Jim Fossel – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Sun, 19 Nov 2017 20:01:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Jim Fossel: Medicaid expansion not done yet http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-not-done-yet/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-not-done-yet/#respond Sun, 19 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1289443 The supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrated on Election Night as the citizen initiative to take advantage of federal funding under Obamacare to expand the program easily passed statewide.

However, if we were giving out grades for campaigns this year, they wouldn’t receive an “A” simply for winning the election, nor would they get an “F” for successfully passing bad policy via referendum – their grade would be incomplete.

Even if you accepted the idea of Medicaid expansion as being good public policy, the problem with the referendum as it was written was that it offered no payment mechanism for the state’s share of the cost.

Essentially, the referendum asked voters whether they wanted this new program without any explanation of how we’d all end up paying for it – so of course it was approved, just like voters nearly always approve bonds in Maine.

Moreover, there’s already quite a dispute brewing over exactly how much Medicaid expansion will end up costing the state, so we don’t know that end of the formula either. Legislators now face the confusing situation of knowing what the voters want, but not knowing how much it will cost or how to pay for it.

This is the exact opposite of the referendum on education spending from last year, which created a new tax and dedicated it all toward a specific purpose. Even though the new tax was a bad idea, at least that was crafted responsibly, by figuring out how to pay for something before the money was spent.

In the end, the Legislature decided to work around that new tax and find the money to increase education spending another way. The Democrats, despite supposedly being in favor of the tax increase as enacted by the referendum, went along with it because they at least came away with increased education spending in the end.

This session, another battle looms over exactly how to enact Medicaid expansion as the endorsed by the voters. After Democrats showed no willingness to go along with the new tax created to fund education last session, it seems unlikely that they’re going to come up with a new revenue source on their own.

On the flip side, Gov. LePage has ruled out raising taxes or raiding the rainy day fund in order to fund Medicaid expansion. Most Republicans – in the Maine House, anyway; the Senate is, as usual, more of a wild card – will probably support the governor on this. Since the state of Maine, unlike the federal government, has to maintain a balanced budget, following those demands would require that all the funding come from cuts to other programs.

Republicans in both the House and Senate would be wise to stand with the governor and resist any attempt to raise taxes. During the last legislative session, that served them well throughout budget negotiations, as the Legislature eventually found a way to balance the budget without passing new taxes. Sticking to that same strategy this session when it comes to Medicaid expansion is not only good public policy – the state shouldn’t be raising any taxes to fund big government, no matter how well the economy is doing – it’s good politics heading into next year’s elections as well.

With the passage of Medicaid expansion, Democrats probably believe they have the advantage over the Republican Party, but in fact they may well have backed themselves into a corner.

If Augusta Republicans can, for once, stay united and actually work together, they can force Democrats to come up with a plan to pay for Medicaid expansion. After all, Democrats are the ones who have spent the last seven years pushing this policy – they should be the ones who find a way to pay for it.

That means they’ll have to make the cuts elsewhere in the budget, probably digging into the funding for other priorities like K-12 education or municipal revenue sharing. That would force them to backtrack on previous promises in order to fund this latest one, perhaps angering large portions of their base just as they begin to gear up for the midterm elections.

If the Democrats can’t stomach budget cuts, and can’t find support for tax hikes or raiding the rainy day fund, they may well end up delaying Medicaid expansion. That would not only be a clear defeat for them, it could well divide their base and re-energize Republicans.

No matter what happens, both sides should be prepared for a long, bitter fight over this issue that could extend well beyond this year.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Mainers were too smart for casino scam http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/12/jim-fossel-mainers-were-too-smart-for-casino-scam/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/12/jim-fossel-mainers-were-too-smart-for-casino-scam/#respond Sun, 12 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1285824 Congratulations, fellow Mainers.

I knew you could do it.

While other results of Election Day this year might have been disappointing, it was extremely gratifying to see the flawed York County casino proposal go down to a historic, lopsided defeat. This was the sort of election result that shows exactly why I love this state so much, why I am always so proud wherever I go anywhere in the world to tell people I am from Maine.

You see, Mainers are smart enough are smart enough to spot a raw deal from a mile away. They’re well informed enough to recognize whether a millionaire mogul from away is trying to use their wealth to hijack our citizen initiatives, whether it’s Shawn Scott trying to enrich himself or Michael Bloomberg to advance his own national agenda. Scott might have been better served financially if he had just taken all the money he spent on Question 1 and put it down at a blackjack table at Hollywood Casino in Bangor.

By defeating the York County casino proposal, we have shown to the world that Maine cannot be bought. Of course, with our elections, Maine has shown this time and time again, whether it’s with citizen initiatives or candidates – money doesn’t buy you a victory.

That’s a good thing for our state and our democracy, but it’s also a reason why one should take the endless harping on campaign finance from some with a pound of salt. It’s also a reason to be wary of some of the proposals to curtail the citizen initiative process: If terrible proposals do make it to the ballot, they can be defeated.

Though we may have, at long last, seen the last of Shawn Scott, there’s no reason to believe we’ve seen the last of these misguided casino referendums – even despite the overwhelming margin. That’s why it’s important that our legislators take advantage of this respite they’ve been given, instead of just leaving the current status quo in place. They cannot continue to stick their heads in the sand and hope these flawed referendums keep failing.

As we saw with the Oxford Casino, that’s not always a winning approach – sometimes they line up their cards right and wrangle out a win. We can’t always count on the proposal to be as obviously flawed as this, nor can we count on the supporters to be so blatantly motivated for selfish reasons.

Now, it’s no real surprise that this citizen initiative failed. Even if you bought into the economic development arguments, those effects would have been largely felt in one portion of the state – York County – and they rejected it just as firmly as the rest of us did. Indeed, if we had put the initial development of any of Maine’s largest employers out to a statewide vote, they might well have failed for the very same reason. After all, would folks in Aroostook County have seen the benefit in building an outdoor store in Freeport? Would residents of Oxford County have been convinced of the wisdom in building a shipyard in Bath? There’s a reason most economic development projects don’t go up for a statewide vote, and casinos shouldn’t have to, either.

The best way to avoid yet another casino referendum isn’t just to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Instead, it’s time for legislators to get to work in a bipartisan fashion on a regular process to allow for the establishment of gaming facilities in this state. We’ve seen the wisdom of putting in place licensing procedures for the establishments of all sorts of businesses, from restaurants to car dealerships to hair salons. Why not establish a similar consistent, reasonable procedure for casinos?

There’s no good reason to oppose this. For those who are concerned that the state might be overrun with casinos if we started granting new licenses, there are two checks on that possibility: The license itself and the free market. Just as with elections, the free market can act as a check on the hopes of every would-be gaming mogul in Maine: If people don’t want it, they won’t go, and it will fail. Through the licensing process, we can restrict the size, number and placement of casinos, so they don’t pop on every corner in the state. It’s long past time for the Legislature to recognize that gaming is here to stay, and the best way to deal with it is to regulate it rather than ignore it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Legislature is ignoring will of people http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/05/jim-fossel-legislature-is-ignoring-will-of-people/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/11/05/jim-fossel-legislature-is-ignoring-will-of-people/#respond Sun, 05 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1282090 You might not have noticed it, but recently the Maine Legislature essentially threw out the results of an election.

Usually, the government completely ignoring the will of the people is the sort of thing that only happens in developing countries without a 200-year democratic tradition. We recently saw this in Venezuela, for example, where strongman Nicolás Maduro basically tossed out the results of the congressional elections that the opposition unexpectedly won.

The Maine Legislature took a similar approach to the recently passed ranked-choice voting initiative. Rather than amending the state constitution to allow ranked-choice voting to work, or only keeping the parts of ranked-choice voting that are constitutional, the Legislature passed a bill that delays ranked-choice voting until 2021 and repeals it entirely if no constitutional fix is passed. Essentially, this is a shadow repeal that completely overturns the results of last year’s referendum election.

Now, the Legislature has every right to modify citizen initiatives after they’re passed, or even to repeal them. That’s not in question.

They made major changes to both the marijuana legalization and minimum-wage referendums. In both of those cases they allowed major elements of the initiatives to go into effect on schedule. They were, essentially, compromises between advocates of the referendums and the Legislature itself, though they were large enough changes that they should have been referred back to the voters for our input directly.

But with ranked-choice voting there was no compromise. The Legislature essentially admitted they were deadlocked and had no intent of finding a way to make ranked-choice voting work. This was because the Republican Party was almost unified in opposition, and enough establishment Democrats were worried about the possible negative consequences for themselves that they went along with the Republicans.

Given the partisan division in Augusta these days, perhaps – ironically – ranked-choice voting advocates should be applauded for achieving that level of bipartisanship.

That was a huge, unforced error on the part of the Legislature that was disrespectful of the will of the people and could cost them severely in forthcoming elections. That’s not because ranked-choice voting is such a great idea, or because it passed overwhelmingly – it isn’t, and it didn’t. Ranked-choice voting is unnecessary and poor public policy that fails to achieve its somewhat arbitrary goal of a candidate getting the majority of votes.

However, it was passed by the citizens – albeit by a narrow margin with one side vastly outspending the other. The Legislature should have respected that vote, and tried to find some way to retain as much of the referendum as possible under the constitution. Instead, they abdicated that responsibility and chose to, essentially, ditch the law.

Fortunately, ranked-choice voting advocates have the opportunity to overturn this repeal of their referendum. If they can collect 61,000 signatures over the next approximately 90 days, they can put the new law back before the voters – as the Legislature should have in the first place.

This is no different than when a piece of legislation is sent back and forth between the House and the Senate with different reports – they either go to conference and resolve their differences or the legislation is dead.

The Legislature’s inability to accept the outcome of a free and fair election shouldn’t just be of concern to ranked-choice voting supporters, but to all of us as citizens.

There used to be great respect for the will of the voters in Augusta: Referendums were usually implemented as closely to the original as possible, and legislators didn’t just go about repealing or making wholesale changes to them.

That’s why, when the Republican Party took control of the Legislature in 2010, they didn’t simply ditch Clean Elections, even though most conservatives hate it.

It had been passed overwhelmingly by the voters, and Republicans recognized that, even if they weren’t happy about it. It was a generally understood political convention – an unwritten rule.

Now, though, legislators seem to feel free to disregard any referendum results they don’t like, and that’s extremely worrisome.

If you’ve ever campaigned for any citizen initiative, that should bother you. There are certainly problems with the referendum process that the Legislature should address, but that doesn’t give legislators license to ignore them. Instead, they should try to work together in a bipartisan way to reform the process to prevent further abuse.

That would be the responsible way to govern, and that’s what we deserve out of Augusta, instead of our voices as citizens simply being silenced.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Dems know taxes are bipartisan issue http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/29/jim-fossel-dems-know-taxes-are-bipartisan-issue/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/29/jim-fossel-dems-know-taxes-are-bipartisan-issue/#respond Sun, 29 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1278010 For the past few years, Democrats have been obsessed with tax returns. Way back in 2012, you may recall, Democrats tried to make an issue about Mitt Romney’s tax returns – though he eventually released them.

Before that, Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, even lied on the floor of the U.S. Senate, claiming that Romney didn’t pay taxes at all in 2010 or 2011. He never apologized for it; indeed, he’s boasted about it since, though it was an action for which his colleagues should have officially censured him.

These days, Democrats are still complaining about Donald Trump never releasing his tax returns during last year’s presidential election. When their allies in the media have managed to grab snippets of information about Trump’s taxes, they’ve treated it monumentally – even though in the end they’ve been big flops. Here in Maine, Democrats haven’t made much of a fuss about it, but it’s not for lack of opportunity.

Last legislative session, Democrats had a chance to pass a bill – sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham – forcing future presidential and vice-presidential candidates to post their tax returns in order to qualify for the Maine ballot. You might think such a bill would die on a party-line vote in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, and you’d be right. However, it didn’t pass the House, either – many Democrats joined with their Republican colleagues to kill it there.

It’s curious to see so many Democrats, with so much energy pouring into their party from the anti-Trump movement, pass up a chance to hold the man accountable and stay on message. Punting on this issue could well alienate much of their base, and lead progressive activists of all stripes to wonder what, if anything, they really stand for. After all, if Maine Democrats aren’t willing to stand up to Trump on this issue, can you trust them to stand up on any issue?

Then again, if you take a look at the current Democratic gubernatorial field, it begins to make more sense.

It would certainly be fascinating to flip through the tax returns of candidates running for governor next year. Some of them may be straightforward, but others could be quite interesting. They’ve got one longtime lobbyist, Betsy Sweet, running – seeing her returns could give us a hint into just how much money she’s made as a paid advocate for various causes. It might seem like Janet Mills’ tax returns would be relatively simple, and for recent years when she’s been serving as attorney general, that may well be. Before that, she was in private practice for a long time, and knowing more about the state of her finances could be revealing.

Of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: Candidates from both parties would serve the people of Maine by releasing at least one year’s worth of tax returns, to give a window into the state of their finances. Right now, we know little. Sitting legislators have to declare their sources of income in an annual form, so we know that Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, for example, works at an excavation company and in real estate – but not how much he makes.

Tax returns don’t show everything; they’re only a glimpse of a person’s finances. If a candidate owns a business, their individual return wouldn’t necessarily show the value of that business – only what they themselves make. Or, if a candidate had wealthy family members and could access their assets, that might not show up in an individual return, either.

It hasn’t been a tradition in the past for gubernatorial candidates to release their tax returns, but it’s time to begin the practice.

Tax returns would give voters real data, rather than just rhetoric. Isn’t that something the people deserve?

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Governor’s race will be wide open http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/22/jim-fossel-governors-race-will-be-wide-open/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/22/jim-fossel-governors-race-will-be-wide-open/#respond Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1274270 Now that Susan Collins has revealed her decision to stay put in the U.S. Senate rather than make another run for the Blaine House, it’s worth taking a look at the entire field. Unlike in 2014, when neither party had a competitive primary, we’re going to see a large field on both sides – along with a couple of independents in the mix.

For the Republicans, there will be a monumental battle over who is the true heir to Gov. LePage’s legacy. Controversial though he may be, he hasn’t lost the support of his base, and is still a unifying figure to many Republican primary voters. A key member of his administration, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, is largely running on this basis. However, despite her extensive governmental experience as an administrator and as a lobbyist, she’s never run for office before – and was a Democrat until a few years ago. She’ll have to explain her stances on a whole range of issues outside her purview at DHHS, like guns, abortion and taxes, as she runs for governor.

Sen. Garrett Mason, meanwhile, has always been a Republican, and seems to be drawing much of his support from social conservatives. As Senate majority leader, though, he’s been at the help of a caucus that at times seemed just as willing to pick fights with Gov. LePage as the Democrats were. With that legacy, he may have trouble winning over fiscal conservatives who don’t prioritize social issues. Moreover, Senate President Mike Thibodeau, who has already jumped into the race, may be chasing after many of the same votes. It will be interesting to see how they differentiate themselves through the primary.

Conversely, nobody has to question House Republican Leader Ken Fredette’s conservative credentials on virtually any issue. He’s effectively led his caucus in supporting the governor on a number of occasions, especially during the recent state budget negotiations. If Republicans want a reliable, reasonable, consistent conservative who doesn’t have to constantly reinvent himself, Ken Fredette would be an excellent choice.

