The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
Bottled or Tap
Is bottled water a “scam?” If so, we’re all suckers.
Scam is the word used by the Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, who wrote about the declining thirst for bottled water. The recession has sent water sales southward. Nestlé, which owns Poland Spring here in Maine, has said its sales are off 5 percent.
There are many valid criticisms of bottled water. Some bottlers have failed to disclose their water sources, which kept consumers from knowing the difference between Maine spring water, for example, and water sucked from municipal supplies. People should know what they’re buying.
Bottlers have also not done enough, until recently, to address the environmental effects of bottles; too many still end up landfilled. Addressing this problem, however, requires action by both bottlers and government, to promote recycling bottles before they become trash.
More than 90 percent of beverage containers in Maine are returned for a nickel deposit, for instance, which helps neutralize concerns about bottles just sitting in landfills for millennia as rubbish. If this system works here, it could work just as well in other states.
So there are solutions, and mitigations, to concerns about bottled water. Calling it a scam, though, runs against history. Water from Poland Spring was first sold commercially in 1859, after Hiram Ricker drank from it daily and declared himself cured of chronic indigestion.
That probably was a stretch. But bottled water still filled a niche, when public water systems were either nonexistent or flimsy, and lacking any of the rigorous cleanliness standards of today.
Before passing judgment on the modern bottling industry, it should be remembered safe, potable water was — at one point — a rare commodity, which gave it value.
What’s happened since is public water, with the development of new filtration technology now provides reliably safe water. It’s gotten so good, in fact, that municipal water is now being bottled and sold — the ultimate compliment.
This advent doesn’t now make all bottled water a scam. Instead, it makes it an option. Consumers buy bottles for practical reasons like convenience, portability, and taste, or, admittedly, for questionable reasons like better health, a sentiment lingering since Ricker’s time.
Whether these are the wisest choices, for the budget or the environment, are open for debate. The argument seems pretty simple: If you want bottled water, buy it. If you don’t, don’t.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
A Civil Debate About Marriage
In thinking about what the political climate might become in Maine, one of the things that everyone should hope could be avoided is the recent experience of California.
It’s not that the Golden State isn’t a perfectly fine place to live, if you aren’t worried about earthquakes. But California just went through a social upheaval equivalent to a major tremor over the issue of same-sex marriage, which there was approved by a decision of the state Supreme Court and then overturned in a popular referendum that amended the state Constitution to ban it again.
In Maine, the legislature has passed and the governor has signed a law permitting it. But unlike California, where same-sex marriages were legal for several months until voters overturned them, the Maine law is on hold pending a referendum.
In the course of the campaign there, California became the target of national groups on both sides of the issue. As money flowed into the state and advertisements both pro and con flooded the media, tempers flared, demonstrations grew unruly, friendships ended, and issues of support and dissent came to dominate not only the news and daily conversation, but jobs and livelihoods as well.
It would be truly unfortunate if the controversy over the issue, which will now be on the November 3 ballot as a people’s veto petition, took the same path here in Maine. Because the Maine Constitution requires that people’s vetos are listed first on the referendum ballot, the same-sex marriage law’s repeal is Question 1, appearing ahead of other ballot issues that include two tax-limiting proposals that otherwise might have dominated public discussion.
Those issues and other ballot issues shouldn’t be ignored. But public attention will inevitably be focused on the same-sex marriage issue, and it will become a topic of national coverage as the campaign progresses.
Some of the circumstances of the campaign will unavoidably have the same characteristics as California’s did. National groups are already financing media campaigns on both sides of Question 1, and the potential exists for the debate to grow heated.
True, strong advocacy for one’s position even in the face of significant opposition is nothing new to Maine or national politics. It has existed as long as the nation, and itself testifies to the democratic values we profess and the protections for free speech and the right to petition the government that are enshrined in our Constitution. But we also need to remember that this is an argument among people who live in the same towns, work at the same businesses, and even are members of the same families.
