Maine ballot initiative news archives, 2008

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Vegas Casino Tycoon Takes Over Local Casino Project, September 16, 2008, Jessica Alaimo[1]

The Olympia Group, a Las Vegas gaming company, has taken over the Oxford County Casino project. The casino project launched as a citizen’s initiative, and goes to the ballot in November. It was spearheaded by Evergreen Mountain Enterprises, a Rumford company created by Attorney Seth Carey for the project. Dean Harrold, Vice Chairman of Olympia Gaming, will be the new president of the casino if it is approved. Harrold has held several top positions in Vegas, including as past president and chief operating officer of Caesars Palace.

"The Olympia Group was attracted to this opportunity because of the quality of the Maine workforce and the excellent potential it saw in Oxford County in western Maine," Harrold said in a release. "The resort casino will serve as a year-round destination for a steady stream of new visitors to the state. It will offer the best in entertainment, fine dining, lodging and recreational opportunities."

Pat LaMarche, who resigned earlier this summer, has come back on board as the spokewoman for the push to approve the referenda.

Larceny Is The Downside Of 'Fun

Douglas Muir, Portland Press Herald, September 20, 2008 - Douglas Muir is the media coordinator for the group "No Slots for ME!"[2]

Mr Muir believes that the 11 percent rise in larceny in Penobscot County between 2005 and 2006 is attributable to the opening of Hollywood Slots in late 2005. He says that experts view gambling addiction as the main impact of gambling on crime, and that theft and embezzlement are the result of gambling addicts needing money to perpetuate their addiction.

He quotes Dennis Bailey of CasinosNo! as saying ""Slot machines are highly addictive, much more addictive than any other form of gambling. It takes on average more than four years to become addicted to most gambling games. People become addicted to slot machines in as little as 14 months.....It's no coincidence that before casinos came to southeastern Connecticut, larcenies and embezzlement were due almost entirely to drug addiction. Now according to police, 95 percent of those cases are rooted to another kind of addiction – slot machines. Already in Bangor, a man who allegedly stole more than $20,000 from his employer was arrested after he lost it all at Hollywood Slots, the first of many such cases to come."

He concludes that the casino initiative should not be approved by voters and that the state's Gambling Control Board should investigate the social impact of Hollywood Slots.

Don't Exaggerate Casino Crime Link

Dr. Clyde W. Barrow, September 27, 2008, Portland Press Herald - Dr. Barrow is Chancellor Professor of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He established the New England Gaming Research Project in 2004, which is funded entirely by UMass Dartmouth.[3]

Dr. Barrow refutes Douglas Muir's recent column ("Larceny is the downside of 'fun"' Sept. 20) on casinos and crime, saying that it is a zealous example of how anti-casino activists use "pseudo-facts" – i.e., falsehoods presented as "facts" – to inflame the public discussion of casinos with visions of a sociological apocalypse.

He points out that in the United States today, there are 421 Indian casinos, 191 commercial casinos, and 41 racetrack casinos hosted by 30 states other than Nevada. These casinos employ 527,000 persons nationwide and more than a quarter of all Americans visit a casino at least once a year. If casinos create crime why is it that not a single state or locale that has authorized casino gaming has ever voted to abolish its casinos? He also quotes a 2001 study authored by Grant Stitt, and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, as stating that "most community leaders in the new casino jurisdictions believe that the casinos have been good for the communities," and also found that "casinos do not appear to have any general or dramatic effect on crime, especially in communities that do not have a high concentration of casinos."

In a report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission found that the crime rate in Atlantic City had declined since the onset of casino gaming. His article also points out that in the 2 Connecticut counties that have casinos with over 14 million visitors a year, crime dropped 36% in the decade since the casinos were opened. The figures for gambling addiction also do not bear out Mr. Muir's alarmism. According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission approximately 1.6% of adults in the U.S. are problem or pathological gamblers at any given time, compared to 2.8% of the adult population that is drug dependent (including legal prescription drugs), and 7.2%, who are alcohol dependent.

He concludes by stating "Inflammatory references to slot machines as the crack cocaine of gambling are misleading hyperbole with no scientific basis in the psychiatric diagnostic criteria for problem gambling. It is my hope that proponents and opponents of the proposed casino in Oxford will stick to the facts and not attempt to generate enthusiasm or hysteria by using pseudo-facts and even outright falsehoods."

