Portland school officials to consider closures, redistricting for cost savings



The Portland School District is launching a major review of facilities that may propose school closures or redistricting as a way to reduce costs, after the latest bruising school budget season...

“This past year, we made decisions to shorten the school year and to make cuts to some of our programs. Those are decisions we may not have had to make had we done this work,” school board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said at a recent workshop about the proposal. “That’s an unfortunate position to be in.” ...





What’s in the way of the Maine Legislature finally going home for good


Another leading man

Before lawmakers return for today’s special session, we need to clear up some confusion. There are two minority leaders in the Maine House of Representatives.

Fredette fulfilled the role of House minority leader for his party since 2012. We’ve come to refer to him as “House Minority Leader Ken Fredette” since his caucus — which now includes 70 House Republicans — picked him for that role.

But another House member now lays claim to the title of “House minority leader.” It’s not a challenge to Fredette. It’s a call for affirmation from the House’s only voting member of the Green Independent Party. Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville quit the Maine Democratic Party in 2017 and later enrolled as a Green. He now identifies as “Minority Leader, Green Independent Party” on stationery that, appropriately, lists that title in green font.

Rep. Henry Bear is also registered as Green Independent, but as a tribal representative, he is a non-voting member of the Legislature.

Term limits prevent Chapman from seeking re-election, so today’s session and an ensuing veto day will likely be his last chances to demonstrate his leadership skills on the floor of the House. Here’s his soundtrack. — Robert Long ...






Fear about putting immigrants at risk delays action on non-citizen voting rights

Portland city councilors decide to take more time to address concerns that extending voting rights to some non-citizens could put them at risk of being targeted.

9 States Where Registered Independents Outnumber Both Major Political Parties

by in Electoral Reform

...Maine has an unaffiliated voter population of 34.95%, with Democrats following closely behind at 32.97% and Republicans making up 27.37% of total registered voters.

Interesting News: Maine’s independent voting population had one of the most historically significant impacts on electoral reform within the state. Maine is a closed primary state, which means voters have to be registered with a party to participate in elections that decide party nominations. However, for ballot measures in the 2018 primaries, independents were allowed to participate. Question 1 to protect ranked choice voting, a referendum that Maine voters already approved in 2016, won a decisive victory largely as a result of independent voters.

Interesting Fact: As of this writing there are currently 6 independents in the Maine State Legislature, and one member of the Green Party. Maine also has one of the nation’s only two independent US senators, Angus King...





Portland school board says city’s voters should be asked to extend voting rights to non-citizens

The city charter amendment would apply only to municipal elections and to residents who are in the country legally, but critics say the change would still violate state law.





Maine People’s Alliance launches new online legislative scorecard

The Maine People's Alliance released its annual legislative scorecard, highlighting votes taken by lawmakers in the second session of the 128th Legislature.

For the first time ever, the scorecard includes a second, separate "Will of the Voters" score which compiles votes from across the entire 128th legislative session to indicate whether legislators supported implementing referenda passed by voters and opposed legislation to weaken the citizen initiative process...

Representatives who received a 100% score this year:
... Rep. Ralph Chapman (G-Brooksville) ...
Senators and Representatives who received a 100% Will of the Voters score:
...Rep. Ralph Chapman (G-Brooksville)...





Portland school board to vote on support for noncitizen voting

The board will consider a resolution Tuesday that would support a proposal to allow noncitizens like refugees or asylum seekers to vote in local elections.






These are the 15 American states putting the environment first


Maine is green in so many ways, and not just because it’s one of the places where the political Green Party is so active. Just look at some of its top-five rankings in the WalletHub study:

  • No. 1 for the rate of recycling at 48%, according to Snews.
  • It’s tied for No. 1 for the percentage of renewable energy consumption.
  • Maine is No. 3 for highest water quality.

Next: A small state making a big commitment to going green...





Firing of Standish town manager remains a mystery

His lawyer says 'something stinks' about the vote to terminate Kris Tucker without cause.





Standish councilor criticizes firing of town manager who’d served less than 8 months

Peter Starostecki believes other councilors and staff at Town Hall viewed Kris Tucker 'as a detriment to the status quo' and says the termination in a 6-1 vote was 'a total snow job.'