If businessman Shawn Moody decides to run, he would seem to be a bit of a wildcard. He’s kept a relatively low profile politically since his single-digit showing as an independent in the 2010 gubernatorial race, but may have the chance to bring moderates and conservatives together. Of course, in order to win a hotly contested primary and a general, he’ll have to considerably up his game next year.

The Democrats, too, appear to have a variety of factions battling for control in their primary. Attorney General Janet Mills, the (presumed) front-runner at this point, would seem to be the choice of the party establishment. Unfortunately for her, there seem to be a number of people who are unhappy with that presumption and aren’t willing to cede the nomination to her.

Amongst the plethora of her opponents, perhaps the most notable is former Speaker of the House Mark Eves. Eves – like most of the other candidates in the Democratic primary – seems to be challenging Mills from her left, rather than the center. At a recent forum in Augusta, for example, he endorsed a single-payer health care system, while Mills did not. Being from southern Maine, he also has a different geographical base than Mills, who’s from the Farmington area.

An interesting choice for Democrats might be Adam Cote, an Iraq War veteran who ran a surprisingly strong primary campaign against Chellie Pingree when the 1st District seat was open in 2008. Although he’s hurt by his relative lack of involvement in politics since then, that also allows him to claim the outsider mantle (a la LePage), but as a moderate. Indeed, he’s almost uniquely positioned to grab that banner, as he’s the only Democratic candidate other than Patrick Eisenhart who isn’t a lobbyist or one-time legislator.

If both parties tilt to the extremes, that may open up a path for independent Terry Hayes, the current state treasurer. Hayes is bright and capable, with a clear record of bipartisanship which could be appealing to quite a few voters sick of division in Augusta. She could effectively thread the needle for voters who want fiscal responsibility but won’t go along with social conservatism.

Maine will have a wide-open field for the gubernatorial race, in both the general election and the primaries. With the added wrinkle of ranked-choice voting, it will prove to be an especially wild election. No matter who you end up supporting, buckle up and get ready for a crazy year.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Known unknowns on Medicaid http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/15/jim-fossel-known-unknowns-on-medicaid/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/15/jim-fossel-known-unknowns-on-medicaid/#respond Sun, 15 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1270838 There is a major problem with the Medicaid (MaineCare) expansion question on the ballot this November. It’s not just that Medicaid expansion has been tried before in Maine, with less-than-optimal results. Nor is it that the MaineCare program consistently runs in deficit and consumes more and more of the state budget. All of that’s certainly true, and it should give major pause to voters as they consider their vote on expanding it.

However, the major issue with passing this referendum measure and expanding Medicaid as allowed under Obamacare are that there are way too many known unknowns, especially as things stand right now. For one, at a state level, we have no idea who might be governor or have the majority in the Legislature in 2019. As with other complex referendums, like the recent initiative legalizing recreational marijuana, much of the implementation will remain in the hands of the Legislature and governor.

Right now, under the Affordable Care Act, there isn’t much flexibility for states, but that may change. For example, states might be granted waivers to certain requirements of Medicaid expansion. Under the previous administration, only one state was granted these waivers: Indiana, when current Vice President Mike Pence was its governor. However, the Trump administration may well decide to make the waiver process much easier for states, encouraging more to apply. That might lead to more state-level experimentation, both with Medicaid expansion and the implementation of Obamacare as a whole. If the administration moved in that direction, it would be an excellent way for them to add flexibility to Obamacare without repealing the law, but it’s not quite the vision of Medicaid expansion that proponents are touting in Maine.

Just as we don’t know exactly how the next Maine governor and Legislature might implement Medicaid expansion, we also don’t know what kind of budget they might be writing, either. If they feel their hands are tied by a citizen initiative passing Medicaid expansion, it might require major adjustments to the rest of the state budget. We could well end up not having the money to pay for Medicaid expansion, regardless of what level of federal funding is available or how the economy is doing; that’s already been the case in other states. In that situation, Augusta might end up raising taxes (which would displease conservatives) or dramatically cut spending in other areas, like education funding or revenue sharing. It was a sign of a bad trend when the referendum raising taxes to increase education funding was passed, as it marked the beginning of the state budgeting by referendum. We shouldn’t compound the error by passing Medicaid expansion.

We also have no idea how Obamacare might be changed by Congress in the next year, either. If Republicans are able to pass some version of repeal-and-replace, the increased funding now available under the law could be completely eliminated. Then Maine’s hands could well be tied, as the state would be stuck between a referendum guaranteeing Medicaid expansion and a Congress that has eliminated the funding for it. Or Congress might turn the federal funding available under Obamacare into block grants, giving the states a great deal of latitude in how they spend the money. If you’re a moderate supporter of Medicaid expansion, the idea of giving either party in Augusta virtually unchecked control of a huge pile of federal funds ought to be a matter of grave concern.

It’s high time we reject budgeting by referendum. Education and health care account for a vast majority of the state budget, so setting those spending levels through citizen initiative will always end poorly. It could wind up that the Legislature simply ignores the referendum, as they have on education ever since the 55 percent funding requirement was passed. Or, it could be that taking the big decisions out of their hands enables us as voters to continue to elect a highly divided Legislature that remains unwilling to compromise, leading to more citizen initiatives.

We need to return to the days when we trusted our legislators to solve complex policy problems in a productive, bipartisan fashion. If they can’t be trusted to do that, the solution is to send new, better legislators to Augusta, not to constantly work around them through citizen initiatives. So, even if you support Medicaid expansion, don’t vote for this referendum. Instead, let’s elect people who want to work together in a smart, reasonable way to address our problems. That’s how you really fix Augusta.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Party hopping is the new trend http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/jim-fossel-party-hopping-the-new-trend/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/08/jim-fossel-party-hopping-the-new-trend/#respond Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1267077 We have seen a recent rash of defections from the Maine Democratic Party in the Legislature of late, where Democrats abandoned the party to become unenrolled. In the past, one might see a maximum of two or three of these a session, and they’d usually come from both parties – one or two from each. Usually, they’d be easily explainable: A moderate (often a personally quirky one) would end up fed up with his party leadership and jump ship. Most of the time, these switches wouldn’t have any impact on the party makeup of the Legislature – or, if they did, the person would end up backtracking somehow (or losing re-election).

The recent raft of defections from the Democrats are something quite different, however. They began the session with a slim majority of 77 seats, to the Republicans’ 72 – barely enough to retain control of the chamber. Since then, three members of their party have switched to unenrolled, while only one Republican has, dropping them from a majority to a plurality. We’ve gone from two independent representatives to five, plus one newfound Green Independent – all without any elections interceding.

Now, as with previous party changes in recent years, this hasn’t affected the balance of power. All of those changing party have become independents (or Green), and the Democrats have retained a plurality, if not an outright majority. Indeed, if you didn’t happen to have one of these legislators as your representative, you might never have heard of their party switch. None of them have redrawn the partisan makeup of the Legislature, nor have they changed the outcome of the major policy battles in Augusta. That’s not to say they’re insignificant, however. Indeed, that might very well make them all the more interesting.

When a single legislator switches parties, that’s a fairly easy process to understand. Usually the legislator is fairly moderate, and ends up feeling alienated from his or her initial party for a particular reason – sometimes political, sometimes personal. If it dramatically affects the balance of power, that’s all the easier to comprehend: The legislator switching parties is likely to gain a plum committee assignment out of the deal, or some other sort of other major favor from the new majority party.

The party changes that have occurred this session, though, haven’t landed any kind of major benefits to the legislators. On one level, that’s more admirable: It says that the legislators switching parties aren’t just doing so for personal gain, but because they have a real disagreement. However, it also makes their decision more nebulous and difficult to understand – especially for their constituents.

Several of the legislators unenrolling this session have cited the influence of lobbyists and general partisanship in Augusta as part of their motivation, but haven’t raised specific issues where they’ve differed from their party, nor have they specifically criticized leadership. The latest defection, however, is slightly different from the first two, as Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford isn’t serving in his fourth term, so he is eligible to run for re-election. His decision to unenroll from the party also seemed more organized, as it was publicized by the Maine Independents group that seeks to elect more independents to the Legislature.

That will leave Democrats with an important question next year as they begin to recruit candidates: Do they attempt to reclaim Grohman’s seat, or trust that he will continue to largely side with them? It’s only one district, but it should be a reliably Democratic one. As a solo independent legislator, Grohman isn’t much concern for them, but if the Maine Independents political action committee is successful next year and sends him some reinforcements, then suddenly his vote matters a great deal.

The other question for Democrats to consider is how actively the Maine Independents PAC is trying to recruit other legislators to jump ship. Was Grohman’s decision a one-time occurrence, or some sort of warning shot? If there are other Democrats in Augusta who feel as he does, then leadership may have a revolt on their hands.

Even if it doesn’t have an impact in the upcoming, shorter second session, it might make a big difference in the midterm elections. Of course, if either party wins a huge majority next year, or if the independent legislators are mostly reliably liberal, they won’t end up mattering all that much in the end. Their influence will really be felt only if the Legislature remains closely divided and their votes on major issues are truly up for grabs.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Republicans need to get 60 votes on health care http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/01/jim-fossel-republicans-need-to-get-60-votes-on-healthcare/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/10/01/jim-fossel-republicans-need-to-get-60-votes-on-healthcare/#respond Sun, 01 Oct 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1263058 One of the truisms of democracy is that process matters. A bad process can make the best idea a partisan mess when it’s actually turned into legislation, while a good process can allow an ill-conceived concept to float through Congress. Unfortunately, the majority party tends to forget this truism and do whatever they have to do to get something passed – even if they had, in the past, been critical of the same process when in the minority.

This has been no more evident at the national level in recent years than with health care legislation.

During the initial debate over the Affordable Care Act, Republicans frequently criticized the rushed, insular, partisan nature of the process – and they were right. Democrats, clinging to a 60-vote majority, wanted to pass sweeping legislation on a partisan basis, and that was wrong. Sen. Olympia Snowe, along with other members of both parties, worked on a bipartisan bill that unfortunately went nowhere; she was then blocked out of the legislative process by Democrats.

Instead, Democrats worked within their own party to get the bill passed. They satisfied the concerns of their own moderates to get to the magic number, entirely bypassing Republicans. That resulted in a flawed, partisan bill that today is often criticized by Democrats as well as the Republican Party – from the left, right and center.

Unfortunately, instead of trying to work together to fix the problems with Obamacare, Republicans remain fixated on repealing it. Or, to be more accurate, they’re fixated on passing any sort of health-care bill that they can call “repeal and replace,” just so they can say they kept their campaign promise. The latest version of that, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., just went down to a flaming defeat thanks to opposition from a bizarre coalition of Sens. Susan Collins, Rand Paul and John McCain.

This time, the administration and Republican leadership at least attempted to sway Collins: She received calls from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, while Graham and Cassidy introduced an amendment that would have (temporarily and supposedly) increased Medicaid funding for Maine. In the end, none of that was enough, as Collins proved not to be susceptible to backdoor bribes or political pressure.

Ironically – and hypocritically – Republicans used an even more rushed, secretive process to develop their repeal and replace bills than Democrats used to pass Obamacare in the first place. These bills have bypassed the committee process, only barely been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and have been dumped on the floor by leadership at the last minute. That’s not how good legislation gets made – regardless of whether it’s Democrats or Republicans supporting the bill.

McCain and Collins are right to be infuriated about the process; indeed, more of their colleagues should be along with them. If Republicans in Congress aren’t going to pass a real repeal of Obamacare, then any health care legislation they propose ought to go through the normal legislative process.

That means that it will go through extensive public hearings, committee votes – and that it will probably need 60 votes to pass.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that.

If Republicans can’t get to the 60-vote threshold, they don’t deserve to get anything done on health care. These rules and processes have been set in place for a reason, and it’s not to hinder legislating – it’s to improve it by forcing cooperation. This is something that the minority party is always better at recognizing than the majority, but it would be nice if someone in Republican leadership remembered their complaints about Obamacare when it was being passed.

If Republicans really want to get something done on health care, they won’t keep bringing forth these poorly thought out, last-minute proposals. They’ll go back to the drawing board and come up with a reasonable proposal to make productive fixes to our healthcare system. That’s not the end of the world, and in this case, leadership should embrace the opportunity to hit the reset button.

Flawed, secretive, rushed Republican legislation is no better than flawed, secretive, rushed Democratic legislation. Perhaps, if Republicans used a better process to work on the issue, they might come up with a better result – one that has a chance of passing. In the meantime, Mainers can rest assured knowing that they have a U.S. senator in Collins who works hard on their behalf instead of kowtowing to lobbyists or party leadership.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Bannon might be key to midterms http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/24/jim-fossel-bannon-might-be-key-to-midterms/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/24/jim-fossel-bannon-might-be-key-to-midterms/#respond Sun, 24 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1259673 Former White House strategist Steve Bannon has not followed the typical mode of departure for an aide ejected from the West Wing. Usually, when a staffer leaves 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they’re quiet for a while afterward – and the explanation is almost always that they “resign,” rather than being fired. Then, when they do begin to re-emerge into the public view, they stand solidly by their former boss, regardless of the circumstances of their own dismissal.

We’ve seen former White House staffers Reince Preibus and Sean Spicer largely stick to this script. Or, at least, we did until Spicer’s surprise appearance on the Emmys last week – though, given their ratings this year, they might actually still be considered fairly low-profile.

Bannon, on the other hand, has not gone gently into that good night. Less than a month after his departure, he made a major appearance on “60 Minutes” for a lengthy interview. There, he spent much of the time attacking not the Democrats, but the Republican Party. Now, it’s no shock that Bannon would have plenty of ire at Republican congressional leadership, who were slow to embrace Donald Trump and were often – at best – lukewarm about his agenda.

No, what was most surprising about Bannon’s interview wasn’t that he criticized Republicans, but also that he went after President Trump on several issues. He criticized Trump’s decision to give Congress a chance to fix the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, rather than simply ending it immediately. Instead, he made it clear that he preferred to have no compromise whatsoever on the immigration issue. He also slammed Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, correctly pointing out it directly led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.

Bannon’s disagreement with Republican leadership and the White House hasn’t just been in a war of words, however. He’s taking this fight directly to the voters in the Alabama special election, embracing archconservative Roy Moore against Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat after Jeff Sessions became attorney general. Moore was removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after he refused to take down a monument to the Ten Commandments. To nobody’s surprise, Mitch McConnell has supported Strange. What is slightly more surprising is McConnell also managed to convince Trump to not only endorse Strange, but to visit the state and campaign with him a few days before voters head to the polls.

The importance of the special election in Alabama cannot be understated, as it represents the first solo test of Steve Bannon versus the Republican establishment. If Moore is successful, it could set off a wave of primary challenges and put the Republican Party’s House and Senate majorities in peril. Bannon may well say he’s recruiting candidates who are loyal to Trump, but really he wants candidates who will embrace his own political vision.

As always, of course, the real question is where Trump really stands. Given how quick he is to attack people, one would assume Bannon’s post-White House criticism of him would draw the president’s ire – but he hasn’t gone after his former aide. That might suggest Bannon really isn’t being a free agent in either his criticism of Trump or his support of Moore, but instead is breaking with elements of the administration rather than with Trump himself.

