Ranked-Choice Voting And Strengthening Our Democracy

My husband, James, grew up in Maine, so we follow news from there regularly. One of the continuous themes we talk about is the use of ranked-choice voting in the Pine Tree State. Years ago, I frowned on the concept as it appeared to have the effect of undermining political parties. But the more I read and ponder this method of voting, I must admit there is some appeal to be found.

One of the reasons I questioned ranked voting was the notion that what ailed our political culture could be addressed with a procedural change in the balloting process. It has always been my contention that the sham of redistricting and the volume of campaign money, and how it is used, is far more of an issue needing corrective measures.

I arrive at this issue today as a column written by Mona Charen landed in front of me from the Bangor Daily News. Since the dawn of the Tea Party types, and certainly, since 2015 when Donald Trump took to an escalator, I have often thought about ways our democracy needs to strengthen its foundations. How our politics must break away from the deeply corrosive nature, and at times utterly bizarre course it has taken.

Charen writes powerfully and persuasively with reasons we should talk about ranked voting.

The party duopoly empowers the most extreme voters and leaves the vast middle unrepresented and feeling that in general elections they must choose the lesser of two evils. As Katherine Gehl, founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, notes, about 10 percent of voters (those who vote in primaries) determine the outcome of 83 percent of congressional races. And because primary voters tend to be more ideological and extreme than others, candidates pander to them to get elected and then to remain in office. The term “primary” became a verb only in the last decade or so, as the power of the party zealots became a cudgel to use against any member who even considered compromising with the other party.

Not only does the ranked-choice system disempower party extremists, it also discourages candidates from savage personal attacks, the persistence of which arguably keeps some fine people out of politics altogether. Candidates are less likely to attack one another if they hope to be the second choice of the other person’s voters.

The two-party system has not proven to be a solid foundation for democracy. Time to disarm the crazies.

I have strongly noted on CP my disdain for members of congress being placed in a primary for the simple reason they had the audacity to reach across the aisle and try to work with a member of the other party. Yet, that happens. As I noted on this blog in 2012. I much acknowledge Cheren’s point that strident-minded partisans pick the candidate in a primary, and I might add that when winning the general, the result tilts the legislative chamber to more partisan ends.

Ask conservative Republican U.S. Senator Bennett how his election in 2010 fared after he dared to venture into working partnerships with Democrats on the issues that impacted the nation. He lost his seat, in part for working with ‘the other side’.

But I differ with Charen when she believes that ranked voting will wither the extremists. As we are all too aware much of the campaigning is not done by the candidates presenting themselves to the town square for debates and conversations, but rather through television and also harsh, unrelenting ideologically-composed political action committees. Those entities are not going away.

This brings this post back to one of my main contentions that money must be reigned in and strictly ordered in how it can be used in campaigns. I very well understand that I am whistling in the wind, but the political culture all around us underscores that we are in much need of solutions to strengthen our democracy.

As such, I applaud Mona Charen for adding a reasoned voice to the discussion.

And so it goes.

James Wilson Writes…”Reframing: Where Are You From?”

My better half spent a chunk of Saturday writing a piece for his blog Chickadee Ear Muffs. Last evening he posted it and I am pleased to link and share two paragraphs here.  The entire read is most worthy of your time.

I was terribly bullied as a child.  I was different.  The schools recognized it and called me ‘gifted and talented’ at one point.  My parents were told that this might account for my inability to fit in, and also my strong-willed desire not to do things just because everyone else was doing them.  I had absolutely no athletic skill whatsoever, so why would I try out for the local baseball team with the other boys?  I wouldn’t look good in a cap turned backward on my head, nor would I ever get off the bench and actually play in the sporting event.  Why waste my time?  I didn’t like the idea of getting dirty and having greasy stuff on my hands (I still don’t), so why would I give a crap about what sort of engine was under the hood of the car that I didn’t want to drive in the first place.  (I still have never owned my own vehicle, and I am now pushing fifty).  I also didn’t fully understand at the time why I didn’t find it easy to form relationships with my peers.  As it turns out, I am a gay man, but then, I tried hard to pretend to like the particularly perky breasts of one of the girls in my class—I even wrote about them in my diary at the time, in case anyone ever read along and though differently of me.  I listened to family and friends alike decry the ‘homos and lizzies’ who were actively infiltrating our schools and indoctrinating us—though in reality, actually having a gay role model growing up would have been so beneficial!  I heard about the ‘faggots’ and how they deserved to be thrown over a bridge to their death (“Gentle Charlie” met his untimely death in Bangor this way, just as I was hitting puberty—the thought of which was terrifying to me since I knew something was different about me even then) because they didn’t lust after women like the other boys did.  I was hopeless in not understanding that a little conformity on my behalf might have made my life easier.  Except of course that that conformity would have come at a cost.  That cost, me, would have been too great.  I could have easily lost myself in others’ conceptions of who I should have been, but I would have been miserable.