STANDISH — The lone councilor who voted against firing Town Manager Kris Tucker said Tuesday that the termination was “a total snow job.”

The council voted 6-1 during Monday night’s special meeting to terminate Tucker’s contract without cause, meaning he is entitled to severance and health care payments. Tucker had been on the job for less than eight months.


Councilor Peter Starostecki said by phone Tuesday morning that he believes other members of the council and staff at Town Hall view Tucker “as a detriment to the status quo.”

“I’m pretty upset about it,” said Starostecki, who called Tucker a “terrific town manager” and claimed that the termination was “a total snow job.”...





Foshay, Young win Gray council seats; budget passes

GRAY — Current Council Vice Chairman Bruce Foshay and Sharon Young defeated former Council Chairman Lewis “Lew” Mancini Tuesday in a three-person race for two seats on the Gray Town Council...

Richard True and Sam Pfeifle were both elected to the SAD 15 School Board in uncontested races, receiving 1191 and 983 votes, respectively.





Seeing the Forest: A Q&A with John Rensenbrink Archives

As he prepares to turn ninety in August, Bowdoin professor emeritus John Rensenbrink just published his most important book.

Interview by Tom Putnam ’84

Your formal schooling almost ended at age fourteen in Pease, Minnesota.

That’s right. My mother did not want me to go to the public high school in town because it was not Christian. My father thought I should work on our hardscrabble farm. But then he passed away. So my older brother and I managed the farm, and my mother allowed me to take correspondence courses from the American School in Chicago. And later my amazing mother, with her limited formal education, wrote a personal appeal to Calvin College to accept me as a student.

You succeeded in college and then pursued your doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Yes, I studied under Leo Strauss, who thundered against the behaviorists who were attempting, in the 1950s, to turn political philosophy into a mechanistic science. He introduced me to all of the greats—Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Hobbes . . .

And you then introduced countless Bowdoin students to the same.

One lesson I appropriated from Leo Strauss was the importance of learning alongside my students. For me, the purpose of the classroom is to advance the knowledge of all who participate, including the professor.

You were considered a bit of firebrand.

I began my career at Bowdoin in the 1960s, when the campus was aflame over controversial issues such as Vietnam, civil rights, and coeducation. One year, I offered a seminar on Africa for freshmen. That was a breakthrough. “A seminar for freshmen?” and, secondly, “Non-Western studies? Are you kidding? It’s not acceptable.” But fortunately I was supported by President James “Stacey” Coles. And then with one of my students at the time, Barry Mills ’72, we started a student-taught course, which was truly inflammatory!

In 1984, in addition to teaching, you became one of the principal founders of the Green Party—nationally and in Maine.

That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to accomplish—to create a new political party. For me, the Green Party and its Ten Key Values offer the possibility of creating a new economy rooted in the land and a grassroots, ecologically tuned political culture. For years, achieving this vision became my passion.

In your new book you state: “In contemplating the fact that I will not live forever, I feel life’s call. It’s not only the trees that need help. But life itself is severely threatened. Not just in me or in those dear to me. But life itself may be extinguished in the human species as a whole, my species, the one I belong to.”

Woo, that’s a good statement. Did I write that? It brings tears to my eyes because it reminds me of the challenge we face. Wow.

During these politically divisive times, it is tempting to retreat to the fringes, to focus on ourselves and our families, to tend to our own gardens, and to stay aloof from politics and the public square. What’s your response to those who are inclined to follow that path?

Read my book! In it, I recount a story from Plato’s Politics. Plato is aware of the darkness of his times exemplified by the trial and execution of his teacher, Socrates, by dishonest political authorities. He puts words in Socrates’s mouth and has Socrates describe a man who sees the wickedness of humankind and chooses to protect himself under a shelter. The man lives his own life, pure from evil and unrighteousness, and departs in peace and good will, with bright hopes.  Plato has a young observer, Adeimantus, state that such a man had done a great work. To which Socrates replies, “a great work, yes, but not the greatest, unless he finds a polis which is suitable to him—where he will have a larger growth and be savior to his country, as well as of himself.”