This would be in keeping with Trump’s management philosophy of having dueling power structures within his organization. This was reflected in his initial appointments of Bannon as chief strategist and Preibus as chief of staff – an arrangement that didn’t last long. Now, on the surface, it would appear new Chief of Staff John Kelly is putting together a more traditionally organized administration. It may be that, far from actually severing ties with Bannon, Trump merely relocated him, moving one power structure outside of the West Wing.

This would also give Trump more flexibility going forward: If Congress can get his policies enacted, he can completely cut Bannon loose; if they don’t, he can embrace Bannon’s anti-incumbent movement. The next few weeks may well determine which course he chooses – and the outcome of the midterm elections.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Trump, Democrats come to a deal of sorts http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/17/jim-fossel-trump-dems-come-to-a-deal-of-sorts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/17/jim-fossel-trump-dems-come-to-a-deal-of-sorts/#respond Sun, 17 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1256092 A little more than a week ago, President Trump signed the first major bipartisan bill of his presidency, as he cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to raise the debt ceiling, extend government funding and provide disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

To be sure, passing disaster relief was the right thing for both parties to do; what was less necessary was caving entirely to the Democrats on government funding and the debt ceiling.

Republican leadership had been pushing for a longer-term extension, to see Congress through the upcoming midterm elections on both fronts. Instead, Trump gave the Democrats exactly what they wanted: a three-month increase that sets up a massive battle at the end of the year.

Had Republicans been able to present a unified front, they may have been able to negotiate a longer-term spending solution. Unfortunately, many conservative lawmakers continued the hard-line tactics they had employed during 2011 and 2013 debates over the debt ceiling, when a Democrat still served in the White House. Rather than work with them to get a debt ceiling bill passed, Trump opted to work with Democrats instead, and the vast majority of Congress went along with his approach – including the entire Maine delegation.

Now, this was not entirely a terrible outcome. Lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis is no way to govern responsibly in any country, and it’s especially damaging in the world’s largest economy. It was certainly vital to pass disaster relief aid, and it was good to see that done while avoiding another government shutdown or debt ceiling crisis. Trump was wise to back down from his threat to shut down the government if his proposed border wall with Mexico wasn’t fully funded.

This bill didn’t do anything to actually solve any of those impending fiscal crises – it just made them slightly less impending. It was the equivalent of getting an extension on your term paper, instead of just getting it done on time. Once again, Congress has punted our fiscal problems down the road rather than working together in a substantive way to fix them. In the end, simply avoiding another crisis – while certainly commendable – isn’t really responsible governing.

The question for Trump and for Congress is whether anything will change over the next three months, or if they’re just going to ignore the problem until the last minute again. While Trump’s willingness to engage in bipartisanship is commendable, it may also pose greater challenges for him in the future. Most Republicans heeded leadership’s warnings that it was vital to support this round of funding and increase the debt ceiling so disaster relief aid could be passed. If that urgent pressure isn’t there in three months, many more conservatives may be willing to revolt against yet another debt ceiling increase.

Moreover, by revealing his willingness to negotiate with Democrats, Trump may have overplayed his hand.

If Democrats feel empowered they may begin to push in other areas as well. This could include changes to the Affordable Care Act, immigration policy and more. All Democrats have to do is pick a position that will split the Republican Party and tie it to an urgent, must-pass bill of some sort.

Working with Trump may come at a cost to Democrats, whether individually or collectively. Right now, much of the energy in the Democratic Party seems to be coming from left-wing activists who view it as their moral obligation to resist Trump at all turns. Democrats who abandon the ‘”resistance” may find themselves the target of primaries, as Republicans who were willing to work with President Obama often did. At this point, progressives are unlikely to be mollified by a few policy wins here and there – they’re pushing for outright victory on all fronts.

If the vote over government spending and disaster aid were the beginning of an end to the partisan rancor that has so divided Washington, that would be a relief. Instead, it seems to have been the classic D.C. bait-and-switch: pretend to oppose something in order to extract concessions. It’s hard to imagine that Democrats would really have voted down disaster relief funding in the middle of hurricane season – they just used the opportunity to get their way.

This time, that strategy allowed the Democrats to get a win. Hopefully over the next three months, the Republican Party learns from their mistake rather than repeating it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Crony capitalism harms all http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/10/jim-fossel-crony-capitalism-harms-all/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/10/jim-fossel-crony-capitalism-harms-all/#respond Sun, 10 Sep 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1252579 In the fractious political environment coursing through America today, it’s difficult to imagine that there might be a single issue on which those from the far left, the far right and the center might agree. There is, however: fighting the pernicious attempts of certain corporations, whether large or small, to entice the government into rigging the free market in their favor. This is crony capitalism, and it’s what happens when people manipulate democracy to benefit their own pocketbook rather than society at large.

Liberals, conservatives and moderates should all oppose crony capitalism because it’s detrimental to all of their causes. Fundamentally, it’s the most blatant example of big government run amok that you’ll ever find, which should absolutely infuriate conservatives of all stripes (unless they’re benefiting from it somehow). It takes funds away that could be spent on other things – whether that’s health care, national security, education or tax cuts – and instead sends it into some well-connected businessman’s bank account. It’s a prime example of irresponsible, unethical government designed to benefit the powerful few, and that should be offensive to all of us, regardless of ideology.

Sadly, it’s all too easy to find examples of crony capitalism in this country, at the local, state and federal levels. One of the most obnoxious examples in other states is billionaire team owners asking for public subsidies to build stadiums for their millionaire athletes.

Here in Maine, we’re lucky enough to have team owners who are more interested in giving back to the community than taking from it. That doesn’t mean we’re immune from crony capitalism, however. Just this past session, we’ve let gigantic corporations from away write regulations for fantasy sports; in years past, we bailed out railroads that ended up going bankrupt anyway.

This year, though, we have the opportunity to vote down crony capitalism at the ballot box directly for a change. Usually, these types of deals are written behind closed doors in the dead of night, and voters aren’t given any kind of say. This deal was written in secret, too, but instead of trying it to ram it through the Legislature, the authors of the York County casino referendum hope to hoodwink the public instead.

Now, it’s important to understand that the referendum doesn’t allow just anyone to open a casino in York County. It doesn’t establish a neutral, open bidding process, as should be the case – nor does it simply legalize gambling and allow anyone to open a casino. Instead, it restricts who can open the casino in such a limited way that only one person, casino developer Shawn Scott, would qualify. The Legislature, of course, would never have approved this ridiculous plan if the proposal had been brought to them first. That’s probably why supporters decided to go the referendum route instead.

Writing a law specifically to allow one person to make a profit isn’t good governance, and it isn’t good business practice, either. Getting the government to rewrite laws solely to let one person make a profit is dishonest, misleading and manipulative, and the people of Maine deserve better. If we’re going to have a debate about expansion of casino gaming, it ought to be done in an open, fair way through the normal legislative process, not written by lawyers to benefit one particular person.

As soon as this campaign is over, the Legislature should work together in a bipartisan fashion to put in place some kind of reasonable regulatory structure for casinos in Maine. After all, now that two full-scale casinos are already operating in the state, the debate over whether to allow gambling at all is pretty much over. Indeed, it was over long before that, with the state enthusiastically lapping up all the tax revenue it could from the lottery. If the Legislature provides for greater oversight of the gambling industry in Maine, perhaps we can finally put these endless casino referendums to rest.

In the meantime, Mainers of all ideological stripes should vote to reject this particular casino. Whether you’re for gambling or against it, don’t let this monstrosity pass. This isn’t just about gambling, or about jobs and the economy: It’s about defending the integrity of our democracy, especially our citizen initiative process. We’ve shown before that Maine values can defeat big out-of-state funding efforts for referendums. Let’s come together this fall and do it again, proving to the rest of the country that our democracy in this state isn’t simply for sale to the highest bidder.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Democrats on the lookout for rising stars http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/20/jim-fossel-democrats-on-lookout-for-rising-stars/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/20/jim-fossel-democrats-on-lookout-for-rising-stars/#respond Sun, 20 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1242788 While the nation’s eyes were rightly drawn to the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend, liberals were gathering in Atlanta for their annual Netroots convention. A chance for progressives from across the country to come together and hear from rising stars of the Democratic Party, Netroots is in many ways the liberal antithesis of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a similar annual event. This year, it was the division within the Democratic Party that was on display.

One example of this was in the treatment of two female Democrats running for governor in Georgia at Netroots. Stacey Evans, a white moderate, was shouted down by fans of Stacey Abrams, a liberal who was the first African-American woman to serve as a legislative leader for Democrats in Georgia. That wasn’t the only sign of division at Netroots: Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, laid out a true-blue progressive platform. She advocated single-payer health care, supported the goals of labor unions and urged Democrats to fully embrace abortion rights. It was a stark statement that she would not moderate as a potential presidential candidate, running more in the mold of the UK Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn than Tony Blair or Bill Clinton.

Another potential 2020 candidate had a little bit too much on his plate last weekend to spend time speaking to liberal groups: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton confidante and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, would probably epitomize the party establishment to Netroots attendees. However, his leadership throughout the violence and protests in Charlottesville will likely elevate his national stature as moderate Democrats search for a viable alternative in 2020.

They won’t be the only two candidates, of course. We’re likely to see a large field of Democrats vying to take on Trump, just as Maine Democrats are going to see a number of candidates for both governor and the 2nd Congressional District.

Here in Maine, the large field and likely intense primaries could well be a bellwether of the 2020 presidential race. The division among Maine Democrats seems to reach into the very upper echelon of the party, where some longtime stalwarts are firmly ensconced in the Bernie Sanders wing. That could certainly be a challenge for Democrats eager to retake the Blaine House after eight years of Paul LePage as governor. There’s no unifying candidate who can clear the field in the primary, as there have been in previous years.

A large primary isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a party, however. In 2010, Republicans had a crowded primary and went on to a surprising success in the general election. Most of the party quickly rallied behind LePage after the primary, leading to the Republicans regaining control of the Blaine House and the Legislature for the first time in decades. Democrats certainly have reasons to be optimistic about 2018: The last time two different candidates from the same party won gubernatorial elections back to back was in the 1950s.

Just as they did in 2010, Democrats will likely face an independent center-left candidate – this time in the form of State Treasurer Terry Hayes. If the Democratic primary is particularly vicious, Hayes could certainly benefit, just as Angus King benefited from a divisive Republican primary in 1994. Hayes could also offer herself as a viable alternative option in a number of different scenarios, depending on who wins the Democratic primary. There aren’t many candidates running on the Democratic side who are moderate, pragmatic and independent in the way she is.

Democrats will face an uphill battle to rebuild their majorities here in Maine, as party leaders acknowledged at a recent forum in East Orland. They’ve got to find a new platform and a better way of presenting it to a disgruntled, unpredictable electorate. If the rifts within the party become too wide, they could easily alienate the independent voters they’ll need in the general election, their liberal base or both.

The Democratic Party would be wise to avoid the kind of intraparty warfare seen in the Republican Party of late. They should ignore the voices of those who want to purge the ideologically impure from the party. That kind of thinking has cost the Republican Party seats, both nationally and in the Maine Legislature.

Rewarding their extremists is not how Democrats will win back hearts and minds, either in Maine or across the country. Endless infighting won’t get the votes of Americans sick and tired of partisan gridlock – something both parties should keep in mind.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Venezuela crisis bears watching http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/13/jim-fossel-venezuela-crisis-bears-watching/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/13/jim-fossel-venezuela-crisis-bears-watching/#respond Sun, 13 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1239332 If you haven’t been paying attention to foreign affairs much of late, that’s understandable, as U.S. domestic politics have certainly been tumultuous enough for the past six-plus months.

If you have been monitoring global events, you might have been zeroing in on tensions with North Korea or Russia, assuming that those should be at the top of this country’s agenda. If you did, that’s also certainly understandable, as that seems to occupy the lion’s share of foreign affairs coverage in the U.S. media today. However, you’d be wrong. There’s a simmering crisis involving a major American trading partner in the Western Hemisphere that the media isn’t covering nearly as thoroughly as it should: the imminent collapse of Venezuela.

The crisis in Venezuela really began under the previous president, Hugo Chavez, who imposed his vision of socialism on the country. He took the profits from the country’s oil exports and invested them towards his goal of reformulating Venezuelan society, which helped lead to an economic crisis of massive proportions. This led to massive protests, especially under his equally corrupt but far less charismatic successor, Nicolas Maduro. Thanks to Maduro’s incompetence, the opposition took control of parliament several years ago. Rather than listen to the will of the people, however, Maduro ignored the election results.

Currently, a constitutional assembly packed with his supporters through a rigged election is working to end democracy in the country. They removed the country’s chief prosecutor, a top critic of the president, from power and declared themselves the top governmental body in the country. Maduro, meanwhile, is working feverishly to stifle dissent, arresting and killing opposition leaders.

Now, to be sure, Venezuela has had its share of political crises before. Economic instability has led to coup attempts in the past, and Nicolas Maduro is not the first dictator in the country’s history. However, for 40 years before the rise of Hugo Chavez, the country had enjoyed democracy and – for the most part – economic stability, thanks to its oil exports. Even after Chavez pushed through a new constitution in 1999, he allowed some semblance of democracy to persist; Venezuelans actually rejected his attempt to expand his powers in 2007. Maduro seems intent on stripping all of those semblances aside and assigning himself absolute power.

The United States is, rightly, condemning Maduro’s actions, and is imposing sanctions against individual members of his regime. We have clear moral reasons to act against a regime that is violating the human rights of its citizens, but there are strategic reasons to act as well. Venezuela is a major power in the region, and instability there could undermine regional stability, returning the continent to the days of coups, dictatorships and revolutions. While it may be too late to prevent an all-out civil war in Venezuela, it may not be too late to prevent it from spreading.

Fortunately, the United States has a lot of potential sway here. We are Venezuela’s major trading partner, by far, accounting for almost a quarter of both its imports and exports. In other words, trade with the U.S. is the backbone of the Venezuelan economy, but that’s hardly the case in reverse. The U.S. mainly imports oil from Venezuela, and – thanks in no small part to the growth of domestic production of late – that accounts for only about 6 percent of our supply. So we could completely cut off trade with Venezuela without doing crippling damage to our own economy.

However, the U.S. should tread cautiously there: In the past, sanctions have propped up enemy regimes by giving them the perfect foil. Maduro already paints the U.S. as an enemy, so he could benefit from sanctions. Sanctions spectacularly failed to lead to regime change in countries like Iraq, North Korea and Cuba; there’s no reason to think that they would be successful here, either. Once you impose sweeping trade sanctions, you’ve used your biggest threat short of military intervention. That’s why the administration has thus far wisely imposed limited sanctions instead, targeting individual members of the Maduro regime.

As consumers, we can refuse to do business with Venezuelan companies. The most prominent of these locally is Citgo, which is majority-owned by the Venezuelan state oil company and minority-owned by the Russian state oil company. If you want to avoid supporting the Maduro regime, then you should certainly avoid refills at Citgo stations.

