The Maine Viewpoint
Sun Journal, Lewiston
Getting L-A Wrong
Lewiston’s revival began before the Somali migration.
From the window of a passing jetliner, the social makeup of Lewiston-Auburn looks easy to evaluate: former mill towns, mired in economic transition, influx of immigrants, revival. Et voilà — instant cause and effect.
There’s a real jetliner in this case — a glossy printed one. Newsweek, in its January 26 edition, profiled Lewiston as the city “saved by refugees.” It painted the community as a mass of rundown hovels until the Somali migration saved it from crumbling ruins.
Sounds like a great yarn. We wish it had a shred of truth. Fact is, the revival of these cities is attributable to myriad factors and interests. No single segment has monopolized the future of the community; we remain an intricate tapestry, as always, woven from innumerable threads.
Of course, this story isn’t as good. “Central Maine cities have ups and downs” doesn’t fit within the vision of Newsweek, especially for its inauguration edition that devoted attention to the promise of President Barack Obama creating a new, post-racial American society. We hope he does — don’t get us wrong. But it strikes us that a real post-racial society will come along only when race is no longer noticed. In a real post-racial society, stories like Newsweek’s wouldn’t appear, because integration and racial harmony wouldn’t be news.
It still is, though, for good reason. To find the community Newsweek wanted to profile, it had to almost invent it from whole cloth. To the nation, Lewiston was held as an example of the good that growing multiculturalism can have. But the magazine went overboard.
While the Somali migration has improved this community, seeds of Lewiston’s revival were sown long before. Crediting one group for these advancements — regardless of which one — is plain unfair.
This is what Newsweek missed, for whatever reason. If the magazine wanted the real story about multiculturalism in L-A and its positives, here’s what we could have said:
• That after a difficult beginning, things have smoothed.
• This is due to tireless work of advocates, clergy, businesspeople, and social activists who got tired of seeing the cities dragged through the muck and worked to change it.
• While we’ve come far, L-A, like the nation, still has far to go.
• And together, we’ll get there.
That is the real L-A story Newsweek just plain missed. But despite everything, the magazine should be credited for something. It’s given us the chance to tell it.
Mount Desert Islander, Bar Harbor
Recently, telecommunications giant Time Warner filed an appeal seeking to stop redZone Wireless from obtaining a state grant to underwrite broadband Internet service on Mount Desert Island. Like many Maine communities, island residents don’t want to be limited to the slow speeds of dialup access via conventional telephone lines. Many, many residents live on roads or at the end of long private ways bypassed by cable television companies that cite insufficient potential customers per mile to justify stringing the wire. RedZone’s plan would provide such people with an option.
Time Warner, a company not famous for its customer service, is opposing the grant saying it would be unfair competition to provide state money for a private firm to compete against Time Warner. But cable companies such as Time Warner, and its predecessors Adams Russell and Cablevision, enjoy the huge advantage they obtained from government-exclusive contracts. And, what have they done to expand service to more remote areas? The answer — little or nothing.
Residents in recent years who have contacted Time Warner with requests for cable or broadband service often are met with stony silence or, worse, quoted ridiculous charges totaling thousands of dollars per household. In truth, Time Warner or phone giant Fairpoint, which offers limited broadband via DSL service within a few miles of its switching hubs, also can apply for these state grants funded with a surcharge on telecommunications bills. But they haven’t. Since ConnectME was created some three years ago, all the grants requested and made have gone to small wireless service providers seeking to bring access to folks in remote areas ranging from Monson to the Cranberry Isles.
It seems disingenuous for any giant corporation to try and stop competitors attempting to meet a demand they have been unwilling to address. Further, by challenging these grants, Time Warner is diverting precious resources away from these small companies, which now must spend time and money to respond.
Time Warner executives need to reverse course and sit down with redZone to discuss how they can work together to serve the public. In creating the ConnectME program, Governor John Baldacci set a goal of providing an opportunity to access the Internet via broadband technology to 90 percent of Maine residents by 2010. Blocking projects like the one redZone proposes for Mount Desert Island will guarantee that goal is never reached.
