Editorials from around New England
Posted June 9
Kennebec Journal (Augusta), June 8
When it comes to ranked-choice voting, Maine lawmakers certainly have heard the seven justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. But they also should be listening to the nearly 390,000 Mainers who voted last November for a change in the way the state runs elections.
Fifty-two percent of Maine voters approved Question 5, casting their ballot for an initiative that could bring more civility and consensus to campaign's marked by increasing, deliberate divisiveness, and end the incessant talk of "spoiler" votes that has dominated recent three-way races to their detriment.
But the merits of ranked-choice voting aren't the issue here. Those were debated at length in the lead-up to Nov. 8. Voters heard them — along with questions about the measure's constitutionality — and a majority clearly wants a new electoral system. At issue now is whether the Legislature will listen.
The matter is back in lawmakers' hands after the court last month unanimously ruled that parts of the ranked-choice referendum are unconstitutional, as the Maine Constitution in most races calls for election by plurality, not necessarily the majority as occurs in ranked-choice voting, once last-place finishers are discarded and their votes redistributed.
Maine Republicans, who would likely be hurt by such a system in statewide races, have never liked ranked choice, and are using the court's ruling to call for a full repeal of the referendum.
Some Democrats, apparently not as concerned about the will of the people here as they are with the 3 percent school-funding tax also passed in November, have joined them, and ranked-choice voting appears doomed.
That's a shame. The court's ruling should not be cover to sweep away the outcome of the November election.
Sure, the referendum as written likely violates the state Constitution. But the Constitution's preference for plurality over majority is not one of our bedrock, fundamental rights — it is not the freedom to speak one's mind, or freedom from discrimination or religious persecution. It can be changed — in fact, it has been changed before.
The language in the Constitution was changed from "majority" to "plurality" in 1880, after a contentious three-way race for governor ended with no candidate securing a majority, and two claiming victory. It led to a days-long standoff between armed men and troops on the lawn of the home of then-U.S. Sen. James Blaine in Augusta, now the governor's residence.
In response to that crisis, the Constitution was changed to make it clear that the winner of an election was simply the person with the most votes, however many that may be. It was a procedural change made in direct response to a specific problem. Ranked-choice voting was not part of the debate.
It is now, though, and Maine voters are well within their rights to make another procedural change to accommodate it. Legislators should resist calls to repeal ranked-choice voting, and instead send a constitutional amendment to voters. A clear majority of voters supported ranked-choice voting last November, and they deserve to be heard.
Concord Monitor, June 9
There are millions of Americans who believe in Donald Trump. They believe he has been treated unfairly by the press and establishment politicians of both parties. They believe he loves his country so much that he was willing to give up his glamorous lifestyle to be a lowly public servant. They believe that if his enemies would only stop hounding him, he would "make America great again."
It's unlikely that many of Trump's core supporters lost faith in the president as a result of former FBI director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. They stood by him when he admitted to lying about Barack Obama's birthplace. They stood by him when he bragged about sexual assault. They stood by him when he refused to release his tax returns. They stood by him when he used the office of the president to help his family's private empire. They will stand by him now, even as the stench of obstruction of justice grows stronger.
Moving forward, rock-solid support of the president won't be easy, but the comfortable counter-narrative prepared by Breitbart and Fox News will help. Those news threads, knitted together to form a security blanket for Trump die-hards, were fortified on Thursday by Comey's testimony about former attorney general Loretta Lynch. Comey said Lynch asked him to refer to the Hillary Clinton email probe as a "matter" rather than an "investigation," which Comey said gave him "a queasy feeling" — and rightfully so.
That part of Comey's testimony was important for the Trump people, most of whom seem to hate Clinton more than they like their president. And those people are easy to spot. Mention Russian hacking and they bring up Benghazi. Suggest that Trump is corrupt and they turn the conversation to Clinton's email server. Talk about Michael Flynn and they say, "What about Loretta Lynch?"
