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. ...



We have all these independents. Now where are we going to put them?


The number of sitting lawmakers who don’t associate with a major political party is growing in the Maine House of Representatives, which now has six independents and a Green Independent. In the past few months, three Democrats and a Republican have left their parties.

Aside from the political implications, there’s a question of where to put them and their staff of one, according to Grant Pennoyer, executive director of the Legislative Council, who brought the issue to the board on Thursday. He suggested putting them in the Cross Building, which is attached to the State House and which he called “prime legislative space.”

Republicans and Democrats on the council, who have most of the office space surrounding the House and Senate chambers, agreed that the adjacent building is a suitable location for the independents and the Green.

All this is a grand opportunity for some Huey Lewis. Here’s the new Cross crew’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins



Eyed for elimination, estate tax remains controversial on campaign trail

Eyed for elimination, estate tax remains controversial on campaign trail


Though the so-called “death tax” is on life support these days, some of the candidates vying for a U.S. House seat in Maine’s 2nd District aren’t ready to give up on it.

Fifteen years ago, the federal government taxed more than 600 estates left behind by wealthy Mainers.

During the past five years, the number of Maine estates subject to the so-called “death tax” averaged 42, the consequence of revisions that have pushed ever higher the wealth someone must possess before the government grabs a share.

Put another way, that means the estate tax will apply to only about one in every 2,900 Mainers who dies.

For U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican in his second term, that’s still too many. He said recently he remains committed to abolishing the death tax. But the candidates jostling for the chance to run against him next year generally have a sharply different take. ...

Green Party hopeful Henry Bear said the estate tax “does not reward hardworking Mainers. It rewards the lucky.”

Bear said the nation should restore the 70 percent estate tax it had decades ago with a $1 million exemption. At that level, he said, the government could tax “a very small number of very lucky people” and raise $500 billion extra each year. ...



Portland School Board again picks Trevorrow as chairwoman

Portland School Board again picks Trevorrow as chairwoman


PORTLAND — Anna Trevorrow was chosen Monday afternoon to lead the Portland School Board for a second year. ...

Looking back, she said, it’s “been a privilege to serve as the board chair for the last year,” adding “there are many successes” to celebrate.

Among those successes, Trevorrow said, are “equity resolutions condemning hate speech and asserting a safe haven for Muslim students, state recognition of our exemplary staff, the launch of the TeachPortland program and passage of the (new) transgender policy.”

“I am most proud, however, of having been a part of the launch of the Portland Promise,” she said, “our pledge to the community to … intensify our efforts to ensure that all our graduates are prepared and empowered to succeed in college and career.” ...

In preparing the fiscal year 2018-19 budget, she said, “We will need to make many important decisions to allocate our resources in ways that allow us to make progress toward our goals and enhance the overall student experience.”

“Heading into the next year, I pledge to lead our district’s effort in conjunction with the City Council and our state legislative delegation to ensure that we obtain and steward our resources to the best possible results,” Trevorrow said.

“It takes great schools to have a great city (and) we have been charged with fulfilling this community’s vision for those great schools,” she added. ...

She also noted, however, that “schools are more than brick and mortar” and said the School Board has “significant work ahead to support the implementation of proficiency-based learning, supporting teaching and learning and building our staff’s capacity to serve our diverse student population.” ...



Henry Bear: A challenging life, a challenge for Congress

Henry Bear: A challenging life, a challenge for Congress


LEWISTON — Growing up among French-speaking immigrants in the slums of Lewiston, Henry Bear starting working before his age reached double digits, peddling everything from apples to firewood to his impoverished neighbors.

When his family shattered amid the social and financial pressures, his mother spiraled into depression and his father into drunkenness.

It got so bad that Bear and his six sisters wound up in foster homes. He dropped out of school and joined the Coast Guard at 17, seeking a better life.

Now, at age 61, he’s on a new quest to secure a political office that nobody in those run-down apartments could have imagined for him or anyone living there: a spot in the U.S. Congress.

