The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Food from the Soul
Alma Jones’ personal pantry will be missed.
Alma Jones has the right name. Her first name means “soul” in Spanish. Her last name connotes an “everyman” (or “everywoman,” in this case).
And eighty-nine-year-old Alma Jones, of Washington, is the kind of old soul that every one of us would like to be. For the better part of two decades, Jones has operated a food pantry from the basement of her rural home. She’s traveled to Aroostook County in search of potatoes, to Waldoboro for bread, to Lewiston for food bank staples, and has been on the receiving end of many a phone call offering her a truck-full of this or that, if only she can organize the unloading onto her back porch.
She’s done it all, feeding from thirty-five to forty families with a once-a-month box of food. And she’s done it with such dedication and energy that now that she’s finally announced her retirement and the closure of her basement food pantry, there’s a big hole in Washington.
Victor Oboyski, one of the volunteers in town who is helping to reopen the pantry in another building, says: “It’s going to take five guys to be able to do what this one lady, at her age, has done.”
Or, as Oboyski’s wife, Paulette, puts it: “She’s just a magnificent woman.”
Amen to that. The world needs more of Alma Jones’ very excellent kind of soul.
Times Record, Brunswick
Broadening the race for Attorney General
The legislature recently elected the state’s attorney general. Given that the three candidates — Sean Faircloth, of Bangor; Janet Mills, of Farmington; and John Brautigam, of Falmouth — were all Democrats it was foreordained what party would be represented by the winner. Even if one of the candidates had been a Republican, a Green, Independent, or Libertarian, the Democrats’ majority status in both houses of the legislature would ensure the election of a Democrat this year as the successor to Steven Rowe, himself a Democrat who served in that post since 2001.
Is that a problem?
If your party is in the majority and has been for quite a number of years, as the Democrats have been in Maine’s legislature, probably not. You will cast your vote for the state’s top law enforcement officer with nary a thought for who else might have been a better pick.
Republicans, no doubt, will not feel quite so sanguine. And if you are a Green, Independent, or Libertarian, well, forget about ever having an attorney general elected in Maine, so long as your numbers in the legislature can be counted by hand (if at all) and our present system of electing the attorney general remains in force.
Which leads to the question: Is this the best way to select our attorney general? After all, this is an office that oversees the investigation and prosecution of homicides and other major crimes, investigations of shady contractors and officials accused of wrongdoing, enforcement of civil rights laws. The attorney general also advises the governor and legislature and represents the state and its agencies in civil cases. The AG also appoints deputy and assistant attorneys general who work in thirteen divisions that cover everything from consumer protection to enforcement of underage smoking laws.
Clearly, it’s an important office, one that impacts in some way each and every Mainer’s life. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to open this election process up to the rest of us?
Forty-three states elect their attorney general at the ballot box. A handful of others let their governors appoint them. And in Tennessee, the decision is left to the state supreme court. Maine is the only state in which the attorney general is nominated and elected by a vote of the legislature.
With all due respect to the legitimate qualifications of Faircloth, Mills, and Brautigam, Maine’s current process for selecting an attorney general suffers from the appearance, if not the reality, that it’s driven by politics and patronage, not competence. If the candidates come only from the relatively small pool of lawyers who’ve also served as lawmakers and are members of the majority party, we undoubtedly are closing the door on other candidates who might well be better qualified among the practicing attorneys and presiding judges in Maine.
Putting the attorney general on the statewide ballot would broaden the playing field, giving citizens the opportunity to hear from candidates from all the political parties, not just one. We believe the public would be better served by having a say in who becomes the state’s top law enforcement officer.
And while we’re at it, the same arguments could be applied to allowing voters decide the other constitutional officers now elected by the legislature — namely secretary of state and state treasurer.
Competence, not party politics and patronage, should be the chief determinant of who serves in these three key constitutional positions.
Republican Journal, Belfast
Belfast: Good, Bad, and just plain Ugly
When an addition appeared above Rollie’s this past spring, smack dab in the sight line from Main Street to the bay, we along with many other residents wondered if that was okay. We’ve since come to think that the feeling of change was more jarring than the thing itself. The addition, however, prompted a movement by the InTown Design Review Committee to give legal authority to the existing downtown design review process.