For now, other than that, all any of us can do is hope that there’s a peaceful resolution.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/13/jim-fossel-venezuela-crisis-bears-watching/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/08/1239332_APTOPIX_Venezuela_Politic2.jpgVenezuelan troops fire rubber bullets at anti-government protesters in Caracas last month.Fri, 11 Aug 2017 18:21:05 +0000
Jim Fossel: There’s no comparison between Nixon and Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/06/jim-fossel-hedy-2/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/06/jim-fossel-hedy-2/#respond Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1235737 With the constant tumult of the first six-plus months of the Trump administration, there’s been one consistent refrain from many commentators: comparing Donald Trump to the only president to ever resign in disgrace, Richard M. Nixon. As understandable as that may be, it’s intellectually dishonest and lazy, and it’s not really fair.

That is, it’s not really fair to Richard Nixon.

For one, Nixon had enormous experience when he first ran for the White House (unsuccessfully) in 1960. This was a man who’d been vice president, a United States senator and a congressman. He had a great deal of familiarity with politics and government. He knew how Congress worked, and how to pull the levers of the federal bureaucracy to achieve his goals. He had more experience in government than Barack Obama did, let alone Trump.

Trump, meanwhile, was quite possibly the least experienced major-party presidential nominee in American history. Before launching his campaign, he’d never once run for political office – not even school board or city council. He hadn’t ever worked for an elected official, or served in the military, or held any kind of public office.

He was, instead, used to the business world, and a privately held business at that. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a background in business as well as in government; that’s common for many presidents, especially Republicans. What’s less common – indeed, virtually unprecedented – is to have no governmental experience whatsoever before being elected president.

This is important, because it’s easy to forget now, but Nixon accomplished quite a bit as president before being swallowed up by Watergate. He had a successful first term, opening relations with China, signing bipartisan environmental legislation and landing men on the moon. He was able to do all this despite Democrats having control of Congress throughout his entire presidency, finding enough common ground to get things done. All of that led to his easily winning a second term in 1972, which means the Watergate break-in was not only an illegal abuse of power, but also completely unnecessary.

It’s necessary to remember Nixon’s accomplishments, because it places in proper context the scandal that proved his downfall. Nixon didn’t need Watergate to win – he was a skilled enough politician to manage that anyway. Instead, he had his aides commit the break-in and subsequent cover-up out of enormous hubris, in the belief that he and his associates were above suspicion. To be sure, hubris is something that Nixon and Trump seem to have in common, but in Nixon’s case it was fed by accomplishments in government, not in real estate and reality television.

Nixon’s extensive background in politics also meant that, when scandal did hit his administration, he had real support in Congress – at least at first. It was difficult for Republicans to betray him or ignore him, because he had decades of good will within the Republican establishment, both in Congress and nationally. Republicans across the country had been voting for Nixon for years, and he had long-established conservative bona fides.

Trump, though, only recently became a Republican; in the past he’d given money to candidates in both parties. That leaves him bereft of good will in Congress, where even members of his own party can’t trust him to make good on his promises.

That’s a big part of the reason that the push to repeal Obamacare failed: Members of Congress didn’t trust the process because they didn’t trust the administration. This was also evident in the recent overwhelming, bipartisan passage of tougher sanctions against Russia. Republicans who favored a tougher line against Russia did not fear angering the White House, as many of them got more votes in their state or district than the president did.

Trump’s lack of experience, accomplishments and longtime political allies is ultimately as likely to be his undoing as any scandal. Even if the investigation into Russian interference in the election doesn’t directly implicate Trump or unearth any impeachable offense, it may nonetheless do permanent damage to the relationship between Congress and the White House.

It’s easy to imagine Congress – even if it’s under Republican control – taking further steps to limit the president’s power, as they did with the Russia sanctions. They could make it impossible for him to fire the special counsel, for instance, or limit his control over the implementation of Obamacare. In the end, Trump might see not his term cut short, but his powers – and that could affect presidents for decades to come.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Voters should punish incivility http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/30/jim-fossel-voters-should-punish-incivility/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/30/jim-fossel-voters-should-punish-incivility/#respond Sun, 30 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1232556 Just when you begin to think that political civility has hit an all-time low, along comes someone dead set on proving you wrong. Last year, that was consistently one person: then-candidate Donald Trump, who broke the norms again and again, to the point where many Republicans were unwilling to support him.

With his presidential victory, a return to civility seemed remote, but one could at least hope that things wouldn’t get any worse. While Trump’s comments were inappropriate, many of his supporters frequently took things several steps further – and now his opponents seem to be attempting to imitate them. We saw a few startling examples of this online after the shooting at the congressional baseball practice, and after John McCain announced his latest bout with cancer, but it was mostly random commenters, rather than elected officials themselves.

Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, recently broke that trend when he threatened President Trump in a Facebook post. Regardless of what you might think of an elected official’s policies, personality or suitability for office, threatening them with physical violence – or even implying it – is never acceptable. In his apology on the floor of the House, Rep. Hamann claimed that he was making an attempt at satire, but if so, he badly mangled it. After all, he responded to inappropriate language not only with more inappropriate language, but also with the threat of violence thrown in to the mix.

Speaker Sara Gideon rightly stripped him of his committee assignments, where much of the work of the Legislature is actually done, but that’s not enough.

He should resign, or be expelled from the Legislature if he doesn’t; the Maine House is specifically granted this power in the state constitution. There’s an order pending on the floor of the House to do just this. With Democrats in the majority, it’s unlikely to pass, but it should absolutely be brought to the floor for a vote, so that every member of the House can record how they feel about the issue in public.

This type of bad behavior doesn’t always revolve around partisan disagreements. After the failure of the health care bill in the U.S. Senate, Republican Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold criticized “female senators from the Northeast” for their opposition to the proposal and suggested he would challenge them to a duel if they were men from Texas.

Of course, there is only one female Republican senator in the Northeast: Maine’s Susan Collins. Congressman Farenthold’s comments were not only inappropriately violent, implying that he’d like to physically harm one of his co-workers, but were incredibly sexist as well. Even though Farenthold apparently apologized – as did Sen. Collins, for her insensitive description of him to a colleague – he should face further consequences.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Farenthold says it’s “absolutely repugnant” that the GOP-led Senate hasn’t acted on repealing the health care law and he singled out “some female senators from the Northeast,” which most took to mean Maine Senator Susan Collins. Associated Press/Jacquelyn Martin

Ideally, he should resign from office, as his comments are unbecoming of a member of Congress, embarrassing to not only his constituents, but also to the institution and the country as a whole. Failing that, Paul Ryan should at least have the same courage as Maine’s Sara Gideon and strip him of his committee assignments, forcing him to wander aimlessly about the halls eagerly anticipating floor votes. In any other industry, Farenthold would likely face disciplinary action for comments like this, and government should be no exception.

The kind of rhetoric used by Scott Hamman and Blake Farenthold should always be considered completely unacceptable and out of bounds. It’s bad enough to volley personal insults just because someone disagrees with you – that makes it harder to set aside those disagreements and get things done for the good of all. When someone takes it a step further and threatens – or implies to threaten – someone for their views, that’s beyond the pale. It not only is inconsiderate and inappropriate, but is antithetical to a core American value: freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech isn’t threatened when you’re held accountable for your words, as Scott Hamman was. Freedom of speech was never meant to be freedom from responsibility. That freedom is at risk, however, when threats of violence are made by someone against you because of what you believe. That’s why such threats should be completely unacceptable in this country.

Politicians are notoriously poor at holding one another responsible for their actions. Fortunately, we live in a democracy, where we the voters are entrusted with that task. If we want to see more civility in Augusta and Washington, it’s in our power to make it happen – we just have to hold politicians responsible for what they say as well as what they do.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Health care has become a bipartisan failure http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/jim-fossel-health-care-has-become-a-bipartisan-failure/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/jim-fossel-health-care-has-become-a-bipartisan-failure/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229277 Three months ago, in one of my very first columns for this paper, I wrote that Republicans were at a loss as to what to do about health care. Rival factions were tearing the party apart and it was fairly clear that leadership lacked a comprehensive strategy – or, indeed, a strategy of any kind – to fulfill their campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

In the meantime, as we’ve gone from mid-spring to mid-July, a whole host of summertime traditions have reasserted themselves: traffic jams in Wiscasset, the Red Sox being in first place, Orioles fans eagerly anticipating the start of football season.

Still, though, Republicans remain stuck on health care. The passage of the House version of “repeal and replace” hasn’t led to any progress at all in the Senate, where leadership held off on a vote last week to await the return of John McCain, who’s been in the hospital. That didn’t matter much in the end, though, as it became clear that McConnell lacked the votes to begin debate on any health care bill, whether it was repeal or repeal and replace. He faces the same dilemma that Paul Ryan faced months ago: Conservatives want more of a repeal, moderates want more of a replacement and Democrats aren’t interested in either.

You can hardly blame Democrats for being gleeful observers as Republicans spin their wheels. If Republicans do nothing, their base is angered and that benefits Democrats politically. If they succeed in repealing Obamacare but lack a viable alternative, Democrats could gain momentum from outraged independents as they prepare for the midterms. Policy-wise, liberals face a win-win too: If Obamacare is repealed, they can say it didn’t go far enough; if it stays in place and continues to fail, they can make the same claim. Either way, it strengthens their argument for a single-payer system.

The real problem isn’t just that Republicans are wrong on health care, or that Democrats are wrong on health care, but that everyone is wrong on health care. Whether they’re debating the repeal of Obamacare, the merits of single-payer or whether health care is a right, they’re all missing the point: The problem with health care is the cost, not the question of who pays for it.

This paper’s editorial board got it right a few weeks ago when it raised the cost issue. If costs were cut, the nation wouldn’t be paralyzed by a debate over health insurance, and there wouldn’t be the constant confusion over the difference between health insurance and health care. It’s long past time for both sides to ditch the partisan rhetoric and searched for common ground on the issue.

One of the fundamental problems with the health care industry is that it’s not a free market. Health care providers (including drug companies) and insurers work together to hide the costs from the consumer in a way that just doesn’t happen in any other industry. This discourages consumers from shopping around for the best deal on a product that suits their needs, as they would for anything else. After all, if you didn’t know what the price of your car was and someone else was paying for it, would you be haggling over a used car or buying a fully loaded new one?

Maine took a step toward fixing that this past legislative session by passing L.D. 445. Sponsored by Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, with the strong support of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the legislation encourages consumers to shop around for health care by requiring health insurance companies to provide more information about the cost of services. This moves health care closer toward a free market, without depriving consumers of emergency care. It’s exactly the type of legislation that free-market conservatives should advocate, and thanks to plenty of hard work it sailed through the Maine Legislature.

This is a perfect example of the type of common-sense conservative approach that found widespread support in Maine and could nationally, as well. Of course, at a federal level it would face more opposition from the insurance industry and its lobbyists, but it would find more supporters on the left and in the middle than anything Republicans have proposed thus far.

President Ronald Reagan once said that “self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.” Right now, ideologues on both sides are engaging in the self-delusion that their approach is the only way. It’s high time for Americans of all stripes to demand they abandon that folly.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: For better Maine schools, it’s not all about the money http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/jim-fossel-for-better-maine-schools-its-not-all-about-the-money/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/jim-fossel-for-better-maine-schools-its-not-all-about-the-money/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226166 If you just watched the final few frames of the action-drama that was this year’s biennial budget battle, you might have thought the debate ultimately boiled down to taxes: Democrats wanted to raise them a lot, Senate Republicans a bit, while House Republicans and Gov. LePage didn’t want them raised at all.

All of that was true, and while it was the final sticking point, that was less the core of the conflict than the reason it was so easily concluded late on July 3.

In the end, Democrats just weren’t all that dedicated to raising taxes: they simply wanted to ensure more funding for education without having to allow any major policy changes in return. In that they were, unfortunately, largely successful. Though they didn’t get the $300 million in increased education funding they wanted, they wound up with more than half of that.

Unfortunately, throwing more money at our schools simply won’t solve the problems with education in this state. We need to take a serious look at how that money is spent: where it goes, not just the total amount.

Right now, for example, Maine ranks near the top in spending per student, but near the bottom in teacher pay. In other words, we’re spending a lot of money not on making sure we have good teachers, but on administration and overhead. If there were any evidence whatsoever that this produced good results, it might be fine, but there isn’t.

Maine tends to be in the middle of the pack in national rankings, and far behind the other New England states when it comes to results. So, we’re not just spending a lot of money on overhead, but we’re getting little to show for it.

Republicans didn’t err in fighting for education reforms to be included in the budget. Indeed, if anything, they erred in not pushing for more substantial reforms.

They could have fought not just for a statewide teacher contract and reworking the funding formula, but for such reforms as expanding charter schools, school choice, merit pay and more.

Maine has had a successful school choice program for over a century, implementing a voucher program in 1873 – the second-oldest in the nation. Unfortunately, right now it’s limited to special circumstances and to towns that don’t have schools of their own. That can be a real boon for those towns, as it helps attract new residents.

However, there’s no reason students whose parents don’t have the luxury of at least some degree of mobility should be trapped in an under-achieving school just because of geography.

Studies have shown that the quality of education can have enormous impact on the quality of your life down the road.

We ought to fully expand school choice statewide to allow better educational opportunities for all Maine students, removing the bureaucratic hurdles that impede students’ chances for success.

Another reform Republicans could have pushed for in the budget is expanding charter schools in Maine. Maine finally passed a charter school law in 2011, becoming one of the last states in the country to allow them. In order to do so, Republicans had to overcome Democratic intransigence to education reform that was so entrenched that Maine had failed to qualify for President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top education grant program.

However, the legislation as passed limited the number of schools allowed in the first 10 years to 10 statewide and granted far too much power to the state charter schools commission.

We could allow other entities besides local school boards and the state commission to approve charter schools, provide funding for their facilities and eliminate the statewide cap on charter schools.

Doing all of that would increase choices for students and increase the quality of our public education overall.

Unfortunately for Maine, Eliot Cutler is right when he says that the state Democratic Party enjoys far too close a relationship with the teachers’ unions.

That has made education reform a partisan football here, when it isn’t in other states.

If much of Gov. LePage’s tenure has been marked by sharp debates over taxes, spending and welfare reform, the focus of the next election should be education reform.

Mainers deserve to have a real, substantive debate about education that revolves around something other than money. That will only happen, however, if we begin to elect legislators interested in actually fixing the problems with education in this state, rather than just fighting about them or throwing money at the schools.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: LePage is no lame duck just yet http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/09/jim-fossel-hedy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/09/jim-fossel-hedy/#respond Sun, 09 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/09/jim-fossel-hedy/ With the fireworks – in Augusta and across the state – in the rearview mirror with the passage of the biennial budget and the end of Maine’s surprisingly brief government shutdown, it’s time to take a look at who came away the winners and losers from this battle. There’s no doubt that there was a lot at stake for all involved, from the thousands of state employees who were worried about their livelihoods to politicians worried about their careers. However, amid all the furor and tumult ricocheting around the State House over the past few days, it’s pretty clear that there were some definite victors in this battle.

