The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
Bangor Daily News
GAUGING A RACINO'S IMPACT
For the last five years, Mainers have debated the relative merits of casino gambling, and in two out of three votes decided the risks outweighed the benefits. The exception is the $132-million Hollywood Slots racino facility in Bangor, which voters approved in 2003. The permanent racino facility, featuring a thousand slot machines, a 150-room hotel, and a 1,500-vehicle parking garage, opened recently to much fanfare, local and regional interest, and a small protest.
With the racino taking tangible form, there is an opportunity to lay to rest the speculation about the role it will play in the region. Boosters see it as an economic driver, drawing visitors in a spending state of mind from all over eastern, central, and northern Maine and Maritime Canada. Critics foresee those who can’t afford to play at the gambling facility being seduced into big losses, which in turn will spawn marital and family disintegration, personal despair, and crime.
Since Hollywood Slots is here in all its glory and not likely to go away, why not study its impacts in a comprehensive and scientific way? The nearby University of Maine — specifically its Center for Tourism Research and Outreach — is a likely candidate to do the work. Though Hollywood Slots is not obligated to cooperate, it should be urged to do so.
Some of the questions a survey should ask include: How many of the facility’s hotel rooms are filled on August 15, October 15, and January 15? What about other Bangor area hotels? Is lodging up over last year? From which regions are patrons coming and how much are they spending at the racino and in other businesses? Can the facility draw conferences and other professional gatherings? Would it work synergistically with a new Bangor Auditorium? Is the draw hurting nearby tourist attractions and businesses? And what about costs — are accidents, OUIs, burglaries, and domestic violence increasing?
The debate over on-site gambling in Maine will continue and will in fact have moved again to the front burner of Maine politics, since a referendum on the November ballot asks voters to approve a casino in Oxford County. A study would not be completed in time for November’s vote, but it could quantify the true impact of casino gambling as it works in Maine and perhaps pin down a cost-benefit perspective to inform future proposals.
Times Record, Brunswick
RULE OF WHOSE LAW?
Rebecca Pollard, spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party, called the recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling to bar independent candidate Herbert Hoffman from the ballot for this November’s U.S. Senate race a victory for the “rule of law.” For the sake of consistency, Democrats who swallow Pollard’s assertion should immediately and henceforth acknowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 decision to award Florida’s Electoral College votes to George Bush represents an equally valid affirmation of that same “rule of law.”
Though the details differ, these two courtroom decisions yield the same real-world results. Both disenfranchise voters and consolidate authority in the hands of political power brokers.
The court’s decision extends a trend. Judges, appointed by politicians, continue to build a body of legal precedent for a “rule of law” that transfers control of government from those who vote to those who get paid to govern — and win elections. The 5-0 ruling also fortifies the concept that the business of governing can no longer accommodate customer service. It erects barriers, not bridges.
The voters whose valid signatures coincidentally appeared on the petition documents voided in their entirety by the high court lost their right to participate in this element of the electoral process. The ruling overturns Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s laudable effort to protect that right.
Those petition signers now have no recourse. It’s the law, but is it justice?
Indubitably, Chief Justice Leigh Sauffley, in her opinion explaining the court’s decision, correctly interpreted the Legislature’s intent in 21-A M.R.S. § 354(9) that, “When a petition is tendered to the (Secretary of State) that does not meet the requirements of the petition laws, it must be voided.” However, in so doing, the court opted out of applying a fair remedy to the problem, which would have been to endorse Dunlap’s attempt to honor voters’ personal exercise of democracy. Instead, the five justices who overruled Dunlap affirmed the supremacy of rules made in the privileged environment of the legislature over the basic practice of grassroots democracy.
On the heels of the court’s June 17 decision to deny public access to documents and notes related to an independent review of the Dennis Dechaine murder trial (Moore vs. Charles Abbott, et. al.), the Hoffman
ruling strikes a second judicial blow against government transparency and the notion that Maine’s court system provides evenhanded recourse to regular folks who stumble into the path of the state’s increasingly high-powered political machines.
The jurisprudence that produced both verdicts cannot be impugned, but neither embodies the principles of fairness and participatory democracy that this nation’s founders sought to institutionalize in their efforts to create “a more perfect union.” These judicial excursions into the electoral process may reflect the “rule of law,” as interpreted by modern legal professionals, but they reflect neither justice nor “the American way.”