            Instead, I became very good at ‘nesting’, building my ‘home’ around me and surrounding myself with those things and ideas which made me feel safe and valued.  I still do this, which is why Wisconsin feels safe but not like ‘home’.  Of course, that ability to shut off the outside and retreat to my interior space also came at a cost.  I have often said that the bullies didn’t only steal those school years from me, but also the years after I finally was able to break free.  I didn’t know any better how to form relationships with others when I got to college than I did in high school.  The difference was that I was free to restart and shape those boundaries on my own terms at that point.  Liberty.  I realized over time that my etiological story, my beginning, was really limited to that area around my childhood home and the places I could get to on my bicycle, those roads which lead to where my Mother grew up, the cemeteries where ‘our people’ were, and the stream where we could go to cool off in summer.  Mom and her friends who grew up only a couple of miles away from where I did referred to the area as the “East Ridge”, which references the horseback left behind in the last ice age, which was excellent farm land where our grandparents had settled and raised our families.  When I was a child, the Jehovah’s witnesses used to come to the little valley where our home sat.  Mom would talk to them at the door, but motion for me to go in and call Grammy, who lived a bit further up the Hudson Road from us.  Grammy would call in turn to her neighbor Chris and let her know, and so on.  One day, I answered the door to one of them on Mom’s behalf, she undoubtedly busy in the kitchen with her fall canning chores.  “You know it is strange,” this faithful follower said to me.  “It is strange how you are always the only ones home in this valley!”  If only she knew what our local phone tree looked like.  No way anyone else on the Hudson Road, Wright’s Hill or otherwise wanted to engage for an hour with these outsiders.  We already had the Methodist Church for that!

Jay, Maine: What About Their Future?

My better-half comes from Maine and so stories like this one grabs for our attention.

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Smoke rises from an explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay on April 15.REBECCA BURHOE

Jay, Maine an hour north of Portland, has a Dollar Tree, a Hannaford, a half-dozen churches, a gun shop, and a convenience store, Franchetti’s Home Town Variety, reputed to have the best pizza on the planet.

With a population of just under 5,000, the town sits at the heart of the nation’s most forested state. Since the late 19th century, it has focused its economic energies on making logs into paper. In the early 1960s, Jay loomed so large in the industry that the International Paper Co. chose it to build what was then the world’s most sophisticated mill for wood pulp, there on the banks of the Androscoggin River. “It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen,” remembers Dennis Couture, who, at age 6, went to the grand opening holding hands with his mother (his father was a millworker). “And soon the mill was making the paper for those 1,200-page Sears, Roebuck catalogs. I thought, They’re making enough paper to feed the world.”

Many of Jay’s residents, predominantly French-Canadian Catholics, were already working at International Paper’s Otis Mill, which had been operating downtown for decades. Now workers began pouring into the new Androscoggin Mill, to feed the pulp digester at its center and shape the output into paper. Maine loggers from up to 300 miles to the north descended upon the mill with truckloads of pulpwood — the gnarled, skinny tips of trees, the twisting branches that could not be hewn into lumber — and drove away richer. And woodlot owners managed their lands with the confidence that they could turn their runt trees into Jay pulp, thereby giving their straighter, thicker trees sufficient space and sunlight to grow into lucrative lumber.

There are eight paper mills in Maine, and right up until this spring, the one in Jay, built more than a half-century ago for about $54 million, processed more low-grade wood — pine, hemlock, spruce, fir, tamarack — than any other. Then on April 15, just after noon, the digester exploded, bursting like a volcano and sending a brown geyser of wood chips several hundred feet into the air. A second, newer digester was bent and ruined by the fall of the first one. A widely-circulated video captured the logging trucks halted nearby as their windshields got pelted with dark slurry.