That passage has been an inspiration to me throughout my life for its refusal to abandon politics.  It is in interacting with others, Plato reminds us, that we find “a larger growth.”

John Rensenbrink is one of seven children of Dutch-American farmers. His mother, Effie, was born in the Netherlands, and his father, John, was the son of immigrants. A highly admired professor of government and environmental studies, he taught at Bowdoin for over thirty years, beginning in 1961. He and his wife, Carla, a former teacher and university professor, live in Topsham, where they raised three daughters and spearheaded the Cathance River Education Alliance. The paperback edition of his newest book, Ecological Politics for Survival and Transformation, will be published this summer. He is a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals.

This piece first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Bowdoin magazine.






Maine Legislature will return next week for special session

The Legislature will return next week for a special session over the objections of Gov. Paul LePage, who accused House Republicans who are typically loyal to him of “giving in because it’s an election year.”...
(Speaker of the House Sara) Gideon, who appeared with Thibodeau on “Maine Calling,” said she expected three days of work next week and that Democrats would vote in favor of returning to Augusta alongside Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville, the Legislature’s only Green Independent...





Maine lawmakers are quietly voting on whether to return to work next week

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers are deciding if and when to return for a special session.

Legislative leaders are polling members right now about the possibility of the full Legislature returning on Tuesday to address a heap of unfinished business left over from this year’s regular session.

That includes a number of funding bills that received unanimous support from the budget committee on Monday. Many major issues are still mired in negotiations, such as a transportation bond that contractors and state transportation officials say is desperately needed, tax conformity legislation or a technical errors fix-it bill that would free up Maine Clean Election Act funding for the general election.

Coming back for a special session requires majority votes from four groups — House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans — and the lone Green Independent in the Legislature, Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville. House Republicans blocked the extension of the regular legislative session in April because they refused to allow a $3.8 million bill for Medicaid expansion start-up costs to be included in a package with the other spending bills. They have won that fight and the bill could be considered on its own — though a spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon said Democrats are confident the courts will force the issue..





Maine lawmakers tiptoe toward pulling gridlocked spending bills out of limbo

Lawmakers set the stage Monday for calling a special session later this month with unanimous agreement on a spending package that doesn’t include any funding for Medicaid expansion or changes to Maine’s minimum wage law...

A spokeswoman for Gideon said legislative leaders will likely poll members this week to gauge their interest in reconvening for a special session. That requires a majority vote of each of the caucuses in the Legislature, including the lone Green Independent Party member in the House...





Under the dome: Inside the Maine State House



Green Independent Party and Unenrolled/Independent Members get Caucus Room, Part-time Staff
This month, the Legislative Council voted to provide caucus space and part-time staff to Green Independent Party member Rep. Ralph Chapman, and the six unenrolled/independent members of the Legislature. ... As members have left their respective parties, the vote margin in the House has shrunk to 74 Democrats and 70 Republicans. With seven legislators unaffiliated with the major parties, the Legislative Council agreed to provide space in the Cross Office Building for the unaffiliated members to caucus, and part-time staff to assist those members in their work. While the group of independents comes from a diverse political background, given the narrow margin between Democrats and Republicans, they could use their small but relatively significant numbers to develop impactful swing votes in the House during the Second Regular Session.





Wide input sought for Portland school construction projects


PORTLAND — The School Board has expanded from four to six the number of community members who will be invited to serve on its new building committee. ...

The building committee will also include three board members and two city councilors. It will be co-chaired by a School Board member and a councilor, chosen by board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow.

The committee’s purpose is to ensure there’s opportunity for broad public input and engagement in the elementary school construction process. It will be primarily responsible for making decisions on the $64.2 million school capital improvement bond approved by voters last November, including the order in which the buildings will be constructed.

The bond is will be used to renovate and upgrade Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools. ...

In addition, this week the board also intended to take up Superintendent Xavier Botana’s recommendations for the creation of individual Building Level Advisory Committees, which would have input on “specific design elements” for each school. ...