Bear, who serves in the Maine House as the the non-voting representative of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, declared recently that he would enter the 2nd District U.S. House race as a new member of the Green Party.

If Bear wins, he would be the first Native American member of Congress from New England and the first in more than a century to claim a House seat from the East Coast. ...

One summer day

One day at the age of 10, after a successful stint selling arts and crafts door to door, Bear returned home to find his mother sobbing and all of his siblings gone. ...


Bear was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in May 1956, smack in the middle of the post-war Baby Boom, almost exactly nine months after his parents got married.

His father belonged to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, hailing from one of many Native American families in Maine who made a living peddling goods, picking apples, raking blueberries, digging potatoes and other temporary work. ...

His French Canadian mother, who probably had some Indian blood, kept busy raising children in their Roman Catholic household and earning some money sewing moccasins. ...

Coming undone

Bear’s family started to disintegrate well before the day the state Department of Health and Human Services came knocking on his mother’s door.

There wasn’t enough money in a household that depended on food stamps and secondhand clothes, but there was something more.

Bear said his mother’s family never quite accepted the Native American man who married their daughter. There was, he said, “a lot of racism” that he didn’t quite understand at the time. ...

Ultimately, Bear’s mother couldn’t do it any longer.

“She had a nervous breakdown,” and the state intervened, Bear said. ...

Moving on

It turned out that foster care wasn’t bad.

During the next seven years, Bear stayed with four foster families in Auburn, each treating him kindly. ...

He learned years later when DHHS let him review his case file that his father had tried repeatedly to gain custody of the children and that bureaucrats thought he’d done well making the case. But they still turned him down.

Bear said he’s sure the state had a deliberate policy of keeping Native American children away from tribal influence as much as possible. It wanted to see Indians assimilated into the wider culture instead of tied to their people and history, he said.

A career

Bear’s hope that the Coast Guard would offer a path to something better proved altogether true.

He quickly met and married Violet Dotson, an Army brat from Virginia who was part of the first group of women to go to boot camp. ...

He learned about communications and cryptology and moved up the ranks in the service, ending up as a recruiter in New Hampshire during a presidential primary season that made it possible for him to meet President Ronald Reagan and have dinner with Vice President George H.W. Bush.

A lifelong Republican, he found both of them charming and discovered they were “just like us” in real life, a revelation that in some ways opened the door to politics for Bear.

He moved to the Maliseet reservation where he discovered “an acceptance you can only appreciate if you’ve grown up in four foster homes.”

“I learned that there were a lot of people who looked like me up there, thousands of them, and a couple hundred of them were my cousins,” Bear said.

He soon wound up as president of the Central Maine Indian Council and not long after was elected as a tribal council member. ...

As an attorney who set up shop in the house his father built on the reservation years earlier, he represented mostly tribal members in various cases that earned him payment in everything from fiddleheads to fish.

“I got a lot of salmon, deer, bear, bread, and whatever hunters, cooks and fishermen might be able to give me,” Bear said. Cash, though, was rare.

To supplement his income, he also works as a commercial fisherman, a forester and more. He said he tries to hold at least five jobs simultaneously to ensure he’ll have a steady income. Since 2013, he’s held the State House seat as well.

Bear became a Democrat when he thought he might run for a different House seat in Aroostook County, but that fell through. Switching to the Green Party last month to run for Congress suits him as well, he said, because it stands for a “healthy and prosperous community, a progressive and transparent government, and a safer and more inclusive world community.”


After starting off with so few prospects, it may seem that Bear’s hope to reach Capitol Hill is out of reach.

But he has a dim memory of another, bigger kid in the old neighborhood just down the street from a landmark eatery, Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, a fellow who also came from poverty and family distress.

That guy is Paul LePage, who’s a year away from finishing his second term as Maine’s governor.