Grace Period For Some School Plans Is Justified

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 09/19/2008[4]

Calling school consolidation the Rubik's Cube of Maine's education world, an editorial in the Kennebeck Journal, says that compliance with the new consolidation laws is a puzzle that not all existing districts have been able to solve. After endless efforts, many have found that either the numbers don't work, or local voters don't want it. Unfortunately, the State Education Department is ready to impose stiff monetary penalties on those districts in 2008 - this is Commissioner Gendron's "Big Stick."

The editorial states than a promised reprieve needs to be a legislative matter, be well crafted and even handed, and not left to Commissioner Susan Gendron's sole discretion. This would be an appropriate and fair response to the problem.

Medical Marijuana Petition Update

Jonathan Leavitt, Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, August 29, 2008

In an email to supporters, Jonathan Leavitt announced that the petition for new Medical Marijuana laws has passed the halfway mark in required signatures. Petitioners have been canvasing at fairs, music festivals, and the beaches this summer to get the citizen initiative - An Act to Establish the Maine Medical Marijuana Act - on the ballot in 2009. They have secured over 30,000 signatures thus far.

Weighing in on the side of increased clinical research and protection and availability for patients, the American College of Physicians has published a position paper entitled Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana. The ACP is the 2nd largest physicians group in the country, and their bi-monthly newsletter is the most quoted medical journal in the world.

Ellsworth American Votes No on Casino Initiative

Ellsworth American Editorial, August 28, 2008[5]

In an editorial last Thursday, the Ellsworth American voiced its reservations about the upcoming November ballot. They state that there isn't enough information about the Casino Initiative to make an informed decision, so advise voting "no" on the initiative. Ballotpedia has directed them to the State's Election Board pages[6], and to Ballotpedia Maine's page on the initiative - Casino in Oxford County. We hope this will help fill in their lack of information.

Dirigo Veto Pro and Con Ads Launched

Kennebeck Journal, Susan Cover, Aug. 27, 2008[7]

A Richmond convenience store owner, Gary Emmons, appears in a new television commercial urging people to repeal the Dirido Tax Law. Fed Up With Taxes targeted their first ad to run during both national political conventions."I just talk to a lot of people, and people aren't looking for another tax on convenience store staples, especially flavored water," said Emmons, who owns Gary's Quik Stop and Exit 43 Quik Stop, both in Richmond. Health Coverage for Maine, which opposes the ballot veto, has sent people door-to-door to try to explain its side of the issue to voters. Jesse Graham, spokesman for the group said "I do think, in my quick look at political action committee reports, they have a lot more money and will continue to have a lot more money," he said. They plan to launch televisions ads also. Fed Up With Taxes has a huge fundraising advantage having raised $375,000 in the most recent reporting period, while Health Coverage for Maine raised about $25,000.

School Reorganization Update

Kennebeck Journal, Susan Cover, August 22, 2008

The state Department of Education said Thursday that approved school consolidation plans now cover about half of enrolled state students. Jim Rier, school finance director for the department, announced that the department has approved six reorganization plans and 39 alternative plans. This is still short of the 80 new districts mandated by law, reducing from the current 290 districts.[8]. For an updated list of school district status go to School District Plans - updated August 22nd. More news on reorganization is posted at School District Reorganization News.

Final Votes On Dirigo Board Nominees Today - Good News For Repeal Supporters?

Associated Press, August 20, 2008[9]

The Senate meets today to consider confirmation of Joseph Bruno, who headed the state Republican Party for part of last year, and two others to the Dirigo board. Baldacci's pet health program has been under fire for it's funding mechanism and is the target of a veto referendum - Repeal Dirigo Tax - just approved for the November ballot. The Dirigo board has already been exploring alternative funding plans in anticipation of voters approving the appeal of the beverage and insurance taxes voted into law in the last Legislative session. In Senate Committee questioning Bruno said "I believe in the goal of Dirigo. I believe in the goal of having an insurance product that is affordable for everyone....Do I believe the funding mechanism is the best mechanism out there? No, I think over the last five years we have learned it's a very difficult mechanism to fund this program. Do I come in with preconceived notions? No, I think I'm pretty open-minded. And I can be persuaded and convinced if the facts are in front of me."