Between the building committee and the individual advisory panels, Botana said the School Board hopes to create “a clear line of decision-making,” while also “preserving Portland’s unique commitment to collaborative building projects.”

The building committee would be a separate entity from the school board and would have ultimate authority over the spending on each school project, as well as hiring general contractors and other construction project personnel. ...

The work needed at Lyseth Elementary is expected to be the most costly under the $64.2 million bond, according to information provided by Oak Point Associates, the design firm hired by the school department to review the capital needs at all of the district’s schools.

Construction at Lyseth is expected to cost nearly $18 million and would include new classrooms, gymnasium and cafeteria, along with additional space for the school’s pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and gifted and talented programs.

At Longfellow, the work is estimated to cost close to $15.4 million and would include making the building fully ADA compliant, as well as a full asbestos abatement.

The needs at Presumpscot include new classrooms, a gym and cafeteria, along with a “more functional” student drop-off and bus loop. In addition, the school requires “adequate space” for music, art and library programs. The construction cost there is expected to be $13.6 million.

At Reiche, which is estimated to cost $17.2 million, construction would focus on enclosing classroom corridors while continuing to provide open space for collaborative learning and on creating “right size art, music and reading spaces.”

The school board hopes to make appointments to the new building committee no later than its first meeting in February. Once that happens, the committee’s first task would be to hire an architect to create building specific construction documents.





Independent lawmakers gain clout in Augusta with staff, office space


AUGUSTA — A caucus of independent lawmakers is likely to have an outsized influence in the Maine House of Representatives in 2018 given that it could wield seven coveted votes in a chamber closely split between 74 Democrats and 70 Republicans.

The group of six independent lawmakers, bolstered by their own office space and part-time staff, includes three former Democrats and two former Republicans. A member of the Green Independent Party also is caucusing with the group.

Among the hot-button issues in the upcoming 2018 legislative session, lawmakers will have to figure out how to fund a Medicaid expansion in Maine, make the retail sales of recreational marijuana work and pass laws to address the state’s ongoing opioid crisis. ...

... Also caucusing with the group is Rep. Ralph Chapman of Brooksville who is a member of the officially recognized Green Independent Party. ...

The group of independents and Chapman have been working together for several months now, and having dedicated staff will be helpful, she said, pointing out that the office space the Legislative Council approved for them will be shared with American Sign Language interpreters who use the space once a week. ...


Maine has an independent streak, with about 40 percent of its voters registered as unenrolled, picking no party to affiliate with, according to data from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. ...


The group, if they do end up voting as a block, will hold significant sway not only in bills that need a majority of votes to pass out of the House, but also votes that require a supermajority of two-thirds, including overrides of possible vetoes by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and bills that would be enacted as emergency legislation. ...






Maine Houes makes room for more independent lawmakers

Maine House makes room for more independent lawmakers


PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A small but growing number of independent state lawmakers who have weakened Democrats' hold on the House hope to promote compromise as independents seek to gain ground nationally in 2018.

The Maine House has its highest number of Independent and third-party members recorded in the last two decades, and several such lawmakers say they hope to maintain their individual independence while gaining a stronger voice in debates. ...

Rep. Henry Bear said Maine residents are issue-driven, not "strictly tied to Republicans or Democrats or unenrolled."

"Mainers for the most part are frugal, very conservative and also they're very independent," said Bear, a non-voting tribal member who represents the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and is running for Congress.

Two Republican representatives and three Democratic representatives left their parties this year in addition to Bear. They join two unenrolled House members who ran as independents. Two — Bear and Rep. Ralph Chapman — registered as Maine Green Independents and say they're among the highest-ranking Green lawmakers nationally.

The lawmakers' reasons for leaving the major parties vary from frustration over partisanship and the influence of lobbyists and corporate donations on Maine policy-making to discontent at Republican and Democratic lawmakers' steps to undo, change and delay several laws approved by voters at the polls in 2016.

Chapman said he's concerned that Democratic statehouse leaders value loyalty to political donors over the common good. ...

Legislative leaders recently approved a request to provide a room at the statehouse for the independent and third-party lawmakers and their staffs. Independent lawmakers said they plan to caucus daily. ...