Recently the City Council granted the committee its wish, for a trial term of two years. We have several strong reservations about this path.
The disparity between the action of the council and the evident opposition shown by building owners on the evening of the amendments tells us the InTown Design Review Committee convinced the lawmakers but failed to win buy-in from the community. This would seem to be a recipe for friction and resentment on both sides of the design issue.
Elizabeth Minor, the primary spokesperson for the committee, has pursued greater authority with the conviction of a true believer. And while we respect her knowledge of historical precedent and dedication to the serious study of design in architecture, we question the urgency of mandatory design oversight for the city. We also question her unequivocal sense of “good” and “bad” design.
The examples of “good” design that we’ve seen used to illustrate the importance of design oversight have been drawn from comparatively gentrified areas. Promoting this approach to the exclusion of the occasional disproportionate building, overbearing signage, or ugly roof line will logically contribute to the gentrification of Belfast for the simple reason that people with the means to live where they want will almost always choose the place with a preponderance of “good” design. An ordinance to ward off “bad” design would be like money in the bank.
As the law stands, we hope the trial period goes well. But barring significant unforeseen benefits of the process, we hope the council that meets the sunset provision in 2011 will return to the live-and-let-live approach that made Belfast what it is today.
If the downtown area must be governed from an aesthetic standpoint, we hope the city will have the courage to enact a simple ordinance like the one adopted after the fire of 1865. That ordinance prohibited wood structures in a nearly identical zone to the one under the purview of the InTown Design Review Committee.
Many of the buildings that contribute to the intangible quality that the InTown Design Review Committee takes as its baseline were built in accordance with this basic prescription, including the Masonic Hall and the Hayford Block. The odd buildings that have cropped up in the spaces between these landmarks have also contributed to the unique character of the downtown.
And could anyone have planned it so well?
Sun Journal, Lewiston
Right sentence from an activist judge
In modern language, the phrase “activist judge” has become a slur. A popular stereotype is a black-robed liberal trying to legislate an agenda from the safety of the bench. The image works well on talk radio.
The reality, though, is that judges are activists. They are picked for their understanding of law and their judgment in enforcing its principles. Their job is more than code enforcement. Which is what citizens should expect. We need judges who know the law, but jurists who possess some good old-fashioned horse sense are just as valuable.
Like Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Robert Crowley, for example. Crowley recently faced a conundrum. Robert LaPointe of Medway, Massachusetts, sat before him for sentencing on two counts of aggravated operation of a watercraft under the influence. The jury had deadlocked on more serious charges of manslaughter and reckless conduct.
Few doubt the severity of the circumstances that had landed LaPointe in Crowley’s courtroom. LaPointe’s vessel, a thirty-two-foot missile named No Patience, had sliced through the fourteen-foot runabout of Terry Raye Trott during a starry night on Long Lake in Harrison last summer.
Trott and his girlfriend, Suzanne Groetzinger, were killed. No Patience ended its night some 160 feet onshore. Later, LaPointe’s blood-alcohol level registered far above the legal limit. This was the only point on which the otherwise deadlocked jury agreed. In many minds, this meant he would escape a stiff sentence, since the law — in this case — offered leeway for punishment. And nothing about this case was clear-cut. There were many questions of culpability, navigation, and maritime rules and conflicts about consumption.
The prosecution asked for the maximum: five years in prison, with one year suspended. But the choice was up to Crowley. He, in our opinion, chose wisely.
The sentence: three years in prison, with two years of probation. And barbed language that said LaPointe acted like he was “special,” a person to whom rules didn’t apply. Crowley judged LaPointe, not just the case. Crowley acted as an activist. His activism was a sentence that reflected the severity of the incident in which LaPointe was involved, the effect on the victims’ families, and the outrage over his perceived lack of remorse.
Yet even then, Crowley said, the sentence would likely leave the friends and families of Trott and Groetzinger “disappointed.” Maybe so. Nobody should be disappointed in the judge, however.