Henry Bear, a Green Party candidate for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, is challenging U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin for his seat. Bear was in Lewiston this week looking for a place to rent for his campaign office. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Henry Bear, a Green Party candidate in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, right, is challenging U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin for his seat. Bear walked down Lisbon Street in Lewiston earlier this week looking for a place to rent for his campaign office. He was with his wife, Violet, center, and cousin Rick Boucher of Auburn, left. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

2017 Sun Journal head and shoulders photo of Henry Bear.  (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)



Cheech and Chong raise profile of pot post

Cheech and Chong raise profile of pot post

A Maine Facebook video appears to show the calming effects of medical marijuana on a boy suffering a seizure.



Portland school board adopts policy to protect transgender students

Portland school board adopts policy to protect transgender students

By Susan Sharon, Maine Public •
Susan Sharon | Maine Public | BDN
Portland School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow speaks at the podium, as School Superintendent Xavier Botana, seated right, listens.

After an emotional discussion about inclusion and equity for all students, the Portland School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a comprehensive new policy that affirms and protects transgender and gender-expansive students in Portland schools. ...


Among other things the policy allows students to use restrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity, allows them to use the pronouns they prefer, calls for gender-neutral student dress codes and requires annual training around gender issues for teachers and staff.


The policy is consistent with Maine law that requires non-discrimination in schools. ...



Portland policy provides protections, support for transgender students

Portland policy provides protections, support for transgender students


PORTLAND — The School Board Tuesday was expected to enact an expansive new transgender student rights policy. ...

The board was expected to give final approval to the new protections Nov. 28, after The Forecaster’s deadline.

At the first reading, board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said it was especially important to provide support for transgender students after learning that statistically they are more at risk for self-harm, homelessness, harassment and physical violence. ...

The policy defines gender identity as being “a person’s sincerely held core belief of their own gender, whether that individual identifies as male, female, both, neither or in some other way.”

And gender-expansive is defined as being “an umbrella term used to describe people who expand notions of gender expression and identity beyond what is perceived as the expected gender norms.” ...

While the School Department  is required to use a student’s legal name on their official record, the policy adds that “the district shall use the student’s preferred name and pronouns consistent with their gender identity on all other documents including, but not limited to … classroom rosters, certificates, diplomas and yearbook.”



Portland school board adopts comprehensive transgender policy

Portland school board adopts comprehensive transgender policy

It joins about a half-dozen other Maine school districts that have approved such policies since a landmark state supreme court ruling in 2014.



Cheech and Chong help make Maine town councilor's video of cannabis calming a boy's seizure go viral

Cheech and Chong help make Maine town councilor’s video of cannabis calming a boy’s seizure go viral

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff •


The comic duo Cheech and Chong, who rose to fame in the 1970s and 80s with routines centered around smoking marijuana, shared an apparent Facebook post by a Standish town councilor advocating for the medicinal use of the drug.

With the famous comedians’ boost, the video post, which seems to show cannabis oil calming a boy’s seizure, has been viewed nearly 13 million times.

The original post was apparently made by Standish Town Councilor Peter Starostecki, who last month was the only councilor to vote against extending a moratorium on retail marijuana shops for another six months.

He was also reportedly one of two to vote against a more permanent ban on Nov. 14. ...

Hundreds of supportive commenters began weighing in after the post was shared, first by a popular Medical Cannabis page, then by Cheech and Chong. ...

Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong starred in the 1978 cult classic movie “Up In Smoke,” among other films and comedy albums. Marin has gone on to star in the CBS television police drama “Nash Bridges,” as well as a number of popular animated movies, such as “The Lion King” and “Cars.”



Standish moves toward ban on retail pot

Standish moves toward ban on retail pot

STANDISH — The Town Council has voted to advance an ordinance change that would ban retail marijuana establishments and social clubs in Standish. ...
CouncStarostecki7712884001811528096ilor Isabel Higgins, who chairs the ordinance subcommittee, voted against the proposal, as did Councilor Peter Starostecki, who also serves on that committee.  ...

Starostecki was the lone councilor to vote against the marijuana moratorium extension in October, suggesting that the town could benefit from economic development if it allowed retail marijuana businesses to operate there. He said he has worked on draft ordinances to make that possible. 