First and foremost, Gov. LePage was a big winner here. He not only managed to find a budget that he could sign, but he reasserted his relevance in the legislative process. Last session, legislative leaders worked around him and passed a budget despite his disapproval, fairly easily overriding his veto. This session, he showed that – despite being in the second half of his second term – he wasn’t a lame duck and legislators couldn’t afford to totally disregard him. However, he also showed that he could be a partner in negotiations, rather than just an adversary – which could have major implications in the shorter second session. Not only will there be a supplemental budget coming up, there will be other emergency legislation that requires two-thirds support to pass where the governor can again insert himself into the process.

House Republicans, despite being the minority party in the larger chamber, managed to come away with a decisive win as well. House Republican Leader Ken Fredette proved himself to be an extremely effective leader this session, keeping his caucus (mostly) together despite enormous pressure – and the best attempts of both Senate Republicans and House Democrats to ignore him. It’s largely thanks to him that we had a short shutdown and a new budget without any tax increases. It was very impressive that he was able to bring the Democrats back to the table so quickly, and extract real concessions from them rather than just swapping out one tax hike for another. House Republicans proved themselves a true force to be reckoned with in the Legislature.

It was the opposite story in the Senate, where Democrats – despite being in the minority by just one vote – seemed content to assent to Senate Republicans’ wishes. It’s easy to forget now, but earlier in the session, 58 Democrats in both chambers pledged not to vote for a budget that didn’t have a “progressive and sustainable funding source to reach 55 percent” of state funding for education. This budget hit the 55 percent mark, but even the very first iteration did away with the 3 percent surcharge to fund it.

It wasn’t just Democrats sitting idly by, though. Senate Republicans got them on board with their budget, but didn’t consult enough with their colleagues in the House. When House Republicans shot the compromise down, they essentially locked the Senate out of the budget negotiations entirely. The action shifted to the House, with the entire Senate repeatedly approving whatever budget came before them almost unanimously (Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, was the sole dissenter willing to vote against this bad deal for Maine). If, before this momentous fight, you didn’t know who any of the Senate leadership was, you aren’t alone – and the shutdown probably didn’t change that. The entire Maine Senate was a loser in this budget battle, reduced to what amounted to mere observer status.

Democrats, as a whole, didn’t fare particularly well in these negotiations, either. While House Speaker Sara Gideon was able to work out a deal with LePage, they not only lost the 3 percent surcharge but weren’t able to pass any tax increases at all. That failure may well drive a significant rift between the progressive base and Democratic leadership in the years to come. Indeed, during the seemingly endless votes on this budget, the progressives in both chambers went along with their leadership on each vote. They either couldn’t or wouldn’t mount a significant challenge (or even a purely symbolic one) of the party line.

At the end of it all, though, the biggest winner wasn’t any politician. The biggest winners were the people of Maine, who will have better-funded schools for their kids without any tax increases. That includes state employees, facing the daunting prospect of weeks (or longer) without pay. Fortunately, a fair agreement was reached more quickly, letting us all move on with our lives.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Ignore the will of the people at your peril http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/02/jim-fossel-ignore-the-will-of-the-people-at-your-peril/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/02/jim-fossel-ignore-the-will-of-the-people-at-your-peril/#respond Sun, 02 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1219718 We’ve seen a fairly tumultuous legislative session this year in Augusta. It has featured not only an epic budget fight – which, by the time you read this, has possibly resulted in a shutdown of state government – but also a concerted effort by both parties to repeal or significantly modify the citizens’ initiatives passed last fall.

The problem with these fights is just that legislators are engaging in the kind of endless partisan bickering that has paralyzed Washington, D.C., and led many Americans to detest all politics, weakening faith in our democratic system.

Legislators seem to think that they can get away with repealing or changing citizens’ initiatives if they act in a bipartisan way, and that anger over the budget and the shutdown will help their party at the expense of the other. Unfortunately, as Doc Brown would say to Marty McFly, they’re failing to think three-dimensionally. They’re failing to recognize that they face a new threat that might completely upend the traditional two-party system: a rising populist anger with champions on both the left and the right.

Nationally, that populism has been represented by Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump on the right. Here in Maine, it might lead to quite a different result: a rising coalition of moderates that takes the best ideas from both sides and forces people to compromise. You might have thought that the effort to recruit independents to run for the Legislature would have been dealt a death blow by the likely repeal of ranked-choice voting, but the budget fight – and the Legislature fiddling with referendums – might have significantly strengthened their hand.

With the referendums, it’s pretty clear that many in both parties were not interested in working in a good-faith way to implement them. Instead, they did their very best to undermine, weaken or repeal them.

Regardless of whether you supported the referendums or not (many were poorly written, ill-conceived ideas that deserved to be defeated, to be sure), there’s no denying that legislative efforts to revise them were virtually unprecedented. Though many of these citizens’ initiatives did pass narrowly, they were voted in by the people statewide, and many people who supported these initiatives might feel as though they can no longer trust anyone in either party.

That’s certainly understandable, and not unexpected. A few minor tweaks to the referendums would have been understandable, but the changes that have been made – no matter how well-intentioned – have completely undermined them, and probably should have been referred back to the people for a vote.

With so many different citizens’ initiatives facing wholesale changes, that presents opportunities to challengers in many different legislative districts. Regardless of your local legislator’s party, they might face a challenger from the right or the left who opposes their attempt to undermine ranked-choice voting, the minimum-wage increase or the education spending referendum. That could create quite an interesting dynamic in some districts, especially if the challenger were an independent who could take up several of these causes without losing a primary.

On the budget, these sorts of scorched-earth debates tend to cause a “pox-on-both-your-houses” reaction in many voters, whether they result in a shutdown or not. With only two choices, that can cause depressed turnout and hand a victory to whomever’s base is the most excited. However, in other Western democracies, this sort of event has caused the rise of third parties, often populist, whether coming from the left, the right or neither.

In France, for example, the complete and utter failure of both major parties to address their failures of partisanship, paternalism and corruption led to the rise of a centrist third party. Their candidate, Emmanuel Macron, was easily swept to the presidency and his brand-new party won a huge majority in the subsequent legislative elections. This result completely dismantled the traditional two-party system in France, embarrassing the well-established left-wing and right-wing parties in the country.

We are unlikely to see such a dramatic upending in Maine in the next election cycle, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. What’s more likely, however, is that voters will switch gears and elect a moderate or independent governor, with a significant number of like-minded legislators. That would lead to a major re-calibration of the balance of power in Augusta. That might be a good thing for Maine, but it wouldn’t be a good thing for anyone currently in leadership in either party.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Supply-side economics? Tried it, did it wrong http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/25/jim-fossel-supply-side-economics-tried-it-did-it-wrong/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/25/jim-fossel-supply-side-economics-tried-it-did-it-wrong/#respond Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/25/jim-fossel-supply-side-economics-tried-it-did-it-wrong/ Tried it,

did it wrong

You may have seen liberals gleefully bringing up Kansas a lot lately. Under conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas slashed tax rates – especially income and corporate taxes. Brownback repeated the theory made by supply-side economists and conservative politicians for years: that cutting taxes would spur economic growth and actually raise revenue in the end. That didn’t happen in Kansas, and so moderate Republicans – unwilling to make the necessary cuts in spending – recently reversed much of Brownback’s tax reform. Liberals are taking this as evidence that the supply-side argument that lowering taxes will lead to more revenue is bogus – and they may have a point.

Unfortunately for Democrats, while the failure of Brownback’s policies may be an indictment of supply-side economics, it’s not really an effective argument against tax cuts or small government. Instead, it reinforces what many fiscal conservatives have long believed: that you can’t cut taxes without cutting spending. If you poll Americans, most of them will love the idea of lowering their own taxes but hate the idea of cutting government services they use. It should come as no surprise that the idea of not having to worry about your bills is appealing to everyone. That’s why lottery tickets sell.

These two competing ideas are a huge driver of American politics. Indeed, they form much of the basis for our two-party system: Republicans want to cut taxes, while Democrats want to increase spending. The problem is that neither of them really want to pay for their plans, so they both came up with magic wands to wave away their problems. Democrats came up with the magic wand of raising taxes just on the rich to pay for things, while Republicans discovered the magic wand of supply-side economics. Of course, neither solution is indefinitely sustainable long-term – especially when taken to the extreme, as Kansas did.

The simple truth is that if you want to pay lower taxes, you’re going to have to cut spending to do it. You can’t just hope more money will materialize out of thin air, nor can you entirely move the burden to out-of-staters with tax shifts. It’s high time that Republican politicians ditch complex tax schemes and get back to the basics: to lower taxes, we’re going to have to cut spending, and it’ll include popular programs that a lot of people use.

There are some politicians who have always recognized these basic fiscal facts. Former Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was viciously attacked by many conservatives for opposing Bush’s tax cuts, was always cognizant of this. She didn’t want to limit the size of Bush’s tax cuts because she loved taxes, or wanter bigger government, but because she was worried about the federal budget deficit. That wasn’t some newly discovered concern of Snowe’s at the time, either. She consistently supported a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution (as has Susan Collins), long considered a holy grail for fiscal conservatives. Snowe’s focus on true fiscal responsibility, rather than the mere facade of it, often put her at odds with Republican leaders who wanted to do the popular thing rather than the right thing.

If you’re going to pass tax cuts, they ought to be paid for with specific spending cuts and spread out across the board to individuals, not targeted to the wealthy or to corporations. Any taxpayer, not just the rich ones, will spend more money if they have more money to spend; they’ll just spend it on different things. That will stimulate the economy, though maybe not in a splashy enough way that a politician can claim credit for it to get re-elected.

The repeal of Brownback’s tax cuts was certainly a blow to his legacy, but it shouldn’t be one to fiscal conservatives in general. Instead, it should encourage fiscal conservatives across the country to return to our roots, with a renewed focus on cutting spending, cutting taxes and reducing the deficit. It’s easy to promise to give people their money back without cutting spending, or by cutting only things that most people don’t like. Making real proposals to cut spending is a bit tougher.

It’s no coincidence that Rand Paul was the only presidential candidate with an actual budget proposal, or that Democrats endlessly attacked Mitt Romney over Paul Ryan’s budget. However, voters often reward candidates who are bold and honest. Rather than causing fiscal conservatives to doubt our goals, the results in Kansas should lead us to rethink our approach and redouble our efforts.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Pragmatists are getting things done in Augusta http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/pragmatists-are-getting-things-done/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/18/pragmatists-are-getting-things-done/#respond Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1212617 With so much attention (rightfully) being focused on the state budget – and the looming specter of a government shutdown – it was easy to miss, but another major showdown was heading toward a resolution last week.

The House and the Senate both voted in an overwhelming, bipartisan fashion to restore the minimum-wage tip credit, which had been due to be phased out as part of the citizen initiative that raised the minimum wage. The wide consensus on Sen. Roger Katz’s bill came despite fierce opposition from outside pressure groups, including those who campaigned for passage of the original referendum.

This was an excellent example of legislators stepping up to work together to solve a serious problem, rather than turning it into yet another partisan football. The issue divided Democrats, with the more pragmatic amongst them joining together with their Republican colleagues to support the legislation. Indeed, it not only divided rank-and-file Democrats, but leadership as well: House Speaker Sara Gideon voted in favor of reinstating the tip credit, while Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson was vociferously opposed.

That was especially interesting, as Democratic leadership is usually fairly united on the major issues of the day – witness the schism between House and Senate Republicans over the budget. The minimum wage issue shows, however, that unity is not a given for either party. If Republicans in both chambers stick together, they might be able to sway enough Democrats to their cause to get something good done for the people of Maine. This wasn’t the first time this has happened in recent years, either: Republicans banded together with moderate Democrats to twice elect independent Terry Hayes as state treasurer over the Democrats’ hand-picked candidates.

This debate was even more illuminating than the treasurer race, though, for a number of reasons. Unlike the secret-ballot treasurer’s race, this debate was completely on display for the public to see. There were floor debates, committee hearings, amendments and roll-call votes. That allowed us to see exactly how close the vote was, and precisely where the fault lines lay. It made it abundantly clear that the Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from their divisive presidential party, as many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters (including Troy Jackson) led the fight to eliminate the minimum-wage tip credit. The so-called unity tour that kicked off in Maine earlier this year was, apparently, a failure, doing little to close the rift between Sanders supporters and the Democratic establishment.

In this fight – as in party primaries across the country since the presidential race – the populist faction was unsuccessful.

Here, that failure came despite the presence of a powerful ally, the Maine People’s Alliance, who put enormous pressure on Democratic lawmakers to leave the referendum intact as is. It was a rare example of Democrats publicly doing battle with the MPA – and succeeding.

The question for the MPA now is, where do they go from here? Will they keep pushing Democrats, and continue to publicly pick fights with party leadership when they don’t adopt their views? They’re already doing this to a certain extent, as the MPA also recently attacked Gideon’s budget compromise offer to reduce the tax increase intended to fund education (another key MPA initiative). If they continue down this road, their obvious next step would be to begin gathering signatures for another referendum to repeal the minimum-wage tip credit.

If the MPA chooses this route, they might be successful, but the divisions within the Democratic Party will only continue to deepen. Indeed, Maine Democrats may be facing their own tea party moment, as an increasingly restive grass roots seeks to circumvent party leadership, rather than working with them.

At a state level, they could do this by making sure truly progressive candidates won in the primaries. As Republicans across the country have seen, a restive grass roots and populist anger can be an asset at times, propelling you to unexpected victories. However, they can just as easily lead you into pointless fights that cost you elections.

Divisions among liberals in Maine are nothing new, just as divisions among conservatives aren’t uncommon. What would be quite unusual, however, is a grass-roots rebellion that reached the upper echelons of party leadership. The last time that happened was when John Martin was ousted as speaker of the House, which helped lead to Clean Elections and term limits being passed.

If the disagreements in Augusta today are the start of something similar, the next few years may be interesting indeed.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Republicans should fight, but smarter http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/11/jim-fossel-republicans-should-fight-but-smarter/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/11/jim-fossel-republicans-should-fight-but-smarter/#respond Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1209041 With the Appropriations Committee recently voting out a divided report on the state budget, the possibility of a government shutdown is looming increasingly large in Augusta. Along with that, calls for both sides to compromise have become increasingly common in the press.

Those who are resisting the urge to compromise and settle for yet another do-nothing budget are being derided as extremists who are unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Of course, that’s easy to do when you’re sitting on the sidelines – or when you have a feeling that your beliefs are going to win out in the end. The truth, though, is much more complicated.

Compromise is, to be sure, not a dirty word. Life is full of compromises, and governing – especially in a democracy – is no exception. Nobody will ever get everything they want, and in a government as divided as Augusta is these days, brinksmanship and tough negotiations are to be expected. That’s not only fair, it’s the best outcome for all of us.

That being said, there’s a big difference between compromise and surrender. When you completely agree with the basic premise that the other side is making, but quibble only over exactly how much they get their way, that’s not compromise – that’s surrender. That’s what happens when you refuse to stand up and fight for your own principles, but instead try to mitigate the damage done by the other side.

