Military Cheers and Tears
Few dared to believe, truly believe, that Maine would be able to save any of its three military facilities from closure. There was surprise and exultation then, over news that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery had been spared by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), pending final approval by President Bush and Congress. After all, more than 4,000 civilian jobs were at stake.
At the same time, there was a wave of disappointment and frustration in midcoast Maine with the BRAC recommendation to close the Brunswick Naval Air Station.The area faces significant economic upheaval as thousands of military personnel are uprooted by reassignment.
[Editor's note: The fate of the third facility, the defense accounting center in Limestone, was an even bigger surprise; the facility was not only spared, the commission recommended it be doubled in size.]
When the Pentagon's recommendations to the BRAC panel became known in the spring, there was a sense of resignation about the outcome. "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst" was a typical summation.
Nonetheless, Maine's congressional delegation, including Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Representatives Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, as well as Governor John Baldacci, steadfastly argued against all three closures. They deserve credit for making a compelling Portsmouth case — focusing on the yard's unmatched ability to maintain submarine fleet readiness and doing it ahead of schedule and under budget.
The biggest commendation, however, goes to the workers at the shipyard. The base-closing process is designed to be unemotional and analytical, hinging solely on a base's performance and value to national security and defense.
The shipyard clearly passed with flying colors. BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi called Portsmouth "the gold standard by which the country should measure shipyards." There could not be a more ringing endorsement.
Brunswick, meanwhile, faces a future that may be uncertain but is by no means gloomy.
Brunswick is an excellent location with good highway access in a fast-growing part of Maine. The site has the asset of a large airstrip and presumably faces far fewer environmental hazards and remediation costs than Portsmouth.
Without question, the Brunswick area faces a monumental challenge. It can, however, embark on a transformation to a bright — and arguably brighter — future.
—Portland Press Herald
Support Gay Rights
Opponents of Maine's new anti-discrimination law collected more signatures than their cause deserves. Late in June, supporters of a people's veto attempting to stop legislation that would prevent discrimination based upon sexual orientation submitted more than 57,000 signatures to the secretary of state. The state's anti-discrimination law will be on the ballot in November for voter approval or repeal.
Signers of the petition have every right to participate in the direct democracy embodied by the people's veto, which can act as an important check on the power of the legislature and the governor. But like all ballot initiatives, the people's veto is open to abuse and can fall victim to distortion, hysteria, and sound-bite politics meant to divide the state into warring factions. It's discouraging to see a political tool intended to empower the people used in an attempt to deny equal protection of the law and condemn members of our community with a permanent, second-class status.
The legislation passed in March does not create special rights and is not a stalking horse for the legalization of same-sex marriages. It is, instead, a straightforward attempt to end discrimination against a minority group. Without the law, it is perfectly legal in Maine to deny someone an apartment because he is gay, to fire someone from her job because she is a lesbian, or to limit someone's educational opportunities because he or she is transgender.
Equal protection for gays and lesbians has been a tough sell in Maine. Twice before, voters have rejected similar laws intended to end discrimination, giving in to hollow claims about special rights and homophobia.
Our sincere hope is that the failures of the past will not be repeated.
It was a sad day when the advocates for legalized discrimination delivered their petitions to the secretary of state. We can expect a brutal and determined effort to move the state backwards and to deny some of our neighbors the rights they deserve.
The campaign, however, has just begun. Now it will be up to voters to sort through the fear-mongering message of the law's opponents. In the past, the issue has been muddled enough that voters have rejected equal rights. The question is pretty simple: "Do you want to reject the new law that would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and credit based on their sexual orientation?"
The answer must be "No." Maine cannot hide its eyes from the ugliness of discrimination or turn its back on people seeking only fundamental fairness. Voters must not codify discrimination into law.
—Sun Journal, Lewiston
The Politics of Fishing
It's not enough that we have the federal government ramming fishing regulation after fishing regulation down out throats based on what they consider good science, and environmental groups trying to shut down every fishery except goldfish. Now we have the recent survey of fishery scientists and managers who work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggesting that the scientific reports they have been submitting are being altered for the sake of political favoritism. It is enough to make you choke.
When the Union of Concerned Scientists sent out the survey and the agencies involved gave explicit orders not to answer the survey, it only makes one question the validity of their methodology even more. What do they have to hide? The Union of Concerned Scientists is not a group of hackers; they are highly qualified, legitimate scientists.
Fifty-eight percent of the survey respondents knew of cases where high-level U. S. Department of Commerce administrators or appointees had "inappropriately" altered decisions. Forty-seven percent said the fisheries service routinely fails to make "determinations using scientific judgment" due to political pressure. These numbers suggest that there is more than a minor problem that exists within these agencies on utilizing accurate science. It borders on nothing less than fraud.
Sixty-thousand wild salmon were killed because a veteran biologist's recommendations were ignored when an industrial agribusiness needed facts skewed to get more water. The decision was made not based on science but on political strategies to garner votes. That is nothing less than ecological terrorism and those responsible should be brought to trial.
When you have Nobel laureates, National Medal of Science recipients, and members of the National Academy of Scientists calling for an end to "unprecedented manipulation of scientific processes for political reasons," it is time to question the validity of those in charge. Those who speak out are sent to the workplace gulag. There is no excuse for allowing this travesty of justice to continue, especially when we are paying for it.
—Fisherman's Voice, Gouldsboro
We are about to begin the third consecutive year in which the state has failed to correct serious financial management and computer problems that have plagued the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. That is absurd. Governor John E. Baldacci and state lawmakers should demand answers and action immediately.
A recent report from the inspector general of the federal Department of Health and Human Services shows that Maine DHHS was asked in September 2003 to improve its financial oversight of the Medicaid drug rebate program, which refunds money from drug manufacturers to states and the federal government. Maine was found to be deficient in three categories related to accountability and internal controls.
Today, two of those problems persist, and no one is able to say why. Not even Maine DHHS Commissioner John R. Nicholas. The commissioner was at a loss recently to explain why the state has failed to develop procedures for providing accurate pending rebate amounts that are required by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the Medicaid program (known here as MaineCare).
"For some reason, the Office of MaineCare Services has not acted on this," Nicholas told a reporter. "I have made it clear that this is a high priority and needs to be done."
For some reason? That is hardly an acceptable explanation for why the state, under the threat of sanctions, has failed to address the federal government's concerns.
The other unresolved problem that was identified in the 2003 federal report involves how the state accounts for disputed or unpaid drug rebate amounts and for late payments. Nicholas blamed the lingering problems on the department's $22-million computer system that is still not yet working right eight months after being installed — one of many problems that state government continues to have with technology.
DHHS's computer problems have resulted in delays and inaccuracies in payments to many of the department's 7,000 Medicaid health-care providers. Complaints from those providers are chronic.
The governor should give Nicholas and other DHHS officials a deadline by when the department's financial management and computer problems will be fixed. They have been lingering much too long — at the expense of thousands of health-care providers and low-income Mainers.
Those responsible at DHHS should be held accountable or be replaced.
—Kennebec Journal, Augusta