Clinton lost the election and has begun the slow fade into political history, but it's the Trump supporters who don't want her to go away. She is the reason they voted for Trump, and without her their vote doesn't make nearly as much sense. Trump didn't simply validate their hatred, he embodied it. Now, like Comey, they don't want to be alone with him.
Regardless of where you are politically, Trump isn't a likeable guy. He just isn't. George W. Bush, whatever you thought of his policies, always came off as somebody you would enjoy having dinner with. The same is true of Obama, a well-read, funny, sports fan with eclectic musical taste. Trump, on the other hand, is the bad guy from central casting. He's a bully — just ask the people who work for him. The way he has treated women throughout his life is repugnant. He lies frequently, and then vilifies journalists who call him on it. As a developer, he gained a reputation for stiffing small contractors just because he knew he was wealthy enough to get away with it. As president, he demanded loyalty from the director of the FBI and then fired him when he didn't get it. Trump isn't John Wayne; he's Liberty Valance.
There was no bombshell in the Comey testimony. Like most Americans, he thinks Trump is a liar. He believes the president tried to derail the Flynn investigation. And lordy, he hopes there are tapes. But at the end of the day, the people who have defended Trump all along will find enough to hold on to.
There are a lot of good people in this country who are all in on Trump. He told forgotten, marginalized people what they wanted to hear, what they needed to hear. He spoke to them when other candidates couldn't even see them. He nurtured their anger and helped it grow, then he rode that furious wave into the White House.
They want so much for him to be the hero that hard-working, God-fearing Americans have been waiting for. But sometimes, when you want something too much, it makes you blind.
Rutland Herald, June 7
Whether the United States participates or not, it is clear that the Paris Climate Accord has brought the world to the doorstep of a new era of energy production and consumption. At least, we can hope that is the case.
With the imperatives of climate change in mind, President Barack Obama pushed for the package of tax incentives that have helped usher in a whole new sector of the economy — renewable energy. President Donald Trump may have turned his back on the Paris accord, but the economy is likely to continue on its new trajectory.
Vermont is on that trajectory. Former Gov. Peter Shumlin used to boast the new energy economy has created 16,000 jobs in Vermont. That is not a figure to scoff at. These jobs include people in the solar industry who are erecting and maintaining the solar arrays proliferating across the state. They include builders retrofitting structures for energy efficiency and conservation. They include workers in companies connected to the wind power industry.
Gov. Phil Scott has pledged that Vermont would carry on as if it belonged to the Paris Climate Accord, meaning that Vermont will be allied with all the nations of the world except Syria, Nicaragua and the federal government of the U.S. It means Vermont will be allied with forward-thinking states, such as California, New York, Washington and Massachusetts.
The new energy economy is not just a niche. It is everywhere. A story in The Washington Post described how North Carolina, a state that voted for Trump, has witnessed the creation of more than 9,500 jobs in the solar industry. Across the nation 370,000 people work in the solar industry, compared to about 51,000 in coal.
The Post story described the thinking of a solar panel installer in Charlotte, North Carolina, who makes about $20 per hour. He did not complete college, and his solar job provides him a satisfying form of labor that could lead to additional training as an electrician. It is a job with a future that responds to the demand for renewable energy created by the continuing advance of climate change. The solar worker voted for Trump, but now worries that Trump's policies will hurt him economically.
Trump's infatuation with coal appears to grow out of a politically opportunistic exploitation of a myth about working America. Holding up coal miners as hard-working exemplars of American virtue allows the nation to overlook the economic and environmental exploitation of the rural regions where coal mining is dominant. If coal mining is such a great tonic for the American economy, why is West Virginia so impoverished? Coal miners themselves make a decent wage, but they also suffer coal-induced diseases that kill them. The national memory may hold dear an era when coal from Appalachia fueled the steel mills of Youngstown and Pittsburgh, but many of those mills are gone.
The Trump administration is so desperate to tout coal that Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was spewing falsehoods over the weekend about the purported revival of coal jobs. By conflating oil industry jobs and coal jobs, he was able to say that 50,000 jobs had been added, though virtually none were from coal mining.