Unfortunately, there’s been all too much of that in Augusta of late. We’ve seen, time and time again, Republicans cave to Democrats at the last minute in budget negotiations – which is why Gov. LePage was, rightly, unwilling to sign the last budget passed by the Legislature. He was right to veto that poorly crafted, disappointing budget, as it wasn’t a real compromise where both sides gave up a little and got a little. It’s unfair, though, to say that LePage has been unwilling to compromise when it comes to the budget: He compromised on his very first budget, which required Democratic support to pass even in a Republican Legislature.

Indeed, it was out of those budget negotiations that Emily Cain’s now-infamous quote that her caucus “hates these tax cuts” arose. However, that quote brings back an interesting point in regard to the last budget negotiated by Democrats and Republicans in Augusta: What, if anything, did Democrats have to hate in it? Did they hate that they didn’t get to spend as much money as they wanted? Did they hate that they couldn’t raise the hospitality tax or the sales tax? Did they hate the few nominal tax cuts they had to include?

In contrast, there was plenty for Republicans to hate in the last budget. Scheduled decreases in the hospitality tax and the sales tax didn’t materialize, and the cuts in the income tax weren’t nearly substantial enough to make up for them. There wasn’t real welfare reform included – indeed, there really weren’t major policy reforms in the budget at all in the end.

Republicans have a chance this year to do better. They can fight for real, substantial reforms to education policy, welfare and taxes in Maine. Rather than increasing education spending by $100 million instead of $300 million, they can fight for real policy changes like a statewide teachers’ contract, or readjusting the funding formula.

Maine deserves to have an honest, open debate about education policy, not one that just revolves around a dollar figure.

Our education system needs substantive, dramatic reforms to reduce costs and refocus spending where it might do the most good. If we do that, we might have a chance to improve education in Maine without raising taxes to throw more money at it. Unfortunately, only one side in Augusta is willing to have that conversation right now, so it’s going nowhere. Instead, Democrats are relying on their tax-and-spend philosophy to fix what’s wrong with education, just as they rely on it for everything else.

House Republicans are unwilling to acquiesce to this position, and they ought to be lauded for that, not condemned. A real compromise budget would include some education reforms in exchange for some increased spending, not some increased spending in exchange for not increasing spending even more. It’s a compromise when both sides give a little to reach a common goal, not when one side gets nothing and the other side doesn’t get everything. That isn’t a compromise, that’s a failure, and it ought to be portrayed as such.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Who knew foreign policy was so hard? http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/04/jim-fossel-who-knew-foreign-policy-was-so-hard/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/06/04/jim-fossel-who-knew-foreign-policy-was-so-hard/#respond Sun, 04 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1205515 Donald Trump’s recent trip abroad was hardly the roaring success that the White House was hoping for, but it wasn’t the abject disaster that his opponents have been portraying it as, either.

Yes, he took a rather unorthodox approach: That was evident from the very beginning. Most new presidents make their first foreign trip a short jaunt to Canada or Mexico, relatively friendly countries right next door. Trump chose a different path, figuratively and literally.

His first stop, Saudi Arabia, was a nation with which we have a longstanding friendship, but very little in common. They are not a democracy, and over the years they’ve come under withering criticism from American politicians of all ideological stripes, including Trump himself during the campaign. Many on both the left and the right decry the Saudis’ blatant disregard for human rights and their apparent willingness to finance terrorism across the world – but the fact is they remain a close ally.

Staff photo illustration by Michael Fisher

Our two nations may not have much in common, but we do have capitalism, and that draws us together. Moreover, they serve as an important strategic counter to Iran, where crowds chant “Death to America” in the streets, treaty or no treaty.

It would be nice if we lived in a world where the United States could be allies only with friendly, reliable democracies like Great Britain, but that just isn’t the case. The fact is, we have to depend on countries like Saudi Arabia all over the world for strategic reasons, while many democracies we might prefer to work more closely with are less reliable as allies. That’s not easy for us to accept as a country founded on democratic ideals, but unfortunately, that’s just the way things are – and it’s always a difficult balancing act for any president, no matter how experienced or competent they are.

In Europe, Trump baffled many observers with his unwillingness to explicitly endorse Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which assures mutual self-defense to all members.

That, to be sure, was a mistake, one that unnecessarily undermined the confidence of our friends and might have emboldened our enemies. However, what wasn’t an error was Trump’s insistence our European allies share more of the financial burden of their own defense. Each member of NATO is supposed to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense; in reality, only five of the 28 member states hit that target. Essentially, the United States acts as a credit card for Europe when it comes to defense spending. This allows them to spend more on domestic priorities, while the U.S. gets criticized for spending too much on the military.

It’s not surprising that Europeans are willing to take advantage of the situation. Imagine if you were a homeowner, and your neighbors agreed to pay your share of taxes that went toward education while still allowing your kids access to public schools. Just as you couldn’t afford to do this for your neighbor, we can’t afford to do it for Europe, and it’s high time that an American president put them on notice.

Of course, we ought not to risk the entire Western alliance on nickels and dimes, but we can’t endlessly allow this free ride to continue, either. It will be a delicate balance that will require negotiating both domestic politics and international diplomacy, but if this administration can even the playing field within NATO, they ought to be applauded for it. That will be no easy task, but with the mix of a relatively successful global economy and dual threats from Russia and the Middle East, Europe might be exactly the right combination of spooked and prosperous to play along.

It’s easy to forget now, but though Barack Obama might have been more popular abroad, his foreign policy was hardly beloved at home. He earned plenty of justifiable criticism for his willingness to negotiate with countries that hate us, like Iran and Cuba. It’s important to keep that in mind as we evaluate Trump’s actions abroad.

It used to be said in this country that politics stopped at the water’s edge, but since the end of the Cold War that has largely fallen by the wayside. This isn’t a bad thing – indeed, it’s healthy for the country to debate foreign policy. The important thing is that we recognize the difference between everyday diplomacy and existential threats, not that we squash all dissent on foreign affairs.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: Bring budget debate out into public http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/28/jim-fossel-bring-budget-debate-out-into-public/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/28/jim-fossel-bring-budget-debate-out-into-public/#respond Sun, 28 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1202773 It’s getting to be crunch time for state legislators, who still need to pass the state’s biennial budget by the end of June to avoid a state government shutdown. You wouldn’t necessarily know it by the public schedule, but the budget is the dominant topic of conversation in all corners of the State House. Unfortunately, much of that conversation isn’t occurring on any official agenda or in front of a microphone where the public can listen, but behind closed doors. That’s been a sad trend in recent years: As negotiations over the budget often come down to the last possible minute, they become secret, hidden from public view.

That would be troubling enough for any legislation in Augusta, but it’s especially disconcerting that it always seems to happen with the largest, most complex, most important bill every session. Secret discussions in government might be necessary from time to time when the topic is especially sensitive, like a personnel matter or national security, but neither of those apply to the state budget. It’s high time these back-room negotiations end, and light is thrust upon every aspect of the budget process from start to finish. The public as a whole deserves to see how the state budget is written – not just see the final product.

It’s not just members of the public who are locked out of the process: many legislators are, as well. If you’re not a member of leadership, or on the Appropriations Committee, good luck getting any real information about the negotiations. You won’t get detailed updates; instead, leadership will ask members for their views on a few big-ticket items, and then try to work around those. Eventually, when a deal is reached, it will be presented as a fait accompli. Two years ago, legislators barely even had a chance to read the budget before they had to vote on it.

That’s completely unacceptable. Transparency in governing is not just some legal technicality to be circumvented at a whim; it’s a cornerstone of our system of government. It’s as vital to maintaining our democracy as elections themselves. It’s the only way we can monitor our government, to ensure that they’re really acting on our behalf – whether we do it directly ourselves, or trust the media to do it for us.

Transparency isn’t just good for citizens, it’s good for government as well. When government is open and honest about what they’re doing, it increases everyone’s faith that they’re doing the right thing. When they conduct business in secret, it’s easy to assume they’re up to no good. That leads people to the conclusion that all politicians are corrupt, that nobody’s really looking out for them, and that none of them can be trusted. Then, when a candidate comes along who truly is a corrupt con-man out to take advantage of people, it becomes harder for voters to recognize them for what they really are.

Legislators should be more than willing to have all of their negotiations about the state budget – and all other legislation – out loud, in front of the public. They should have faith in our democratic system, and in the voters who elected them. They shouldn’t be afraid to say something controversial, or to propose new ideas, or to have real public debates.

It’s understandable why they would be, of course. For years both parties have been playing gotcha politics, pouncing on every slight slip-up to derail their opponents’ careers. It’s natural, then, for politicians to want to have private conversations, avoiding the wrath of the angry public – and that’s fair, to a certain degree. However, when this is abused – as it has been in Augusta of late – it becomes thoroughly undemocratic, and the public is right to start to question the motives of those involved.

It’s not just an issue in state government, either. This is a major problem in Washington, where Republicans continue to desperately try to craft a health care bill in secret talks. It can be a problem in local government as well: Your town selectmen might leave a controversial topic they plan to discuss off the published agenda, for example.

None of that is really ethical, even if it is legal. Politicians who are trying to do the right thing for their constituents don’t have anything to fear from the public. Greater transparency at all levels of government may hurt special interests trying to get their own way, but it would do wonders for the greater good.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: How about this for a casino solution – gamble and pass it http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/21/jim-fossel-casino-solution-gamble-and-pass-it/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/21/jim-fossel-casino-solution-gamble-and-pass-it/#respond Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1198968 With the prospect of yet another casino referendum headed to the ballot, a few legislators from both sides of the aisle are taking a look at a creative approach to circumvent it: Pass it.

With every citizen initiative, the Legislature has the option to pass it as is rather than sending it to the people for a vote, and Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, and Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, have proposed doing that with the casino initiative, then coming back and repealing it.

It’s understandable that Mason and Luchini are frustrated with a new casino vote, and they’re to be applauded for their creative strategy. Legislators can always pass a referendum or craft a competing measure to it, and both of these are tools that ought to be considered more often. However, even if their gamble is successful, that shouldn’t be the end of this current phase in the discussion of casino gambling in Maine.

If the new casino initiative is successfully circumvented, that doesn’t mean casino developers and their compatriots will be done with Maine. On the contrary, there’s every reason to believe they will just come back and try, again, until they manage to push this scheme – or some other one – through. That’s why it’s high time for the Legislature to create some permanent regulations governing the establishment of casinos in Maine, so backers have a normal process to use to try and open one.

Legislators, to their credit, have tried to address this issue in the past, but opponents of casino gambling in any form (from both the left and the right) have squashed these efforts. Lately they’ve been joined by supporters of Maine’s current two casinos in Oxford and Bangor, who don’t want to see those facilities done in by any additional competition. It’s long past time for the Legislature to move past these objections and establish a normal regulatory regime for gaming facilities, the same way we have for other businesses from car dealerships to hotels to restaurants.

Now, that’s not to say that opening a new casino should be easy – it shouldn’t. If someone wants to open a casino, they should absolutely face a large hurdle to do so. However, the Legislature can establish new regulations that are at least as burdensome – if not more so – than what some out-of-state developer has to pay to get a citizen initiative on the ballot. The process established by the Legislature can involve not only state agencies, but local government as well, ensuring that any new casino built has the support of the people nearby.

Now that Maine has two casinos, we no longer face the question of whether to allow them, but of how they are established and what regulations they operate under. There’s no reason to believe that creating a reasonable process to allow more casinos to open in Maine will lead to a dramatic expansion of gaming in the state. Just as with any large business, casino developers will take market forces into consideration. That will impose some natural restrictions on the expansion of gaming in Maine in addition to any regulatory restrictions the state imposes.

It’s right to be sick and tired of these endless referendums about casinos, but we can’t just ignore the problem. We don’t need a market so wide open and unregulated that casinos become a ubiquitous part of life all over the state. However, we also can’t afford to completely shut off the market, as we have now, thanks to our citizen initiative process. If we do that, continuing with the status quo, we’ll continue to have to do battle with deceitful ballot initiatives trying to set up new casinos in Maine.

The solution to the problem of these endless casino referendums is not to go after the referendum process, or to use one-time loopholes to work around them. The latter might work with this referendum, but it shouldn’t be used every time a citizen initiative – whether about casinos or anything else – is headed to a vote.

If the York County casino does make it to the ballot, Mainers would be wise to reject it, as it’s a poorly written proposal intended to benefit a few people. After it’s rejected at the polls, we should demand that our legislators return to work on the issue and institute a new process to allow limited casinos in the state, as Massachusetts has done. That would be the reasonable approach, and that’s what our state deserves.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Jim Fossel: The return of Cutler to Maine politics http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/14/jim-fossel-fighting-for-your-independence/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/14/jim-fossel-fighting-for-your-independence/#respond Sun, 14 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1195289 The recent and surprising entry of State Treasurer Terry Hayes into the 2018 gubernatorial race brought with it something totally unsurprising: the return of Eliot Cutler to Maine politics.

Hayes, after all, loyally supported his campaign, so it was to be expected that he would offer her his support in return (indeed, he may have helped convince her to run). The real shock, though, was that Cutler wasn’t just showing up to boost Hayes’ campaign. He also announced that he was supporting an effort to recruit independent legislative candidates across the state, organized in the form of a political action committee called Maine Independents.

Though he’s likely to be the most well-known person involved with the PAC, Cutler is not the sole force behind it. A number of his former staffers are providing the organizational muscle for the group, which might have a greater chance of success if ranked-choice voting is actually implemented in Maine. Still, even with that advantage – if it holds up in court – they face a number of challenges and questions as they get underway.

The first and foremost is organization. The two major parties are extremely well organized, with committees in all 16 of Maine’s counties and in hundreds of municipalities across the state. No matter how much money they spend, any effort to recruit independent legislative candidates will not be able to match the parties organizationally. So, they’ll have to pick and choose a more limited number districts in both the Maine House and the Maine Senate in which to recruit candidates.

This might not sound like a big disadvantage – after all, the parties do the same thing – but it could end up being one. With the major parties, if a candidate falls flat or ends up being better than expected, they can shift resources on the fly to adapt to changing circumstances. When you’ve got candidates in nearly every district, you have that luxury; with a smaller slate of candidates that flexibility just might not be there.

Another problem for this PAC will be ideology. Although the two are often equated, “independent” voters (or, more accurately, voters who are not enrolled in a party) aren’t necessarily centrist – and neither are independent candidates. Some people don’t enroll in a party, or run for office under its banner, because they’re too conservative for the Republican Party or too liberal for the Democrats, not because they’re moderate. Will Cutler’s group support people like that, if they’re running in a district where they can win, or are they interested only in moderates? Are there any issues that are red lines for them, or are they willing to adapt to support the best candidates in each seat?

The major parties, for all their flaws, are fairly adaptable – at least, they are when they’re being successful. In swing areas they’ll back moderates, while finding more traditional liberals or conservatives in less-contested areas. To many people, this is more a bug than a feature, but it’s what allows them to compete all over the state and the country.

Finally, as with all efforts in politics, money will be an issue for this group. In order to be effective and get their candidates elected, they’ll have to raise a ton of it, just like the major parties. Cutler has done fairly well raising money for his gubernatorial efforts, but hasn’t shown much ability to transfer those skills to others. There may be a whole pool of donors out there chomping at the bit to take a bite out of the far left and the far right, but so far they’ve been content donating to the major parties.

