Saturday, March 10, 2018

Maine: LePage administration threatens Wiscasset on traffic project, town says

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have an update on the increasingly fraught struggle between Maine Gov. Paul LePage's Department of Transportation and the town of Wiscasset, site of Maine's most infamous summer traffic bottleneck.

To recap, the town originally supported the plan, but turned against it and ultimately filed suit against the DOT, alleging that it is violating town ordinances and state law and that it changed the project after receiving approval. Among other things, the DOT suddenly decided not to use federal funds, which were to pay for 80 percent of the project's $5 million price tag, thereby avoiding historic preservation requirements. LePage then personally started throwing fuel on the fire with blustery notes to constituents telling them he's had enough of Wiscasset's obstruction, then allegedly vetoing a draft compromise worked out between the department and town.

Now the department has allegedly told the town they might go ahead with their project -- which includes removing all on-street parking on Main Street in the historic village -- without building replacement parking (as the plan has called for all along) if they are made to follow local ordinances. It's the nuclear option, so to speak, and one local businesspeople say would kill the historic downtown. Details within.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Trump's Canadian metals tariffs could backfire on Maine

In today's Portland Press Herald, I have a piece on how President Trump's 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum could backfire on Maine manufacturers and others, particularly if Canada isn't exempted from the plan.

Details in the story.

Also, in an unrelated update, my talk on the crisis in the world's oceans and Gulf of Maine tonight at the Portland (Maine) Public Library has again been postponed by a winter storm. The new date: April 4 at 6pm.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Two ALEC bills before Maine lawmakers would facilitate rewriting of US Constitution

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have another story involving a model text from the American Legislative Exchange Council being introduced in the Maine legislature, and once again it has national implications.

ALEC's state co-chair, a Republican lawmaker from Hiram, has introduced two bills that would have Maine join the tally of states calling for the convening of a constitutional convention under Article V of the US Constitution for the first time since 1787. One of the bills -- having to do with a convention allegedly limited to passing a balanced budget amendment -- would make Maine the 29th state to make the official call, just five sort of the number necessary to compel a convening.

Critics -- including the late Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Warren Burger -- have warned that since there are no rules laid out for how such a convention would function, absolutely anything could happen. As the article reports, a well-funded model convention held two years ago in Virginia passed a number of amendments that would transform all aspects of American life.

How did the texts wind up in Maine? When are they up for floor votes? What on Earth is this ALEC you speak of?  Read on to find out.

I've written about ALEC bills in Maine four other times in the past year, including an effort last year to pass a similar bill,  this article and a follow up  on a bill that would prevent towns from building high-speed broadband networks,  and this article on another that would prevent them from passing pesticide ordinances.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Speaking on the crisis in the oceans and Gulf of Maine, Portland, Mar. 7

I'll be speaking about the crisis in the world's oceans and in the Gulf of Maine on March 7th at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. The talk was originally to have taken place in early February, but was postponed by a winter storm.

[Update, 3/7/18: Alas, this event has again been postponed by a winter storm. The new date is April 4, same time and place.]

The event -- which kicks off at 6pm in the Rines Auditorium in the main library on Monument Square -- is the 2018 Sustainability Series Keynote. It's free and open to the public.

As a foreign correspondent, I long focused on oceans policy and global environmental reporting, and my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas, took me to Antarctica, the tiny atoll states of Central Pacific, the coral reefs of Belize, the depleted cod banks of Newfoundland and the troubled waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Black Sea. My second book, The Lobster Coast, told the story of coastal Maine and its ecosystem, and "Mayday," a 2015 series I wrote for the Portland Press Herald, was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

I'll be speaking about the nature of the multi-faceted marine crisis, what it means for humans, and what might be done about it. Hope you can make it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Senator King warns of Russian cyber threat to 2018 midterms

Senator Angus King, I-Maine, came by the Press Herald newsroom last week for a wide-ranging, on-record conversation with myself and my colleagues about everything from the state of the immigration debate to prospects for modest gun control legislation on Capitol Hill and even why he's not interested in joining the Democrats, who he caucuses with.

But the most pressing issue he wanted to talk about was the ongoing threat posed by Russian cyber attacks on our election infrastructure, which he says remain insufficiently addressed ahead of the 2018 midterms. The President, he argues, has not only declined to marshall a cross-government response, he's made matters worse by encouraging the public to regard Russian attacks as a hoax.

It's all in the piece, which ran in yesterday's print edition.

For more background on King's concerns with attacks on our election systems, there's this piece from an extended interview I did with the senator last year. On Maine's system -- relatively invulnerable to such attacks because of its intentionally low-tech design -- start with this interview with the state's top election's official, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dunlap, other top state election officials received classified briefing on threats to voter systems

The U.S. intelligence community has been warning elected officials and the public for some time now about the past, present, and future threat Russia has posed to the integrity of election infrastructure. In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I report on an unprecedented briefing by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the office of the Director of National Intelligence on the matter given to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and nine other members of the executive board of the national association for secretaries of state.

I spoke to Dunlap for the story, and you can read his thoughts and message in the piece.

Dunlap is known nationally for his role in the closure of President Trump's controversial election fraud commission, on which he was a member. His suit to obtain working documents from the group -- which he says he and other Democratic commissioners were denied -- is still in federal court.

The Russian threat to election integrity was floated and quickly dropped by Dunlap in the early days of the commission, but has been a consistent priority for US Senator Angus King (I-Maine.)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gov. LePage scuttled Wiscasset traffic compromise, attorney says

Maine Governor Paul LePage personally intervened to kill a compromise between the state transportation department and the town of Wiscasset over a controversial traffic project there, an attorney for the town told residents this week.

I have the details in today's Portland Press Herald, which is also available online here.

For fuller background on the project, this story lays it all out, including the governor's chain of aggressive correspondence with constituents about the traffic problems in the midcoast town and how the Maine DOT lost the confidence of town residents after reneging on promises made about the project, including the use of federal funds and the historic preservation reviews that come with them.