In Jay, those explosions spell money. In 2009, the mill accounted for 70 percent of Jay’s tax revenue. Last year it covered 46 percent. And now there’s a fear that the number may soon plummet to zero. Pixelle has made no promises that it will spend hundreds of millions to buy a new digester for the Androscoggin Mill. It’s kept its mill in Jay open, but it has also laid off 59 of the plant’s 500 employees and telegraphed that more job cuts may come. To feed the two working paper machines at the Jay mill, it’s buying pulp from another nearby mill — an expensive and likely unsustainable scheme. Maine’s paper and wood industry, which accounts for 15 percent of the state’s economy, is now up against the ropes, after many years of being repeatedly punched. And in town, the question on everyone’s mind is: How will Jay survive this?

Maine Brewery Not Pleased With Trump Campaign–So They Closed Doors For Day

The title of this post could have been Who Is Pleased With Donald Trump?

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The owners of a Maine brewery said they were taken by surprise when they learned this week that their business would serve as the backdrop for a high-profile event in support of President Trump’s reelection.

According to a press release on Trump’s campaign website, the “Women for Trump Bus Tour” was scheduled to host a dinner featuring Lara Trump — the president’s daughter-in-law and senior campaign adviser — at Stars & Stripes Brewing Co. in Freeport on Wednesday.

The gathering was going to be the first of three stops during a two-day bus tour through Maine and New Hampshire meant to “engage voters through round tables, meet-and-greets, and sit-downs with business owners and local leaders across the two states,” according to the details.

But Stars & Stripes said on Facebook Tuesday that the logistics were not fully divulged from the start, and as a result the company decided to close on Wednesday.

“Due to [an] unauthorized political event being held at our brewery we will not open our doors tomorrow,” the veteran-owned-and-operated brewery said in a statement. “Stars & Stripes Brewing was created to support veterans, services members, and the community. We do not support or take sides in political agendas.”

When someone said in a comment on the Facebook post that the statement about closing was vague, the company clarified what had happened.

”There was supposed to be a Trump support event here at our brewery, though we were never told about it,” the owners wrote.

After finding out additional details Monday — including the campaign asking him if the Secret Service could come do a sweep-through of his business and if he’d greet Lara Trump and others, he said — and then seeing it in the Bangor Daily News, Nadeau called organizers Tuesday morning to cancel the appearance.

 

Recalling A Special Woman: Nina Bowden Hansen From Maine, Dies At 91

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This morning James received the news that Nina Bowden Hansen, a special woman in his life, his second-grade teacher, and someone he talked with regularly died.  She had left a phone message on our machine just about a week ago.  Her letters and conversations over the past years have often been a topic in our home.  James had written a wonderful tribute to her while she was living, back in 2014.

In part, her obituary reads as follows.

Her legacy of love for family, her students and her community will live forever in the hearts of those whose lives she touched.

Nina was devoted to her family and her love was unconditional. She always wanted her family to look out for each other as well as for those less fortunate. She held the heart of a public servant. Her powers of persuasion were legendary and at times relentless. If you were not initially inclined to do the right thing, you were always thankful you did whatever she “gently” encouraged you to do.

Teaching was more than a vocation for Nina; she loved nurturing and educating each soul that entered her classroom. She taught in Winterport, at St John’s in Bangor, and at Kenduskeag Elementary. In retirement, she was a substitute teacher in the Bangor School system.

Nina doted on all; relations near and distant, cousins, in-laws, ex-laws, steps, and friends. Once you were in the family circle you stayed there forever. Those folks are happily too numerous to mention, but if you were fortunate enough to be part of that circle then you know how much she valued you.

She perennially advised others to live their faith and to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving of one another – acts of kindness or forgiveness would honor her memory.

James wrote, in part, the following about Nina Hansen.

What I cherish most from that time when I was a student in your class was the way that you made me feel valued and encouraged me to be the best James Wilson I could be, to worry less about what the others around me expected me to be.  You encouraged me to find my own path to happiness.  Moreover, you wrote in my report card at the end of that year that you would miss me for two reasons:  first, because I was so eager to meet every new challenge, and secondly, because I was so dependable.  I would have done anything for you because you went out of your way to make me feel like being one of the “smart kids” was laudable, not something that should be reproached.