Despite all of this, if the Maine Independents group ends is successful, it could be transformative to Maine politics. If they managed to get 10 to 15 House members and around five senators elected, they could have a great deal of sway in Augusta, on bills and leadership alike.

In the current legislative session, those numbers would have been more than enough to determine the balance of power. Independents would be able to push the two parties into a power-sharing arrangement, forming a kind of coalition government. Maine has come close before – the state Senate was tied after the 1998 election, resulting in Mike Michaud and Rick Bennett sharing the Senate presidency by each taking the gavel in one year of the biennium – but we haven’t quite had a formal coalition here, as other states have.

Whether they’re ultimately successful or not, having more independents running gives voters more choices beyond the typical two parties, and that’s certainly a good thing for everyone.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

 

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Jim Fossel: Maine Democrats’ alternative ‘budget’ lacks balance http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/07/jim-fossel-maine-democrats-alternative-budget-lacks-balance/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/07/jim-fossel-maine-democrats-alternative-budget-lacks-balance/#respond Sun, 07 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1192021 Lately, Democratic leadership has been campaigning around the state for what they’re calling an alternative to Gov. LePage’s budget. They’ve labeled it the Opportunity Agenda, and they claim it offers the chance to invest in Maine’s future while providing significant property tax relief.

If it really did that – without raising other taxes or borrowing more money – it might be worth considering. As it is, there are a couple of problems with their approach right off the bat.

The first is that it’s not really a budget. The state budget, you see, is an enormous document, clocking in at well over 200 pages (not counting the transportation budget, a separate document). It’s extremely detailed, covering every department and agency of state government.

By reading it thoroughly, one can see precisely where Gov. LePage hopes to make cuts, where he’d increase spending, and how he’s going to pay for everything – including his proposed tax cuts.

The Democrats, by contrast, are offering no such details. Their proposal is not a comprehensive budget that one can thoroughly examine. Rather, it’s a one-page partisan wish list, largely consisting of increased spending. All together, it’s over $600 million in new spending, and that’s not counting the bonds they want to pass, since their website mysteriously doesn’t give figures for those.

Democrats include $370 million in increased education spending funded by the surcharge on higher incomes, but they don’t explain where the rest of the money comes from. Will they raise taxes, perhaps soaking the rich even more? Will they cut spending elsewhere? Maine, unlike the federal government, cannot simply print money: The state must produce a balanced budget.

Until we know how Democrats plan to pay for their shopping spree, it’s hard to take it seriously.

It’s also problematic for Democrats to trumpet this scheme as major property tax relief. They include in that plan a $64 million increase in municipal revenue sharing and that $370 million increase in education spending, but that’s not really tax relief. If the state gives towns more money to spend, there’s no guarantee that towns will use that money wisely. Rather than offering property tax relief, towns could well just go on another spending spree.

Just as the federal government cannot coax states into cutting taxes by giving them more money, the state cannot do the same to towns.

Of course, this is a common Democratic tactic any time Republicans in Maine propose any kind of tax cuts: Insist that Republicans support tax relief, but make property taxes the priority. Democrats then pivot to demanding more money for cash-strapped towns that can’t possibly cut taxes or spending on their own.

This is a bait-and-switch, allowing a politician to convince voters they support tax cuts when really they want to spend more money – and it’s time we all stop falling for it. If you really think towns need more money, then by all means make that argument, just don’t pretend it’s a tax cut.

The only real, tangible property tax relief in the Democrats’ plan comes from their ideas to increase the homestead exemption and expand the property tax fairness credit. It is through these programs that state lawmakers can do the most to offer property tax relief, and growing them is worthy of consideration, especially with more details. Unfortunately, these proposals constitute less than 7 percent of the Democrats’ total spending package, so they’re hardly the primary focus.

Instead, as usual, the Democrats’ real focus is spending more taxpayer money, not finding a way to give it back.

Maine doesn’t need to keep growing its budget, or simply handing out money to municipalities who may or may not use it wisely.

If revenue sharing is going to be increased, there ought to be a direct tie-in to property tax rates, holding towns responsible for how they use the money.

This could take several forms, including limiting growth in property taxes, actually requiring real decreases or just limiting spending, so towns don’t have any justification for tax hikes.

There is no doubt Mainers need property tax relief, but we also need income tax relief and sales tax relief. Rather than prioritize one over the other, we need a complete, comprehensive reform of Maine’s tax code from top to bottom that results in relief for all taxpayers, from the bottom to the top.

In order to do this, we need to toss the fancy schemes out the window and focus on cutting spending at all levels of government.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/07/jim-fossel-maine-democrats-alternative-budget-lacks-balance/feed/ 0 Fri, 05 May 2017 17:04:11 +0000
Jim Fossel: Upward Bound decision is federal bureaucracy at its worst http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/23/jim-fossel-upward-bound-decision-is-federal-bureaucracy-at-its-worst/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/23/jim-fossel-upward-bound-decision-is-federal-bureaucracy-at-its-worst/#respond Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1185223 College, to be sure, is not for everyone. If you know at a young age exactly what career you want to pursue and are confident that you can get a job without a degree, perhaps you can skip it. This might apply to you if you’re supremely talented in a certain field (especially arts or athletics), or if you’re happy to take over the family business or work in a technical field. If you’re lucky enough to be in this position, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go ahead and get a jump on your career without accruing student loan debt.

However, if you’re unsure what you want to do professionally, college offers you an excellent chance to broaden your horizons. It exposes you to a wider world, and you may find your true passion. This is especially true if you’re from a smaller town, where the opportunities available to you are more limited. Sadly, college is getting more and more expensive every year, becoming farther and farther out of reach for many Americans.

Fortunately, there is a program designed for the needs of those who want to attend college but who lack the financial means: Upward Bound. Over more than 50 years, Upward Bound has proven enormously successful at giving low-income students the chance for a college education, with a special focus on rural students who are the first in their family to attend college. Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of this program, the reason that hundreds of Maine students may be denied from accessing it – and subsequently, higher education – is completely absurd.

You see, a half an inch of blank space may end up keeping Mainers in Aroostook County from going to college.

When the University of Maine at Presque Isle applied for its annual grant to access Upward Bound funds, they accidentally formatted some of the text with 1.5 inches of space instead of double-spacing it per the requirements. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education not only refused to even look at UMPI’s application, but they also would not grant the university the chance to correct this mistake. This is not a substantive error; UMPI didn’t forget to include a section of data or ignore questions required by the application. It was a minor mistake on two pages of a 65-page application – pages that weren’t even required for the application.

This is, essentially, the equivalent of a professor flunking a student for an entire semester because he forgot one punctuation mark in a 50-page paper. Moreover, the appeals process offered by the Department of Education is even more nonsensical than the NFL allowing players to appeal decisions made by the commissioner to the commissioner: It doesn’t exist. That’s right – technically, UMPI lacks the means to appeal this decision.

This is exactly the kind of thing that leads people to detest government: irrational, impractical decisions that harm people’s lives for no good reason. Conservatives often say that they wish government were run like a business, but in this case if the Department of Education is being run like a business, that business is United Airlines. Politics and ideology aside, we all should be able to agree that the government we have should work for the people, no matter its size.

Fortunately, UMPI and its students who depend on Upward Bound have an advocate willing to work on their behalf: Maine’s congressional delegation. Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Bruce Poliquin have all banded together on this one, seeking to have this decision reversed. They’re appealing directly to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to overturn the decision of the bureaucrats who work for her.

Now, this sort of bipartisan work doesn’t get a lot of attention – that tends to go toward the high-profile battles over budgets and Supreme Court nominations. At the end of the day, though, it’s exactly this kind of work that constitutes much of what members of Congress and their staffs do all day. They frequently work on behalf of Mainers to cut through red tape and get things done.

They’ve placed the ball firmly in DeVos’ court. She has the opportunity to show that she can be reasonable by reconsidering UMPI’s application or giving the school a chance to revise it. Or she can deny hundreds of Maine kids a college education over a minor formatting error. Please, Madame Secretary, do the right thing: That space was not intentionally left blank.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/23/jim-fossel-upward-bound-decision-is-federal-bureaucracy-at-its-worst/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-Fossel-002-e1506720577310.jpgFri, 21 Apr 2017 18:38:26 +0000
Jim Fossel: Maine fantasy sports bill benefits big guys http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/16/jim-fossel-maine-fantasy-sports-bill-benefits-big-guys/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/16/jim-fossel-maine-fantasy-sports-bill-benefits-big-guys/#respond Sun, 16 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1182180 A gigantic industry dominated by large, out-of-state companies that contribute little to Maine’s economy is trying to write the rules that regulate it, right now in Augusta. And almost nobody knows that it’s happening.

Like most industries, they’re writing these rules not to benefit the consumer, but to protect their own profits. The Maine push is part of an effort to install industry-friendly regulations in states across the country.

This isn’t big oil, renewable energy or the gun manufacturers. No, it’s not even something most people would think to call an industry. It’s fantasy sports.

Yes, fantasy sports – where you draft players from a variety of teams, and attempt to win prizes based on how they perform – is big business. It falls outside the regulations governing gambling at both a federal level and in most states, and the industry wants to make sure it stays that way.

That’s all well and good: There’s no need for big government to go after fantasy sports. Unfortunately, the industry isn’t fighting to stay regulation-free. Instead, they’re trying to write new regulations giving them an unfair advantage.

As written, L.D. 1320, “An Act to Regulate and Tax Sports Fantasy League Activities in Maine,” would stifle competition, help gigantic corporations maintain their current dominance and do little for consumers. For example, the bill establishes a registration requirement and fee for those wishing to offer a platform to play fantasy sports. The fee is set at 10 percent of the operator’s gross revenues for the past year, but that’s capped at $5,000. So, if you start a new business running a fantasy sports website that makes $50,000, the state could take 10 percent of your profits in the first year – but companies like ESPN or Yahoo will just pay a flat $5,000 fee. That places a much larger burden on a hypothetical startup trying to compete than it does on the pre-existing corporations.

The registration provision wouldn’t just affect potential competitors to the large companies. It would also apply to individuals who decide that, rather than be customers of the big boys, they’d like to build their own websites and run their fantasy leagues that way. They would have to register with the government in order to do so – even if their operation had no profit whatsoever. This prevents consumers from exercising their right to create their own products, essentially forcing anyone who plays fantasy sports to use a large corporate site.

It’s the fantasy sports equivalent of a fast food chain pushing for legislation requiring anyone in the state to register their backyard grill with the government. The provisions regarding registration and the accompanying fees are clearly designed to limit consumer choice, letting the big companies essentially pull the ladder back up after them.

Now, there are portions of this legislation that are geared toward consumer protection, and that’s a good thing. Among other provisions, they prohibit fantasy contest operators from profiting from their own contest or from sharing inside information with others.

This has been a big issue for some fantasy sports companies, leading to legal action being taken against them in several states. It’s certainly a good thing to explicitly prohibit this kind of manipulation, just as it’s good to require companies to provide information on responsible play.

However, it’s also worth noting what the consumer protection provisions don’t include. They don’t specifically bar fantasy contest operators from colluding with one another to set industry-standard user fees or other policies, essentially allowing them to set up a de facto monopoly. They also specifically limit the civil penalties that may be imposed to a very low amount: $1,000 for each violation, with a cap of $5,000 for each transaction. That shields fantasy sports operators from the kind of open-ended lawsuits that have plagued them elsewhere.

For a big company, fines of that amount are essentially parking tickets, and small ones at that; for a startup trying to break into the industry, they could be devastating.

This bill seems to be an example of what happens when industry lobbyists sit down with legislators to write their own regulations: They focus on their clients’ bottom line, with a few nominal consumer protections tossed in. That’s not good for Maine, and that’s not how good legislation is written.

If legislators believe fantasy sports needs more regulation, they should ask their constituents what they want done. That might actually result in a free and fair market that puts consumers first, instead of corporations.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/16/jim-fossel-maine-fantasy-sports-bill-benefits-big-guys/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-FosselWeb.jpgMaine Sunday Telegram columnist Jim FosselFri, 14 Apr 2017 18:19:40 +0000
Jim Fossel: What’s next for Republicans regarding health-care legislation? http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/02/jim-fossel-whats-next-for-republicans/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/02/jim-fossel-whats-next-for-republicans/#respond Sun, 02 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1175412 The spectacular failure by the Republican majority in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare must have been baffling to many foreign observers. Our democratic system is fairly uncommon in the world, after all: We have a strong president, but one who is checked by an independent judiciary and legislative branch.

The more common system is for the majority in the legislative branch to form the government, either through an outright majority or with the help of smaller parties to form a coalition.

Viewed through this lens, it should have been easy for Republicans to repeal Obamacare: They control all of government. Indeed, many conservatives across this country expected it to easily come together once the Republican Party had control because that’s what leadership had been telling them for years. Instead, it all came crashing down practically overnight, and now we’re left scratching our heads, wondering why and what’s next.

To understand the latter, one must first understand the former. The attempt to repeal and replace failed because, although the Republican Party has full control of the federal government, it’s not really unified control. Rather than having a scattering of small parties to either ignore or bring into coalition, Congress has two big-tent parties that each have their own factions. These factions – whether it’s the conservative House Freedom Caucus or the moderate Tuesday Group – essentially function as small political parties of their own. That allows them a great deal of sway over any one vote, especially given the slim margin of control the Republican Party has.

The problem is that though Republicans have been campaigning on “repeal and replace” for years, there’s never been a unified vision in the party for what “replace” means. Rather than drafting a specific, comprehensive plan to rally the party behind ahead of the election, leadership left it up to individual members – and voters – to imagine what the replacement might be. This meant that everyone from Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins to Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky could come up with their own vision to replace Obamacare. This was a mistake by leadership.

It’s understandable why they’d want to use this strategy, of course. It’s hard for your opponents to criticize a plan that doesn’t exist. However, that vagueness finally caught up to Republicans, as they were unable to come up with something that even unified their own party, let alone attracted any Democratic votes. The question now is, where do Republicans go from here? Is it back to the drawing board to find a new comprehensive approach, or do they basically ditch the “repeal and replace” rhetoric and just try to fix the worst parts of the Affordable Care Act?

If Republicans decide to try a new comprehensive approach, they will have to pick which factions to please rather than try to make the entire party happy. Logic would suggest that they focus on satisfying the moderate members who had specific objections to the plan, rather than trying to appeal to hardliners who will support nothing less than a full repeal. Their objections are likely to mirror concerns that many of their Democratic colleagues will share as the bill moves through the legislative process – at least, those Democrats willing to consider any changes to Obamacare at all.

As a starting point, leadership should take a look at the replacement plan recently offered by Collins and Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana. That legislation would, essentially, let states keep Obamacare, ditch it or come with their own plan to expand coverage (with federal funding). It’s a compromise, and though many members of Congress might have rejected it out of hand a month ago, now it may have more appeal. Of course, getting it passed won’t be easy, nor will the final version of the plan please everyone – but it might please just enough people in both parties to work.

The other option is to ditch the repeal and replace strategy and give up on efforts for comprehensive reform. This might be advantageous legislatively, as it would be easier to fix the worst parts of the Affordable Care Act in a bipartisan way. However, it would be more difficult politically, as Republicans could be (rightly) accused of breaking a key promise.