Casino Campaign Leader Steps Down

Associated Press, wire report August 19, 2008 10:20 AM[10]

Pat LaMarche announced today that she's leaving the Evergreen Mountain Enterprises' casino campaign. Ms. LaMarche, says she has "legal and professional issues" with Seth Carey, who founded the casino effort. The Maine Bar Association is beginning disciplinary action against Carey for misconduct. LaMarche, who has run for Maine governor and U.S. vice president on the Green party ticket, says that she still thinks the casino project is a good thing for Maine. She continues as an editorial columnist at the Bangor Daily News[11]

Tax Repeal Goes On The Ballot

Associated Press, wire report August 18, 2008 05:07 PM[12]

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announced today that the Dirigo tax repeal petition has been validated and will be included on the November 4th ballot. Of the over 95,000 signatures submitted, 74,432 were deemed admissible. This exceeds the filing requirement by more than 17,000. The bill would overturn the Legislatures taxes on beverages and health care enacted to support the state run Dirigo Choice health plan. Fed Up With Taxes, the organization which sponsored and circulated the petition, will be leading a "Vote Yes" campaign for the repeal bill. Newell Augur, Chairman, states that he thanks the many state clerks who worked long hours to make the signature validation possible.

Service Employees International Union in Washington, D.C., Fighting Dirigo Tax Repeal

As Maine Goes, Editor's Blog, July 25, 2008

The Editor of As Maine Goes Blog reports that the Dirigo veto referendum is being fought by the Service Employees International Union in Washington, D.C. . They state that the Union is also using cell phone to randomly hit Mainers. To see or join the thread click As Maine Goes Blog.

Dirigo Board Meets To Save Plan

Village Soup Online, Augusta, syndicated State House Reporter Victoria Wallack, July 25, 2008[13]

Writing online, Ms. Wallack reports that the Dirigo Board met today and began a process that will result in a new $80 million dollar assesment of insurers rates to fund the Dirigo health program. They used an arcane methodology they call The Savings Offset Payment. This been difficult for the public to grasp and is controversial in that insurance carriers and businesses can pass it onto consumers, thereby raising premiums.

This a last minute scramble to offset they probability that citizens will vote affirmative on the Repeal Dirigo Veto Referendum in November. The next step in the process is for Insurance Superintendent Kofman to hold a hearing to determine the level of savings her organization thinks is reasonable to attribute to Dirigo Health initiatives. That hearing will be held in early September. These savings are yet to be determined as the result of reforms yet to be enacted.

Casino PAC Back in the Black

Sun Journal, Rebekah Metzler, July 26, 2008[14]

Earlier filings showed the PAC, MaineCasinoNow, $100 thousand in debit. The latest report to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practice showed that the PAC's accounting was mixed with Evergreen Mountain Enterprises, LLC. The error has been corrected and no disciplinary action is forthcoming. State law requires itemized public records of all contributions and expenses of more than $1,500 on behalf of initiating, promoting or influencing ballot questions. MaineCasinoNow is out touring fairs and events across Maine in a bio fueled truck with drinks, snacks, and give aways promoting the casino referendum.

Veto Referendums may strike down only a part of a Law

Portland Press Herald, David Hughes, July 20, 2008

Referring to a July 13th Portland Press column titled "Beverage tax repeal a sideshow" by John W. Porter, Mr. Hughes says that the statement "the Maine Constitution doesn't allow for striking down a portion of a law." is false. He directs readers to the Maine Constitution Article IV, Section 17, Parts 1, 2 and 3, which states that portions of a law can be struck down by a people's veto. See Sunday's Portland Press Herald[15] for Mr Porter's retraction.

Editorial Calls Read ID Licensing Law Reasonable

Portland Press Herald, July 22, 2008 Editorial[16]

The Editorial states that the Repeal Real ID petition's failure shouldn't come as a surprise. The Editors believe that the Maine implementation law as it stands provides reasonable safeguards to verify a citizens legal status, and still doesn't come close to compliance with the federal statute. They do agree, however, that advocates should demand federal changes in financing Real ID and should have better privacy guarantees. The federal program only offers $1 million in state compensation for compliance - way short of projected costs - , and has a deadline of December 2009 for states to comply. After that date state ids would not be accepted at airports or for any other federal purpose - job applications, etc.

Repeal Dirigo petitions filed

Associated Press 07.16.08, 10:44 AM ET

The Fed Up With Taxes[17] veto referendum to repeal the new funding for the Dirigo health program turned in over 90,000 signatures July 15th. Coalition Chairman Newell Augur states that 80% have already been validated, giving them well over the 55,087 needed to be placed on November's ballot. The State has 10 days to verify signatures and approve the referendum for the ballot. Representative Kathy Chase, writing in SeacoastOnline[18], believes that Governor Baldacci may call for a special Legislative Session to deal with the question before the November elections. For further information see Repeal Dirigo Tax .