The rest of the nation need not remain wedded to the mythology the Trump administration has used to justify its senseless abandonment of the Paris accord. Vermont now is free to join forces with the rest of the nation — including states like North Carolina that make up so-called Trump country — in promoting renewable power and energy conservation.
Republican policymakers have been left in the dust. Faced with policies promoted by Obama that have actually succeeded, they are left with fantasies about coal (or myths about the advantages of repealing Obamacare). Vermont's governor is a different sort of Republican, and if he carries out his promises to adhere to the Paris framework, he can show that it is possible for Republicans to forge a different path than the one promoted by their party's mythmakers.
The (New London) Day, June 9
The seriousness with which the state's elected leaders view the opioid crisis was reflected in the overwhelming, bipartisan support for a series of reforms aimed at improving the situation. The bill containing the reforms received unanimous approval in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who began the session by submitting his ideas, which the General Assembly then incorporated into the final legislation, plans to sign it.
In addressing the passage of the bill, Malloy was on target in calling the opioid issue "a complex crisis that does not have one root cause, nor does it have simple solution." But the legislation approved in the recent session is part of the solution.
Two provisions stand out: requiring insurance plans to cover detoxification deemed medically necessary; and requiring acceptance into detoxification programs individuals who want to get clean, even if they are not presently intoxicated.
Both these items would seem to make so much sense that they would not need the backing of state law. Unfortunately, those focused on the opioid addiction problem said getting insurers to cover expenses, and requirements that patients be high on drugs before entering a program to get off them, remain major impediments for those wanting to get straight.
Another change moves in the direction of having all painkiller prescriptions electronically submitted to pharmacies, an effort to cut down on forgeries. It does provide an exemption for practices that do not have the "technological capacity" for electronic prescriptions. In a subsequent session the legislature should sunset that exemption. Doctors need to get with the 21st century.
The bill requires doctors prescribing opioid painkillers to discuss the risks with patients, something that should be happening anyway.
What the bill doesn't provide is money for more beds or for technological improvements to better utilize the detox facility beds that are available. This is the product another crisis, the state's projected $5 billion budgetary shortfall projected over the next two years.
But the steps being taken by Connecticut should improve its standing in competing for the $1 billion in federal funds available to states through the Mental Health Reform Act, passed late in 2016.
This challenge confronting society can at times appear overwhelming, but from the community level, to our health and judicial systems, to the halls of power, Connecticut is chipping away at it step by step.
The (Greenfield) Recorder, June 8
A referendum can be a crude way to tackle complex issues, a process of last resort written into most state constitutions to allow voters to bypass their own legislators who are unable or unwilling to tackle issues of concern to their constituents. Legislators, not surprisingly, argue that the standard lawmaking process — involving House, Senate and governor — is better designed to deliver compromises that can address subtleties of our complex modern society.
In the 1980s, Massachusetts voters, tired of constantly rising property taxes that no one seemed willing or able to curb, passed Proposition 2½, which to this day has capped annual property tax increases. But even that law required modifications by the Legislature in later years to address the realities of local finance, allowing for local overrides and debt exclusions to fund school construction when the Baby Boom echo came along, for example.
Last year we saw the referendum process used successfully by advocates of legalized recreational marijuana. But now legislators are faced with trying to fine-tune that law, which many, even those who support legalization, think has several practical flaws.
And in recent days, state Senate President Stan Rosenberg has sounded the alarm over the potential for another referendum if the Legislature doesn't pass its own bill providing the state's workers with a guaranteed paid family and medical leave.
If a paid family and medical leave bill does not pass the Legislature this session, the issue could end up before voters as a ballot question, according to Rosenberg, the Amherst Democrat who before last year issued the same warning about legal pot.
Family and medical leave, which is a complex issue with many potential effects on employers, employees and the economy, may fare better in the Legislature.
The Senate last year passed a bill to create a paid family and medical leave program, and similar legislation filed in January has support from the majority of lawmakers — at least 93 representatives and 25 senators.