Starostecki appeared frustrated during the discussion. 

“I’m insulted that you would go ahead and pass this ban,” he said, adding that the ordinances he drafted were currently in legal review. ...





Nibble on these Maine political morsels before the big meal

Nibble on these Maine political morsels before the big meal



... A tribal state representative became a Green and says he’ll run for Maine’s 2nd District. Non-voting Rep. Henry John Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians became the second Green in the Legislature on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Bear said in a news release that he’ll kick off a run for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District later this week, saying he would work toward a “safer and more inclusive world community.” U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, already has nine other challengers. Lucas St. Clair and Jared Golden are his most likely Democratic challengers, but a libertarian and two unaffiliated candidates are also running longshot bids. ...



School Board chairwoman: Schools impact 1 in 6 Portland residents

School Board chairwoman: Schools impact 1 in 6 Portland residents



PORTLAND — A free, public education is essential to our system of government, School Board Chairwoman Anna Trevorrow said in remarks prepared for her State of the Schools address Monday ...

In paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, Trevorrow said, “Educating the public was the only sure way to guarantee the preservation of our liberty.”

“Public education remains a path for our students to achieve their dreams, no matter how humble their beginnings,” she said. “Without a free public education, there would be an even greater divide between the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor, the strong and weak.”

Overall, Trevorrow said, “public education helps students become better global citizens, ensuring our country’s global competitiveness. This is especially true in Portland, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district.”

Trevorrow also thanked Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana and his staff, her fellow School Board members, and everyone who works for the School Department.

“I know I speak for (them all) when I say that we do the work that we do because we believe in the importance of public education,” Trevorrow said ...

In addition, the School Board is in the process of approving a transgender student policy, which Trevorrow said is “another important next step for inclusion and equity.” ...

She said it takes a community to commit to preparing students to succeed in college and careers.

“We are deeply grateful to Portland for being that generous and supportive community,” Trevorrow said. “… We strive every day to give this community – its residents, taxpayers, voters and elected officials alike – a grand sense of pride in its public education system.”


Anna Trevorrow, chairwoman of the Portland School Board, presented the annual State of the Schools address to the City Council Monday.



Jill Stein joins push to save ranked-choice voting in Maine

Jill Stein joins push to save ranked-choice voting in Maine

From the Associated Press


AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Former presidential candidate Jill Stein is joining a push to get Maine to enact ranked-choice voting.

The ranked-choice system is designed to let voters rank candidates on ballots. Proponents say it eliminates spoilers and ensures majority support for the winner.

Voters chose to enact ranked-choice voting in Maine with a 2016 referendum vote. But the system may never be put in place because of delays imposed by state lawmakers who say it conflicts with the Maine Constitution.

Stein ... sent out a mass email on Wednesday urging supporters in Maine to sign petitions that are circulating in support of the veto.



Watch how medical cannabis instantly alleviates this boy's seizures

Watch How Medical Cannabis Instantly Alleviates This Boy’s Seizures



It is tough enough seeing a young person battling a serious medical condition, but what if you have to fight tooth and nail to ensure that your child receives the life-changing medicine they need? ...


To begin with, the Starosteckis lived in Florida when Stefan was first diagnosed. At that time, the Sunshine state had failed to pass a medical marijuana referendum, which might have given epileptic patients like Stefan access to medical cannabis. In fact, Florida only began allowing medical marijuana in November of 2016 and its policies are still considered inadequate and restrictive by advocates of medical cannabis.

As a result, Peter’s parents felt they had no choice but to move to a state that offered access to medical marijuana. They choose Maine because that state’s program had been in existence for 20 years and offered (they believed) the best and most advanced medical marijuana program in the country ...

To compound matters, the Starosteckis live in a town called Standish, which wants to ban cannabis locally on Tuesday. Peter explained to me that he is on the Town Council, but as a relative newcomer he’s perceived as something of an outsider. Fifty-four percent of the town’s residents are with him and his family (they support allowing medical cannabis). But Peter says that some officials remain very hostile to the idea ...