Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maine's ranked choice voting odyssey

My latest for POLITICO Magazine is on Maine's ranked choice voting odyssey, which at the time the piece came out 48 hours ago already had more twists and turns than the roller coaster at Old Orchard Beach. And today's there's been several more.

The story describes why Maine -- a purple state with a penchant for independents and third party candidates -- has been relatively fertile soil for electoral reform advocates, and how their effort to make ranked choice voting the law of this pine-covered land has faced and jumped a variety of hurdles.

But this morning -- to the surprise of everyone in Maine politics -- Secretary of State Matt Dunlap told legislators he'd been made aware of a technical flaw in some operative legal language that may prevent ranked choice voting from being used in the June 12 primary after all. This announcement has prompted outrage from the Attorney General (who is also running for governor), the House speaker, and the RCV effort's leaders, who have also asked a court to issue an injunction compelling Dunlap to use RCV in the primaries. Confused? So is everyone else, but my Portland Press Herald colleague Kevin Miller has been trying to sort it out for you.

My last story for POLITICO was on inventor Dean Kamen's effort to commercially cultivate customized human organs in the old Manchester, New Hampshire millyards.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Speaking on the crisis in the world's oceans and Gulf of Maine, April 4

It's been snowed out twice already, but on Wednesday, April 4 I really am going to finally speak about the crisis in the world's oceans and the Gulf of Maine at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. (The talk was originally to have taken place in early February.)

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.

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.