 until 2003 we lived in South Portland. Our first house was on Marriner Street, and then we moved to Bowers Street. Our two children went to Small School. We bought and remodeled a small office building in Knightville that housed my law practice. We are members of the First Congregational Church on Meetinghouse Hill where our kids were baptized and I taught Sunday School for years. I currently teach in South Portland at SMCC, and am a regular at Hannafords and Nonesuch Books.

In October, 2003 we moved to Cape Elizabeth, and it was the 2004 presidential election that propelled me from frustrated bystander of American democracy to candidate.  When I announced my intent to run for office, some people said, "you will never get elected here because you are from South Portland."

I proudly served as a member of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council and have been elected three times as the State Representative for District 121.

Now I am running for the Maine Senate in District 7 which encompasses Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and a small part of Scarborough. Some people are saying, "you will never get elected because you are from Cape Elizabeth."

The people of Maine want substance and leadership in Augusta, and the four miles that separate my old South Portland address from our home in Cape Elizabeth is not a canyon that divides, but rather a community with shared history, values and aspirations. Until 1895 South Portland was a part of Cape Elizabeth, and the desire of people here is that government works for them, provides an equal opportunity to succeed, invests in a shared and propsperous future, and provide a critical check on capitalism.

My hope for the future did not change because we crossed a town boundary line, nor has my desire to serve. I continue to want and fight for good schools and opportunity for my children, a clean environment, and government that is accountable, responsible and effective at solving our collective problems.

I have faith the citizens of Senate District 7 will not use zip codes as a litmus test in the voting booth. There's too much at stake.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Feeling Closer to Japan

Parts of Japan are thirteen feet closer to the United States as a result of the earthquake, but it feels even closer. The multi-media images put you there. You can hear the crying, smell the fetid air, feel the damp and heavy sorrow and yet you remain paralyzed and useless in front of a screen. It’s the cruel irony of the modern world. Constant contact begets human detachment.

The more Friends and Followers you have in the cyber world the lonelier you get. Real friends and family get snubbed for an artificial universe of people you hardly know.

And yet technology has the power to bring immediately to the fore front what’s important. The bizarre, scurrilous and petty world of politics is momentarily muted in the face of a natural disaster that has broken families and washed away communities. Parents have lost children. Children have lost their past and much of their future. Heartbroken people are virtually naked, cold and alone.

At least not yet the earthquake and horrific human and natural disaster hasn’t been analyzed through the simplistic prism of left versus right. Like so many things, the rescue and aid to the people of Japan is not a Democratic or Republican issue.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ready to Recall Me?

Pretend for a moment that I am legislator. Now imagine me readings bills that would deny legal immigrants welfare benefits, require citizens of foreign descent to carry their papers or be arrested, require photo identification and proof of citizenship in order to vote, require candidates to prove citizenship, allow concealed weapons in the state house and in state parks, reverse constitutional protections for women, and make whoopie pies the state dessert.
Now picture me reading the GOP platform advocating for the protection of our borders, recognition of Jihad, the arrest and immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants (even if they were born here, are educated, working and paying taxes), a return to principles of Austrian Economics, and protection against One World Order.

In a moment of weakness, hypothetically, I blurt out “the GOP has been hijacked by radical, racist, Islamaphobic Tea Party people! They are not just Islamaphobic, they are really xenophobic! I mean basically they believe in sort of white, gun-toting, middle-America. I mean it’s scary!"

You could criticize my grammar. You might disagree with me. But since I'm an elected state official and not an employee of National Public Radio, you could not fire me.
Or, let’s say I was a constitutional officer and my job was to manage the state’s accounts, buy bonds and pay the interest, but instead I kept traveling to the state house to stand on a soap box and tell you falsely that Maine’s fiscal house is on the brink of insolvency.
Or picture for a moment that you are one of 62% of Maine people who did not vote for me as Chief Executive, you're unhappy with my performance, and all I have to say is, “kiss my butt!”

Even Donald Trump could not fire me because Maine, unlike 18 other states, does not allow a citizen recall of state officials.

Maybe it’s time we did.

Recall is a political procedure that allows citizens to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office by collecting a certain number of signatures and then having a special election. There are pros and cons, of course. Should citizens have recourse over elected officials who are not representing their best interests or incompetent? On the other hand, would too much 'democracy' lead to gridlock and give more influence to special interests?

You might be thinking, “yeah, okay, but I thought everything was supposed to be about the economy and jobs?”

An amendment to the Maine Constitution to allow a citizen recall of state officials might not only increase democracy and campaign spending, it could create jobs and bring desperately needed cash in to the state.

In Wisconsin, for instance, recall efforts are gaining steam with the help of groups from outside the state. Eight Republican and six Democratic senators have been targeted for recall. Nationwide liberal groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee, based in Washington, and Democracy for America, based in Vermont, have raised more than $500,000 online in the past week.