No matter what the issue, we can discuss it civilly and substantively. Unlike the outside groups, we will still have to live with each other afterward.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Building Better Candidates
So far, eighteen people have formally declared their intent to run for governor. Most of them you’ve never heard of. Fresh faces and new ideas can be a good thing, but at a time when the state faces unprecedented financial challenges, major changes in energy policy and infrastructure, and ongoing debates about the shape and cost of government services, the qualification for being the state’s chief executive should include a demonstrated record of strategic vision and making tough decisions.
Because Maine has only one statewide elected office — the governorship — there is limited opportunity for Blaine House aspirants to develop and showcase their skills. Electing the state’s attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurers — as most other states do — would broaden the path to the governor’s office, which would benefit both the public and candidates.
Maine is the only state in the country where the legislature picks the attorney general. It is one of only three to have lawmakers choose the secretary of state. The state treasurer and auditor are also chosen by the legislature.
The practice of choosing from among lawmakers, usually those who are about to leave the State House because of term limits, in the majority party severely limits candidates for these jobs. In most states, the people in these posts are elected by the public or appointed by the governor.
Either would be an improvement over Maine’s system.
A popular election to fill these posts would also broaden the pool of candidates, it would create new and needed stepping-stones to higher office, including Congress and the Blaine House. A statewide election for attorney general and secretary of state would enable voters to get a closer look at several candidates who may later aspire to the governorship or the U.S. House or Senate. This benefits the public and aspirants to higher office.
Elections, of course, have their downsides. Money sometimes determines the outcome and records are distorted. But this leads to the other major shortcoming of Maine’s current system — accountability. Because the state’s constitutional officers don’t answer to the public or the governor, they’re accountability is limited. Having them elected or appointed by the governor would improve this.
The benefits of changing the selection method — larger pools of qualified candidates, new routes to higher office, and more accountability — outweigh the negatives. Because they have long controlled the legislature, Democratic lawmakers have resisted any such changes and will continue to do so. This mindset is holding the state back at a time it can least afford it.
Make room for seafood processing
In 1950, there were forty-eight sardine factories in Maine. The last independently owned factory, L. Ray Packing Company, of Millbridge, closed in 2000.
We won’t get into the long story of how and why these factories closed down. But in the last thirty-five years, the Maine coast has changed considerably. Operations like sardine factories or fish-processing plants are no longer part of the fabric of community life, at least in part because they could not comply with new environmental rules to ensure public health.
So when attempts are made to bring back jobs based on seafood processing, these facilities may not be as welcome as they once were. Neighbors may think these facilities are more onerous than they really are and not give them a chance.
One example is Islesboro resident Seth Wilbur’s proposal to open a small crab-picking operation in Dark Harbor. He plans to cook and pick up to two hundred pounds of crab daily, employing two people. This is not a huge operation. But Sandy Oliver reports in the Working Waterfront that the Planning Board has received many letters opposing the proposal. And some abutters are concerned that Wilbur’s operation will generate flies and seagulls and smell bad.
There are local issues that come into play regarding Wilbur’s proposal. But it also raises a larger issue: How welcome will new seafood processing plants be along the Maine coast now that they have been absent for so long?
It’s a crucial question because Maine’s ability to rebuild sectors like the groundfishing industry, and keep the lobster industry successful, partly depend on new processing plants being built. It is so important that Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven) included three million dollars for grants and two million dollars for loans for food processing facilities as part of her bond bill (L.D. 894) to support traditional industries.
To be successful today, many observers believe that groundfishermen and lobstermen should fish in a more conservation-minded manner and carefully process and market what they do sell. The Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative opened a fish-processing plant in Port Clyde in March that employees twelve people part-time. The plant allows the fishermen to sell their own picked shrimp and processed seafood, allowing fishermen to make more money from the fish they catch.
It all sounds good: Local fishermen making more money by selling quality seafood that is processed locally, creating new jobs. As consumers, we’ll get better, fresher seafood. But it also means that we should accept the infrastructure that makes this all possible, including new processing plants operated in an environmentally