"I am hopeful that the Legislature will take this question up during this term and get it to the governor's desk," Rosenberg wrote during a question-and-answer session on Facebook last week. "It would be far better to do it in the Legislature than the ballot. Everyone concerned about this should contact their state representative, senator, and the governor."
House and Senate versions create an insurance program making workers eligible for paid leave to recover from a serious illness or injury, care for a sick or injured family member or care for a new child. The two bills differ in some areas - maximum weekly benefit is set at $650 under a House bill and $1,000 in the Senate — but both call for the leave to be financed at least in part by employer contributions and allow employers to require that workers contribute up to 50 percent of the premium cost.
There are no free lunches, and we imagine most employers and employees would prefer the money for such a benefit come magically from some other source. But that may be the benefit of taking up these ideas in the Legislature in full view of the public. Lots more open discussion — debate you hope ultimately leads to the best possible solution.
The bills are scheduled for discussion before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development at a Tuesday hearing.
The paid leave bills are backed by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, which led a successful campaign in 2014 for a ballot law requiring employers provide paid sick leave to Massachusetts workers.
The coalition also supports raising the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour and members have said a 2018 ballot question could be in the cards if that effort doesn't succeed legislatively. Raise Up Massachusetts spokesman Steve Crawford says the coalition is considering going to the ballot on paid family leave as well.
This, no doubt, is what has led the Senate president to ask voters to lobby his fellow legislators on family leave.
Rosenberg wrote in the Facebook chat that he has also supported "increasing the minimum wage for all of my 30 years in the Legislature."
"In the Senate we have also been working on closing the income and wealth gap, starting with increasing the minimum to enhancing access to benefits like paid sick time, paid family and medical leave," he wrote. "All of these can contribute to improving individual lives and families' circumstances as well as the economy as a whole."
We hope he's right. It will be great if Massachusetts can advance the welfare of its residents with such a benefit, but there are costs to be paid and shared. The devil is in the details, and we think that the regular legislative process is preferable to a ballot question on complicated issues like these.
The Providence Journal, June 8
In America, the people are supposed to run the government, and not the other way around. Unfortunately, far too many Americans fail to understand how rare and precious their rights are, or the responsibility they have to be well-informed about civics and history.
Many Americans are shockingly uninformed about the Constitution, including its Bill of Rights. They do not understand how our government works, or how it came to be. Many are blissfully unaware of the price paid by previous generations to secure the freedoms Americans enjoy today.
A survey last year by University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center found that just 26 percent of those polled could name the three branches of government, and other surveys over the past decade have found similar results.
A 2012 survey by Xavier University found that only one in three native-born Americans could pass the civics portion of the naturalization test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. In 2010, less than a quarter of high school seniors were proficient on the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Going back a little further, a 2006 poll conducted by the McCormick Tribune Freedom museum found that fewer than 1 percent of adults could identify the rights protected under the First Amendment — freedom to practice one's religion (or none at all), freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of wrongs. Instead, about one in five thought that somewhere in there was a "right to own a pet." Nearly as many thought the First Amendment included a "right to drive a car."
This is hardly what the Founders intended.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, said it is "every American's right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution." When people are well-informed, he wrote, "they can be trusted with their own government."
George Washington, our first president, wrote that "every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it."
Which raises a question: How can Americans defend their government if they are ignorant of how it works and what it stands for?
Joining a contingent of people who believe one solution is for public schools to reemphasize civics, state Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, introduced a bill this year that calls for the Rhode Island Department of Education to require the study of the nation and its founding documents in public high schools — a step at least eight states have taken in recent years.
Representative Newberry is not hopeful of passage. But he said his primary aim was to bring attention to the issue.
"North Smithfield has a very good program," he said, and as a result, students "are getting more engaged, they get involved in competitions, and they're just better overall educated citizens."
Given the lack of knowledge of our government that many Americans display, and the constant threat that politicians may try to erode their freedom or evade the limits of the Constitution, more comprehensive civics and history education is sorely needed.
Freedom can only stand if it is built on a foundation of knowledge.