It really is about jobs, right?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Union Yin Yang

My Italian grandmother worked at Full Flex Rubber Corporation for over 40 years on the 3rd shift. A highlight of her life was meeting Ted Kennedy and Cesar Chavez as a member of the executive board for the United Rubber Workers Union. She took one three-week trip to Italy, and owned a tiny two-bedroom home with a garden and access to the Highlands Beach in Bristol, Rhode Island. The kitchen floor under the counter where I played was cool, clean and safe. Always sauce was cooking, and meatballs and pasta needed testing. Everywhere were bowls of nuts, tangerines and candy. A replica of da Vinci’s Last Supper was on the wall. The union enabled her modest success, and some of my fondest childhood memories.

When my grandmother sold her house, her lungs were choked with talc from the factory, and she moved in to the same brick building that had been Full Flex Rubber Corporation, now an elder-care facility.

Everything has shades of light and dark. When a group of unsavory thugs from a different union showed up at my family’s business in New York and pressured long-time loyal employees to organize, it was both frightening and heroic that my father caught the ringleader stealing gas from the company and fired him. Two of the former union presidents were rumored to have been murdered, and one found in a cement truck in the Hudson River. The union lost the vote 99 to 6. The business gave me my first job, put me through college and law school, and helped me buy my first house.

When Wall Street crashed the economy to the ground, government rushed in with tourniquets and bandages. Corporate America was rescued, but the bail-out had conditions attached. Stricter regulations and regulatory reform, while not perfect, were negotiated to protect the public interest.

Now unions and public pensions are being blamed for budget shortfalls in many states including Maine, and government should again throw a life line with conditions attached that will better American society, because big business and organized labor are polar forces that exist in relation to each other. The middle class of the United States is dependent on the balance of power between corporations and unions, and the government must protect the public interest by not favoring one over the other.

Wealth created by business helped pay for an education that led to a life fighting for the civil rights of employees -- many of them union members. Unions allowed a woman with meager means in the 1950’s and 60’s to enjoy the bounty of a middle-class life. The corporation she worked for polluted her body and reneged on its pension promises.

There is high and low in unions. Their contributions to society made the American middle class. Wages and working conditions were improved. Women were invited to the marketplace and empowered to fight for voting and civil rights laws. Children are protected from exploitation.

And there is hot and cold in business. Business supports jobs, families, and communities. The never ending hunt for market share, unchecked, however can lead to exploitation. Powerful interests influence government and get advantages. Greed motivates relentless quests for tax breaks, loop holes and preferential treatment. Hunger for profit blinds executives to the trials and tribulations of employees. Faces become numbers.

The role of government in tending to the balance between business and labor is the question. Unions are not perfect, but they are a necessary ingredient in the American Dream. The pension shortfall was created in large part by corporate malfeasance and dereliction of duty by previous lawmakers. The government can help craft a solution that includes concessions such as longer school years, charter schools, and healthcare reform that will protect union members and push the United States forward.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Taking Liberties to the Extreme Right at Work in Maine

When asked whether protests like the ones taking place in Wisconsin by state employees might come to Maine, Governor LePage said this to a Politico reporter:

“I believe that the Declaration of Independence says life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Whenever someone forces me to do something against my will, they're infringing upon my freedoms and my liberties. And that's what I think we're doing in Maine when we have fair share, which means that you are required to belong to a union, you're required to pay dues but you don't want to participate. I find that to be against everything the United States of America stands for…it's all about freedom and liberty.”

Of course it’s about freedom and liberty. Everything is now.

Governor LePage took the liberty, for instance, to completely and freely misstate the facts and the law. In Maine it’s against state law to require state employees to belong to a union or pay dues. Workers have the right to join a union and pay dues if they want, and a right to not join a union or to pay dues. If a public employee chooses to work at a union shop and wishes to not join the union, the employee can be charged his or her fair share of the costs of union representation.

Choosing to work where there is a union and getting the related benefits of higher wages and collective bargaining, but not paying a fair share of the costs of representation would be freeloading, right?

“Freeloading is against everything the United States of America stands for,” is pretty much what I said to Eric Bolling, the host of the Fox News show Follow the Money on March 2, 2011 when I was interviewed. “In Maine nobody is required to belong to a union or pay dues. Governor LePage misstated what the law is.”

I added a quip heard earlier from a friend. “It’s ironic that the party of personal responsibility is promoting freeloading.”

After confirming we actually have a Channel 179 at home, I tuned in at 9 PM and watched the show. My picture was on the screen as the live telephone interview played. I stuttered a bit, and was not brilliant, but I made the point. Governor LePage’s statements about Maine law were completely inaccurate.

Eric Bolling, the Fox News host who interviewed me, said he is a believer in the “free market.”

Of course he is. And he is free to put the link of the interview with me up on the FOX web site in contrast with all the others that support his world view, or not.

Bolling took the liberty of posting instead a panel of angry bozos screaming at each other about the evils of big bad unions and corrupt state workers.

Is that what the United States of America stands for?