Down East 2013 ©
MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM
Maine’s Wartime Sacrifice.
One of the strange aspects of our time is that although our country is at war, there is little sign of it at home.
Members of the military and their families, who struggle with repeat overseas deployments, are well aware of what’s going on.
But the rest of us are only asked to sacrifice when we pay our taxes, and even that is muted because much of the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is hidden in the expanding federal debt to be paid by another generation.
Most of us are so rarely asked to give up anything that when we are, it comes as a shock.
Well, the Massachusetts Air National Guard is asking.
It announced that it plans to expand low-altitude flight training in western Maine. A hearing on the plan earlier this month gave disgruntled residents a chance to complain about the noise and disturbance that they expected would result from the exercises.
But pilots of New England-based airplanes have to train somewhere, and it would be next to impossible to do so in this region without bothering someone. Was there this kind of public grumbling during World War II, when airplanes dropped bombs on what would later become Reid State Park in Georgetown to practice for real action? It might be different if there were not two hot wars going, although even in peacetime the military needs to train.
In a time when the pilots may be asked at any moment to risk their lives defending their country, complaining about noise and inconvenience seems rather small.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
The BDN’s recent series of stories on guns in Maine revealed, among other things, the chasm that lies between those who want to regulate gun ownership and use and those who believe gun ownership is as sacrosanct as the secret ballot and free speech. It’s unlikely the gap will be bridged in the near future, but both camps would do well to work at understanding that their extreme positions may undermine their goals.
For the first hundred years of the nation’s history, the Constitution’s Second Amendment was generally understood as supporting the rights of states to keep militias. In 2008, a United States Supreme Court ruling said — for the first time — that the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to individual gun ownership. Although that precedent-setting ruling changed the gun-control landscape, the right to own a gun is not absolute, just as the right to vote requires proof of residency and free speech does not allow libel or slander.
There are probably more guns in Maine than people. Those working to keep gun regulations at bay cite Maine’s rural traditions, where guns have been part of recreational hunting for generations. But when hunting fatalities were in the double-digits in the 1950s, lawmakers responded with regulations. Blaze orange was mandated and hunters were required to complete gun safety courses to secure a hunting license. That hunting tradition should be acknowledged and respected, but it must also be recognized that such rules have made it safer. Regulations will and must continue to evolve.
Those who enjoy collecting guns or who enjoy shooting high-powered, multi-round, automatic weapons at targets also are part of a tradition, albeit one with a briefer history. Regulations will necessarily infringe on ownership of these guns as well when certain kinds of weapons are abused or used in crimes. Closing the gun-show loophole, which allows the sale of weapons without a background check, is a reasonable response to the rate at which these weapons are used in crimes, often in other states.
On the other side, the impulse to treat guns like enriched plutonium is equally extreme. Many guns can be understood as tools. Just because hammers, chain saws, and box cutters are sometimes used violently does not mean they are inherently evil. The important difference between a neighbor walking to his pickup truck with a deer rifle cradled in his arm at dusk and the blurry surveillance camera image of a man aiming a handgun at a convenience store clerk should be understood by gun control advocates.
Those who remain entrenched in the extremes of the gun debate — those who hope for a gun-free world, and those who subscribe to the “I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands” philosophy — run a risk. They risk definitive court rulings that favor one side or the other.
Such rulings are often ill-suited to the real world where hunting and restrictions coexist. For that reason negotiating a middle ground is a better route.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
Unhelpful Teacher Disclosures.
Last session, lawmakers addressed Maine’s pitiful statutes regarding teacher disclosure, under which nobody was told if a teacher had their certificate revoked or suspended, or even if that certificate was voluntarily surrendered. Now, the state will tell someone.
Not the public, though. A national teaching accreditation firm, which will warehouse this information for confidential release to school districts. All the public is entitled to know is the raw number of teachers whose certificate status has changed.
That’s it. The justification for why the status changed will remain sealed, locked away like gold inside Fort Knox.
Here’s the problem now. The information the public is entitled to receive regarding the status of teaching certificates is not retroactive. Past data is compiled, but it is not being made available.
This twist has caught most everyone off guard, including the sponsor of the legislation, Senator Peter Mills, R-Cornville. “Who’s going to be harmed?” he asked about releasing past teacher certification records. “It’s not individually identifying information.” An excellent point.
In short, the legislation passed to release this data has not resolved the quandary it was drafted to address.
This state’s laws on teacher disclosure are the country’s weakest. Other states, notably Vermont, go as far as maintaining an online registry of teaching certificate suspensions and revocations. And many other licensed professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and police officers, must have their penalties made public.
Teachers are entitled to greater protections under statute than doctors, lawyers, and police. At the very least, the public should have the needed contextual and retroactive information on certification suspensions, revocations, and surrenders to understand what the raw data the legislature has compelled the state to reveal really means. Otherwise, a weak law is now a useless law.
THE MAINE SPORTSMAN
Headed to Fiscal Ruin?
When its fiscal year ended on June 30, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) was in the red with a $450,000 deficit. From that bad start, finances have worsened. In the first three months, the IF&W’s income fell $689,706 short of projections.
Those bad numbers were eclipsed by what happened to projected revenues from the sale of licenses, permits, and fees. It was off by $2,694,289.
Without a doubt the dismal outlook for this year’s deer hunting season has a great impact on the shortfall. While most don’t know it, the nonresident deer hunter is crucial to a fiscally sound IF&W based on reports that there are far fewer deer left in the northern half of the state, deer hunters have stayed away in droves, so the license revenue shortfall can only get worse.
It’s possible license sales will continue to decline because some sportsmen will refuse to buy a license, based on objections to having their money spent on activities having nothing to do with hunting and fishing. For instance, 5 percent is skimmed off the top to disappear into the cavernous maw of the General Fund.
Given the near certainty that revenue declines will continue unabated, additional drastic cuts in IF&W expenditures will be necessary. Though every division will share the pain, the largest cuts possible are found in the Warden Service. This is because the Warden Service consumes half of the entire IF&W budget, most of that in the form of salaries. It costs about a hundred thousand dollars to keep a warden in the field for a year, and there is very little matching federal money involved. As a result, if you cut ten wardens, you save a million dollars.
The number of fishing licenses sold is already down about fifty thousand from its historic high. Nonresidents, who pay a disproportionate share to fish here because of higher license fees, dominate this number. Reduced stocking can only result in lower license sales, making it impossible to prevent further program reductions and layoffs.
Because some see a pattern in what’s happened at IF&W, there is a growing suspicion that the Baldacci administration would welcome IF&W going broke.The theory is it will be easier to roll a destitute department in with other resource agencies.
Thus far, a coalition of organizations has successfully fended off the governor’s merger efforts. But when the pink slips flow at IF&W, it will, indeed, be harder to justify a separate fish and wildlife department.
Without an unprecedented, extraordinary effort by united sportsmen to change this trend, the outlook is grim. The longheld belief that IF&W is “our” agency is already dead. The proof is that we are paying much more to support the department, and getting ever less for our money.