Lincoln County News, Newcastle
ANOTHER DIRIGO HEALTH TAX INCREASE
The award winner for the “you’ve got to be kidding” moment is the announcement that the Dirigo Health Board of Directors proposes siphoning off about eighty million dollars through something called the Savings Offset Payment to continue life support for the leaking hulk that is Dirigo, Governor John Baldacci’s flagship program that by now should have sunk like the Bismarck. Make no mistake folks, the fact that this decision will be passed along to anyone who is actually paying for their insurance in the form of higher premiums makes this a tax increase by another name.
The irony is that higher insurance premiums mean more people and small businesses likely won’t be able to afford to continue paying for their insurance privately, which means more uninsured who therefore should be eligible to enroll in the Dirigo plan, only they won’t be able to since enrollment is frozen because the program is out of money.
It is hard to interpret this action by the Dirigo board as anything other than a bureaucratic “up yours” to the 92,000 Mainers who signed the petition to repeal a beverage tax that was slipped through in the waning minutes of the last legislative session with the intention of keeping Dirigo afloat. The message here is, we are going to do everything to keep this economic disaster going except reconsider it, no matter what you voters think.
For all the talk about reducing health-care costs while increasing health-care access and insurance coverage for everyone, exactly five years after Dirigo was first proposed, the program has come extremely close to accomplishing absolutely nothing. Including this latest proposed cash grab, the total so far is well over $200 million with the return of exactly zero definitive results. In fact, insurance costs are higher than ever. Consider that the 12,050 people currently enrolled in Dirigo are less than 10 percent of the 130,000 uninsured Mainers who, in 2003, were supposed to be covered by the program by now.
Dirigo was and is a bold idea, pushed forward while others were content to stand around and whine, and we applaud the governor for launching a bold initiative. But it is painfully obvious by now, in the pocketbook if nowhere else, that the plan is not working. At this point it might be a wiser move to take a step back and try to figure out what can be done to provide for those who truly cannot provide for themselves, while at the same time ensuring that those who can provide for themselves have the ways and means to do so.
Courier Gazette, Rockland
A METHADONE SOLUTION?
The controversial Turning Tide methadone clinic is slated to open its doors soon to treat hundreds of opiate addicts who will be driving to and from the New County Road location in Rockland. Citizens opposed to the proposal came out in force in late 2004 when the clinic was first proposed. Residents raised concerns about patients driving under the influence of methadone after they receive treatment and expressed fears that some clients might wind up selling the drugs. Other people voiced concerns about a possible increase in crime in the area.
Angel Fuller-McMahan, owner of the clinic, is a self-proclaimed recovering heroin addict, with a past drug conviction. So she knows firsthand how serious a problem drug addiction is, how it impacts one’s life, and the importance of proper treatment. Her purpose in opening a clinic in the midcoast is to help others kick their drug addictions and to not have to travel an hour or more to get that critical help.
All of this makes sense, but so do the concerns of local residents. It’s difficult for most of the public to understand opiate addiction. To some it seems as though methadone treatment is simply swapping one addiction for another.
Critics of methadone point to its diversion as a danger to the community, especially among young people. Proponents point to its success in helping longtime addicts manage their cravings and lead a normal life.
Many wonder why opiate addicts cannot be weaned off the methadone and receive counseling in its place. But professionals say that methadone, a synthetic narcotic, is therapy for addicts whose habits have exhausted the areas of the brain most sensitive to opiates and who therefore rely on powerful methadone to achieve normalcy in daily life.
It’s clear Fuller-McMahan has cleaned up an old building that had long been an eyesore at the corner of New County Road and Glenwood Avenue. Time will tell if Turning Tide will also help to clean up the drug problem in the midcoast.
Sun Journal, Lewiston
PITY THE PYTHONS
One eight-foot reticulated python found in a Gorham washing machine is a novelty. Another eight-foot reticulated python found under a pickup truck in Wilton is a trend. But a trend in what?
It’s unlikely these pythons, native to Southeast Asia, would decide the Northeast is a better habitat. Plus, it would be too troublesome to even get here. Ever since Hollywood got involved, it’s been rough going for any snake on a plane. (Though, passenger traffic at the Portland Jetport has increased. We’re assuming all human.) Maine is oft-described as Eden-esque; perhaps these scaly visitors were looking for a convenient apple tree. Or maybe the Harry Potter series isn’t over, after all, and the House of Slytherin is making its next move.
We’d almost prefer these fanciful explanations to the probable reason: the snakes were purchased out-of-state on a lark, imported on the sly, and their owner(s) had a change of heart on the quick. How they wended their way into a washing machine and pickup truck is anybody’s guess.
But neither would have gotten there if their owners had used common sense in the first place.