Regardless, it ought to be clear to everyone now that simply repealing Obamacare isn’t going to work. It’s time to set aside the rhetoric and come together to find real solutions to our spiraling health care costs. That’s what Americans expect from their representatives; hopefully both parties are up to it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/02/jim-fossel-whats-next-for-republicans/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-FosselWeb.jpgMaine Sunday Telegram columnist Jim FosselFri, 31 Mar 2017 18:37:50 +0000
Jim Fossel: Lawmakers are free to tinker with citizen initiatives – respectfully http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/jim-fossel-lawmakers-are-free-to-tinker-with-citizen-initiatives-respectfully/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/jim-fossel-lawmakers-are-free-to-tinker-with-citizen-initiatives-respectfully/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172184 Apart from the biannual wrangling over the budget, much of the focus of the legislative session thus far has been on bills that were already passed. If that seems foolish to you, with Maine facing so many pressing problems that need to be addressed, then rest assured you aren’t the only one.

The problem here, though, is less the content of the bills than how they were passed. You see, these bills were passed as citizen initiatives at the ballot box rather than by the Legislature. That means they didn’t quite have to run the same gantlet as most bills in Augusta, going through committee hearings and floor votes and facing the threat of possible veto by the governor.

Legislators, of course, hate that, as do the entrenched special interests in Augusta. So as is often the case after a citizen initiative has been approved by the voters, many of them are now engaging in efforts to modify these laws after they were approved. Right now, the debate is focused on the tax surcharge that increases funding for education and on the minimum-wage hike. A number of Republican legislators are proposing bills that would limit or completely negate these citizen initiatives. They’re right to be concerned, as there’s good reason to think these new laws could have a negative impact on the state’s economy.

Democrats, of course, seem not to share those concerns: They are standing by the outcomes of the referendums, by and large. They’ve been arguing that Maine voters knew very well what they were doing when they supported these policies, and that Maine legislators shouldn’t override the will of the voters by ignoring referendum results. They’re not wrong, of course: The Legislature shouldn’t just overturn citizen initiatives after the fact or ignore them. However, there’s reason to sincerely doubt their claim to be stalwart defenders of democracy.

After all, Democrats and Republicans alike have ignored the citizen initiative requiring that the state fund 55 percent of education costs for years. Moreover, the budget that eliminated Clean Election funding for gubernatorial candidates was not a partisan exercise but a bipartisan budget that was supported by two-thirds of the Legislature. If those examples aren’t recent enough for you, earlier in this very session Democrats had no problem going along with Republicans to rewrite the law on legalizing marijuana that passed last year. So this newfound respect from Democrats in Augusta for referendum results is welcome, to be sure, but it is so very sudden that it should not be believed.

No, clearly neither party has any problem ignoring, revising or completely rewriting citizen-initiated laws when it’s politically convenient for them. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. Instead, let’s demand that when the Legislature sees fit to meddle with citizen initiatives, it does so the right away. There are a number of ways for legislators who are concerned about citizen initiatives to fix them that respect the will of the people.

Contrary to popular belief, citizen initiatives aren’t just automatically sent directly to the ballot. They are instead referred first to the Legislature, which has the option to pass them as is or vote against them, sending them to the ballot. However, they also can craft a competing measure – make changes to the law instead of simply approving or rejecting it. If those changes are approved, then voters are presented with three options: the amended citizen initiative, the original as written, or they can reject both choices. If any option garners more than 50 percent of the votes, that’s that; if not, there’s a runoff to decide what becomes law.

The other option is to send any legislation modifying a citizen initiative out to referendum itself. This method isn’t often used, but the Legislature can always refer any legislation to the voters – and it’s what should be done with any major changes to laws originally passed by the people. That would give voters the chance to weigh in on the proposed changes, ensuring that they remain a part of the process.

The citizen initiative procedure was intended to give the people a greater voice. It wasn’t supposed to be a way for legislators to duck decisions on the issues. If certain aspects of a referendum are particularly controversial, legislators have every opportunity to make changes – before or after it appears on the ballot. Legislators in both parties should absolutely respect the decisions of voters, but that doesn’t ever preclude them from making responsible changes to the laws that result.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/jim-fossel-lawmakers-are-free-to-tinker-with-citizen-initiatives-respectfully/feed/ 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:07:17 +0000
Jim Fossel: Timing of requesting expansion of Medicaid in Maine is surprising http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-in-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-in-maine/#respond Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1168922 Over the past several years, a curious dichotomy has emerged in Maine: Liberal ideas succeed at the ballot box, while liberal candidates fail time and time again.

This first began to appear in 2012, when progressives were able to pass marriage equality. Buoyed by this success, they turned their efforts toward the 2014 elections, when Gov. Paul LePage was up for re-election and they had the opportunity to keep the 2nd Congressional District in Democratic hands.

Not only were both of these efforts failures, Republicans also retook control of the state Senate and gained seats in the House. This pattern repeated itself in 2015 and 2016, when progressives successfully used the referendum process to expand Clean Elections, raise taxes to increase education funding and raise the minimum wage, while Democrats failed to recapture the state Senate or defeat Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

So on some level, it was no surprise when the Secretary of State’s Office announced that activists had gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on Medicaid expansion. After all, they’d been pushing for Maine to do so ever since a federal court ruling made that part of the Affordable Care Act optional, but it had been consistently stymied by Republicans in Augusta. With their lack of success in the 2014 election, initiating the process by citizen initiative would seem to be their only remaining option.

What was surprising was their timing: Proponents reportedly collected most of their signatures on Election Day in 2016, and the referendum will appear on the ballot in 2017. Had they begun earlier, it might have been a lengthier (and more expensive) process to collect the signatures, but putting it on the ballot in 2016 could have helped turn out voters to elect Democratic candidates statewide. Failing that, they could have delayed their process slightly and timed their submission so that it would be on the ballot in November 2018, possibly helping to elect a Democrat to the Blaine House.

That means that not only will candidates not benefit from the referendum, the referendum won’t benefit from candidates either. In an even-numbered year, both parties put enormous effort into voter ID and turnout, and that boosts referendums as well. In an odd year, these operations will be entirely up to the referendum supporters.

Data at a national level have suggested that in midterm elections, turnout is lower and voters tend to be older and less diverse, which helps Republican candidates. It’s tough to measure turnout in odd years – only a few states hold statewide elections of any kind – but they’ve been a mixed bag in Maine in the past.

In 2009 – the last odd-numbered year to have a wide variety of referendums – the first attempt to pass marriage equality failed, but so did several tax-cut measures, and an expansion of medical marijuana succeeded. In 2017, Medicaid expansion will only share the ballot with yet another gambling initiative and a bond measure. There’s no doubt what will be the center of attention. Putting the measure on the ballot next year not only provides zero ancillary benefits to Democratic candidates, it’s also a risky decision for Medicaid expansion proponents.

Putting aside politics, the election of President Trump and the continued Republican control of Congress mean that all aspects of the Affordable Care Act are up for review (or “repeal and replacement,” if you like). The so-called promise of federal funding for most of Medicaid expansion always has been a dicey one at best. There’s no such thing as a guarantee in life – if you don’t believe me, just ask Hillary Clinton or the Atlanta Falcons.

However, with avowed Obamacare opponents in complete control of the federal government, that promise has gone completely out the window. Right now, Maine is just as likely to receive zero dollars in federal matching funds as it is 90 percent – and if that gets resolved before November, the number is a lot more likely to be closer to zero.

Of course, it’s questionable whether Maine could have even afforded the 10 percent contribution required under the current law. We remain a poor state, after all – and in other states, the cost of Medicaid expansion has outstripped expectations.

However, now that we have no idea what the federal matching funds might be, proponents are essentially asking a state to write a blank check. That’s not a reasonable or responsible approach to governing, and it’s one that Mainers should reject no matter who’s doing the asking – or for what program.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-in-maine/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-FosselWeb.jpgMaine Sunday Telegram columnist Jim FosselWed, 22 Mar 2017 10:38:38 +0000
Commentary: Supreme Court nominee poses a challenge for Sen. King http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/12/commentary-let-the-dance-begin/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/12/commentary-let-the-dance-begin/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1165630 U.S. Sen. Angus King held what was, apparently, a civil and orderly “listening session” in Portland last week to hear feedback on President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the lack of anger that has been so evident at congressional town hall events of late doesn’t mean this is an easy issue. Indeed, the nomination of Gorsuch presents King with the toughest test of his political career.

In his selection of Gorsuch, Trump has chosen a brilliant, widely respected conservative jurist who is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. That sets Gorsuch apart from some of Trump’s other controversial nominees, who have been criticized by many as inexperienced or unprepared. It’s impossible to say that of Gorsuch, who’s been a federal judge for over a decade. In considering this nomination, King faces the question of whether to support a strong nominee despite their profound political disagreements.

King, after all, has made his career as a pragmatic centrist untethered by political parties and ideology. As governor during prosperous economic times, that was a fairly painless path to take: He could freely borrow ideas from the right and the left, bringing the two parties together in Augusta. But as one of 100 senators in a much more polarized time, it’s an entirely different story.

At first glance, it might seem as though King has little to lose regardless of how he votes on this particular issue. After all, he won his first term relatively painlessly based on his popularity as governor. However, he faces challenges unshared by any of his colleagues thanks to his status as an independent: the possibility of his vote on this issue animating a general-election opponent no matter which way he goes.

If you’re a Democrat from a state that Trump either won or narrowly lost, you might consider voting to confirm Gorsuch. If your vote on that one issue does anger the base enough to inspire a primary opponent, you can likely make the case that they can’t win a general election in your swing state. Moreover, if a primary starts looking competitive, Democratic leadership will swing into action to bail you out. Then, you have the time to pivot in the general election and argue that you’re bipartisan, while painting your Republican opponent as an extremist.

King won’t be able to make that pivot. He’ll likely face both a Democrat and a Republican in the general election, just as he did in 2012. As much as they might like to, national Democrats – though they may well abandon the candidate – can’t stop someone from claiming their party’s nomination. If they’re smart, that candidate could make a compelling case against King, animating the liberal base that is incensed by Trump. Voting for Gorsuch could be just the spark that the grassroots progressives needs to turn on King.

But King can’t afford to simply ignore Trump supporters. Even if the vast majority of those who attended his recent listening session were against Gorsuch, that’s hardly a shock at an event held at USM in Portland. If King holds more events on this topic around the state, he’ll likely find a very different crowd with different views on the nomination. That’s no surprise, of course; not only is Gorsuch’s nomination unifying for conservatives across the state, Trump also got more votes in Maine than any Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

Of course, King – along with his Democratic colleagues in even more conservative states – does have a third option; even a nomination isn’t a simple decision. He could oppose a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination – avoiding hypocrisy and affirming their stance that Merrick Garland deserved an up-or-down vote – but vote against his confirmation in the end. That could be the option that wins out for King, as it preserves his principles, but it may be threading the needle a bit too finely for liberals to tolerate, while simultaneously angering conservatives.

If King is really independent, he should follow the lead of Sen. Susan Collins, who tends to only vote against nominees that she considers unqualified. This has often drawn her the ire of both sides, as she’s voted to confirm conservative and liberal jurists to the Supreme Court, but it’s the right approach to take.

King should give Gorsuch full consideration on his own merits, putting aside the failed politics of the past, and urge his colleagues to do the same.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/12/commentary-let-the-dance-begin/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-FosselWeb.jpgMaine Sunday Telegram columnist Jim FosselFri, 10 Mar 2017 18:29:31 +0000
Jim Fossel: Democrats’ knee-jerk reaction to Trump hurts the party http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/05/jim-fossel-democrats-knee-jerk-reaction-to-trump-hurts-the-party/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/05/jim-fossel-democrats-knee-jerk-reaction-to-trump-hurts-the-party/#respond Sun, 05 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1162230 Imagine, if you will, a president who orders all citizens of a certain ethnicity rounded up and placed in detention camps. Or a president who uses the U.S. Army to force the removal of people from their land based entirely on their race. If you prefer, picture a president who arrests and detains political opponents without charging them in court.

None of these, of course, is a fantastical imagining. They’re actual historical events that occurred in this country. Though they’re now (rightly) considered sad and shameful periods of our history, they weren’t all acts committed by presidents universally believed to be scoundrels. Indeed, several of these actions were undertaken by presidents widely regarded as among the best leaders in human history: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

To be clear, President Trump has not done any of these things. He hasn’t declared martial law, suspended civil rights, started rounding up people into camps or tried to remake the Supreme Court (indeed, his one nominee to that body was recently praised by Ruth Bader Ginsburg). Yet given the reaction of many on the left, you’d think he’d done all this and worse in his five weeks in office.

Apparently, these days, saying a few nasty things about the national media is worse than all of that. The truth is, the great experiment of American democracy has survived many mediocre and truly awful presidents, and more than a few who gave not a whit for the Constitution or the rule of law. So please don’t start going on about how Trump is going to turn this country into a horrible dystopian dictatorship. Conservatives have heard it before.

It was said constantly throughout the Bush administration, when everything President George W. Bush did was an excuse to panic. (Now, of course, the same liberals who said that about Bush hold him up as an example.) It’s been a consistent refrain about Republican presidents and presidential candidates in recent years, from President Ronald Reagan to Bush and John McCain to Mitt Romney. The constant crying of wolf from the liberal intelligentsia (which, yes, includes much of the media) ended up inuring people to the worst accusations against Trump. So when he declared war against the media, people were ready and willing to believe him.

Democrats, however – if they wish to win in 2018 and beyond, in the age of Trump – would be wise not to fall into this trap. They ought to oppose him when he is wrong, not just as a knee-jerk reaction to everything he does. It may very well be that Democrats, by and large, are opposed to everything he does – but if they are, they should explain exactly why in each instance. This is, after all, a man who thrives when he has enemies; it’s best not to give him easy targets.

Right now Democrats are casting themselves as the heroic resistance, and that’s wrong. They’re not Princess Leia, and Trump is not Emperor Palpatine. It’s not the end of the world. That sort of myth-making may be appealing to their base, but that’s not what Democrats need. They need to expand their party, and that means reaching out not just to moderates and typical swing voters, but also to disaffected liberals. That’s hard to do when you assume Trump, and by extension his supporters, are evil.

If they want to reach out, Democrats should be listening, not just reacting. They should be listening to the people who felt that Hillary Clinton was an unacceptable option and therefore voted for Trump, or who voted for a third-party candidate – or stayed home. They should be trying to expand their base rather than narrowing it to those most opposed to Trump. That won’t help them – they already have those people.

They cannot afford to dismiss Trump supporters as ignorant or racist, as so many commentators are wont to do. If they do, they are acting just like the Maine Democrats who helped Gov. Paul LePage win a second term in office, not like a real opposition party that offers its own positive direction for the country.

If Democrats want to win nationally, they’ll learn from the mistakes of their counterparts in Maine rather than repeating them.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/05/jim-fossel-democrats-knee-jerk-reaction-to-trump-hurts-the-party/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-FosselWeb.jpgMaine Sunday Telegram columnist Jim FosselWed, 22 Mar 2017 10:39:46 +0000