Bangor Daily News
A (Gay) Marriage Proposal
The recent announcement of two legislative bills that seem radically opposed perfectly highlights the path toward protecting marriage and ending discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. The solution, which a bill to allow gays to marry moves toward, is to separate the civil benefits of such unions from their religious aspects.
Aside from age of consent and preventing incest, the state has no interest in who marries whom. Neither does it matter to the state whether a wedding takes place at city hall or in a cathedral. Marriage, from a civil rights perspective, confers benefits to its participants — lower tax rates, health insurance benefits, visitation rights at hospitals, among others. These benefits strengthen communities by encouraging and supporting long-term relationships. Denying these rights and benefits to one group because of their sexual orientation is wrong and weakens communities.
That is why Senator Dennis Damon has sponsored legislation to allow gays to marry. “It is important to end discrimination wherever it exists,” the Trenton Democrat said.
The same day, House Minority Leader Josh Tardy said he planned to put forward a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
The two measures show the importance of the word marriage. Both the coalition supporting gay marriage and groups opposed to it talk of the special status of marriage. “Marriage confers a dignity and respect to a couple that a civil union does not,” the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition says in its talking points. A couple joined in matrimony by a notary public at city hall has the same respect as a couple who held their wedding at a church. But only the civil ceremony performed by a notary public was necessary to confer the tax and legal benefits of marriage. Such a ceremony can, and should, be available to all. Consigning gay couples to civil unions does not meet this goal.
At the same time, traditional marriage through churches also deserves respect. These churches have matters of deep faith to consider before offering the rites of marriage to any couple, and a church could fairly decide that certain couples don’t adhere to its beliefs. Separating these two functions — the state sanctioning a union wherever it takes place and a religion blessing a union because it meets its requirements — allows a way forward, while protecting marriage.
Senator Damon’s bill moves in that direction. A draft shows that it is carefully crafted to remove prohibitions in current law that prevent gays and lesbians from being married while affirming the rights of religious institutions to control who may or may not marry within their faiths.
As this debate begins, there’s time to recognize that there are honest differences of opinion both about who should be allowed to marry and whether a constitutional amendment is required to protect this distinction. But, while we recognize that ideas about marriage are deeply held and cherished, preventing gays from creating formal and legal ties is needlessly exclusionary.
Portland Press Herald
A Proper End to a Flag Flap
As it turned out, there was a simple and obvious solution to the “problem” of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at Gorham High School. And it was the proper people who came up with it, too.
The members of the Gorham School Committee, who are elected by the voters of their community to discuss and decide issues concerning the schools, did that at a recent meeting. They voted 6-1 to have the Pledge recited over the school’s intercom during daily morning announcements, with students and teachers either participating or not in their separate classrooms, as they desire.
That meets the free-speech requirements of the Bill of Rights, which has been held to require that people cannot be compelled to say the Pledge. And it also satisfies the community’s desire to have it be a regular part of daily school activities, as expressed in a petition signed by more than three hundred residents to have the Pledge
restored to Gorham High — where it has been recited only sporadically for more than two decades, school officials said. In addition, many Gorham High School classrooms lacked an American flag. Now eighty-five have been bought and installed.
The new plan is the best one for all concerned, reflecting both student rights and those of the community.
Journal Tribune, Biddeford
Betting Against a Racino
Similar to the way horses run around the track at a harness racing facility, so does the effort to bring a racino or casino to York County: it just keeps coming around.
Recently the members of York County’s Twelve-Town Group, a collection of officials of Sanford and the smaller municipalities, mostly located in the west, heard a presentation from representatives of Scarborough Downs. The purpose of the meeting was simple: Citing the defeat of a referendum to allow slot machines at the harness racing track in Cumberland County, the ownership is looking for a new home for the Downs. In their opinion, York County seems to be the most reasonable place for such a facility.