You gave us real lessons in living honestly and authentically.  My Mom truly made every effort to be there for us three kids (I also had an older brother, Todd).  She participated as chaperone on all school outings; she made cupcakes and other treats for any class bake sales we had.  She also tried to make sure that we ate well, even going so far as to send me to school with plates of celery sticks cut up and peanut butter stuffed in to their middles to share with my classmates when we had parties.  One day, Mom got a phone call from the school.  You were on the line, asking her if she were aware that I was not in the least interested in celery.  She admitted that she was unaware of this, and asked how you had ascertained the fact that I (still to this day) have an aversion for the stuff.  You replied, “Well, Mrs. Wilson, I have just now caught him burying some of it in the rocks out on the playground!”  Mom and I had a talk that night, at your behest, about being honest about things, about being willing to express one’s feelings.  She never sent celery to school with me again; I got apples (my favorite) after that.

More importantly still, you also encouraged (and expected) us to be good citizens—to believe that by working together, we could indeed make the world a better place for all.  In fact, I still have hanging in my office two little awards that you gave me that year—handmade signs of your appreciation.  They are framed now on field of blue with a hint of red trim around the openings.

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Senator Susan Collins Is Truly A Stooge

Collins as Stooge

(Yes, that is my own photo creation.)

Once again Maine Senator Susan Collins is proving that being inept is the only strength she possesses.  She voted to not hold Donald Trump accountable in his impeachment trial.   While many truly amazing, and even stupifying comments, were made on the floor of the Senate perhaps none was more outlandish than what came from Collins.

We are very much aware that Trump is not someone who is willing–or let me be more clear–capable–of learning about how to better conduct himself in the Oval Office.  So when Collins stated why she would not vote to punish him it underscored how delusional she continues to be about her senatorial duties.

“I believe that the president has learned from this case” is the way she framed her reasoning to a reporter before the vote, and then added to this remarkable comment on the Senate floor with “​The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”

Really, Senator Collins?

To add to the glibness and silliness is her comment in Maine later in the week when she put her verbal foot down stating disapproval if Trump retaliating against anyone who came forward with evidence against him.

Well, I am sure with her stern look and forceful tongue it found its way to the conscience of Trump, and like Paul in the Bible, he saw the light.  Right?

The lesson that Collins had prattled on about was never to materialize.  Just 48 hours after being acquitted by the Senate, Trump fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother, both decorated military men.  Then Trump fired  Gordon Sondland from his post.  Both men testified before Congress during the investigation that led to Trump’s impeachment.

There is clearly a payback taking place by Trump and Co. at the White House and without a doubt, Collins is firmly pounding a fist into her other hand and saying, “bad, bad man!”

That will teach Orange Mussolini!

Fivethirtyeight.com Projecting Wisconsin With Highest Voter Turnout In Nation

When there are Tea-Party governors there will be a massive effort to remove them.

Wisconsin has one of the closest gubernatorial races in the country, and in conjunction with the state’s traditionally high turnout, it’s no surprise that the Badger State leads our list of states with the highest projected turnout in governor races, says Geoffrey Skelley at political website fivethirtyeight.com

The web site is projecting 2,707,000 Wisconsinites out of a voting eligible population of 4,344,000, or 62.3 percent, are heading to the polls today. Rounding out the rest of the top five projected states:

Maine, 60.9 percent turnout

Minnesota, 59 percent

Iowa, 57.6 percent

Colorado, 55.2 percent

 

Lobster Shortage?

This is not good news for lovres of Maine’s favorite export.

It’s no shell game: As the price per pound has skyrocketed over the last few months, the costs of lobster dishes on restaurant menus across the city have been off the charts as chefs have been looking to claw back some of the margins. A combination of lousy weather, international demand, and iced-over Canadian fisheries has created a shortage that has driven whole hard-shell lobster prices to as high as $15 a pound this spring, up from about $8 a pound last year.

For chefs buying pre-shucked lobster meat for their rolls, the price has been hovering at $40 a pound, or about $8 more than a year ago, several said.