We can’t disagree more. Gambling remains a very hot button issue not only in York County, but in Maine, as well, and a long tradition of rejecting such propositions has emerged. In 2008, a referendum to allow for a casino in economically downtrodden Oxford County failed by a wide margin, while Scarborough voters, by 225 ballots, shot down allowing Scarborough Downs to expand to allow for slot machines. In 2003, voters of Saco and Westbrook denied the same move being tossed about to the Twelve-Town Group to let the Downs move either south or north from its present location.
And who can forget what occurred in Sanford in 2002, when the effort to build a $650-million casino for Maine’s Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Indian tribes, an effort bankrolled by a Las Vegas developer, went down in defeat.
Proponents of gambling will say welcoming the gaming industry will bring an economic boon to the area, and point to Hollywood Slots in Bangor as a shining example. The city receives more than $2.3 million in tax revenues from the slot parlor, and an additional 1 percent of the company’s revenues. The hidden costs, though, we believe outweigh the benefits. Even though funds flow into a community’s coffers, the industry promotes a vice that can ruin lives, families, and municipalities.
Despite “problem gambling” checks and balances employed by casinos nationally, financial failures still occur. Profiting from the weakness and suffering of others, therefore, isn’t a wholesome way of gaining tax revenues. Add in the need for greater town services, such as police and fire, for example, and we wonder whether the
burden of having such a facility in the smallest of York County’s towns, such as Hollis, is any sort of benefit.
One needs to just look at the current York County budget situation to know that asking for additional patrol deputies, for example, won’t be happening, thus contracted deputies would be necessary. They aren’t free. We believe that the members of the Twelve-Town Group should thank the members of the Scarborough Downs group for their presentation and simply walk away.
Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland
A Crisis and an Opportunity
There’s nothing like a crisis to focus the mind. The University of Maine System is in the middle of one now, and its response in the short term will have a major impact on its long-term future.
Like every branch of state government, the university system is facing a revenue problem. With no reasonable
expectation of more money from the legislature to keep up with demand for services, the system needs to cut costs, increase tuition, or some combination of the two. Neither road is palatable, because they both have a negative impact on the university’s core mission, which is providing the best higher education for the people of Maine.
But this crisis also presents an opportunity to restructure the system to fulfill its mission better. Chancellor Richard Pattenaude has put together a task force to make recommendations that would do just that. One of Pattenaude’s predecessors, Joseph Westphal, tried to reform the system by consolidating administration of its campuses but ran into a political turf war. Because it did not have enough support in the legislature, Westphal’s
restructuring plan was thrown out and his administration came to an end.
With many years as an administrator in the system, Pattenaude probably already knows what should be done to run the system more efficiently. But he is politically savvy enough to take the time to build political support for what needs to be done.
A lot has changed since the last attempt at restructuring. The rise of the Community College System has altered the university system’s role. And the ongoing economic crisis has made even skeptics understand the need for dramatic restructuring in and outside of government.
This time the crisis could focus Maine on building a better university system.
Portland Press Herald
Revisiting the waterfront
Portland’s history is the story of its commercial waterfront, from the days of schooners to the era of a busy fish
auction. The city’s strong commitment to its working waterfront was made clear in the 1987 citizen-initiated referendum that led to zoning that banned most development of non-marine businesses by the water, heading off an expected boom in condominium construction.
The zoning has served the city well. It has kept industries like fish processing alive in Portland in the only place that they could exist. The working harbor has been an attraction for tourists, who would rather visit a place with crooked piers and tugboats than sterile condominiums.
But new economic realities are threatening this vital area. Declining marine businesses are not producing enough revenue to pay for the maintenance needed to keep the waterfront viable. It makes sense for the city to look again at its waterfront zoning to see if there is a way to create more flexibility for mixed-use development.
The priorities should be clear: The working waterfront is important for both financial and cultural reasons and should be preserved. New development should improve public access to the water. But the city should be willing to explore trading an investment in infrastructure for some non-marine
development. Restrictive zoning will not bring the waterfront industries back.