Keep Legislature's Hands Out Of The Cookie Jar

by M.D. Harmon July 18, 2008, Portland Press Herald[19]

Editorial weighs in in favor of Repeal Dirigo veto. Harmon says it's time to send the message to the Legislature that the cookie jar has limits. Article also quotes the Dirigo Plan's former executive director, Tom Dunne, as saying that it is badly flawed and it is time to "fix it or end it.

StateOfficial Testifies Before Congressional Committee

By Meg Haskell Wednesday, July 16, 2008 - Bangor Daily News[20]

Trish Riley, director of the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday testifying before the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. Riley was one of a number of state health reform experts invited to speak at the hearing. "They get the complexity of the problem," Riley said, adding that pressure is increasing for federal-level reforms to the nation’s health care system. "There are a million ways to do it. Now they have to make the commitment to doing it. It all comes down to who’s going to pay for it," she said. The state has had to suspend further enrollees to the program due to losing Federal Medicaid funds for Dirigo Health Reform, enacted in 2003. That Federal decision is now being appealed in the courts.

New Laws Enacted Affecting Citizen's Groups

Ballotpedia Info Update

The 123rd Legislature enacted new amendments to the law changing registration requirements for PACs and defining citizen's initiative advocacy groups as "Ballot Question Committees."The new laws went into effect June 30th, 2008. See Laws governing the initiative process in Maine for complete information.

Maine Dirigo Tax Law Closer To Repeal

Business Insurance[21] Jerry Geisel, July 16, 2008

State officials commenting on the Dirigo tax repeal say the new taxes would generate roughly twice the revenue of the current tax on insurers. The original funding tax had been linked to savings to be achieved by insurers, who were expected to save money since providers would no longer have to factor in the costs of providing care to uninsured patients. Providers were expected, by this means, to lower their charges to insurance companys. If Maine's voters approve the tax repeal in November, this assessment on insurers would be restored.

Maine Leads[22] is sponcering a referendum for the 2009 ballot to offer alternative health plans to Maine citizens.

Replace the Dirigo Choice Health Plan?

In The Ellsworth American, July 10, 2008, the editors state their dissatisfaction with implementation of the Dirigo Law. Paper joins The Maine Heritage Policy Center[23] and others in calling for the repeal of Governor Baldacci's insurance program—one of the cornerstones of his administration. The editorial calls the program "an expensive and eminently unsuccessful boondoggle." Created by the legislature five years ago, the law set up the DirigoChoice insurance program with the objective of funding health care for those who could not otherwise afford it. The editorial states that to date the program has insured only 12,637 individuals at a cost of $100 million.[24]. Maine Leads[25] is circulating a petition for legislation to replace Dirigo.

Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union Speaks Out Against Real ID

“The Governor and Commissioner Jordan have pulled a bait and switch on Mainers and the legislature,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “The legislature expressly prohibited the expenditure of funds to implement REAL ID because of the giant privacy concerns associated with the vast federal program. Mainers shouldn’t have to be fingerprinted, retinal scanned, or undergo facial recognition screening in order to get a Maine driver license,” said Bellows. “That’s why people’s veto of LD 2309, is so critical. We need to stop the privacy nightmare that is REAL ID now.”See the Maine Civil Liberties Union (dead link)site for the full text.

Initiative effort to protect traditional marriage abandoned

Michael Heath, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, the group sponsoring an initiative asking Maine voters the question, "Do you want to protect traditional marriage and eliminate special rights laws in Maine?," said his group has abandoned the effort, noting that people had steered away from the voter initiative because they "don’t want to be aligned with bigotry and homophobia and hatred." The group fell far short of the 15,000 signatures it had set out to gather, accumulating only about 5,000 signatures.[26]Maine law currently prohibits marriage by same-sex couples. A 2004 law established a domestic partner registry, offering unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, limited rights and benefits under state law. A 2007 court ruling allows unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, to petition for adoption.

Casino in Oxford County loses campaign manager

The Maine Casino in Oxford County (2008) effort has lost its campaign manager. Seth Carey is stepping down from campaign so his personal legal woes won't become a distraction. The casino initiative is the only initiated measure that will appear on Maine's November 2008 ballot.

Three school officials face recall

In Portland, ME school officials Robert O'Brien, Sarah Thompson and Rebecca Minnick are facing a recall effort by the Republican City Committee. The recall effort was prompted when the school officials announced their support to give out prescription birth control at the King Middle School. The group also cited budget problems that led to the superintendent and finance director to resign last summer.[27]

Petition drive to dissolve the police department

In Waldobora, Maine a petition drive was started this week to dissolve the police department, just 3 days after the fatal shooting of a police officer. The petition is organized by Pat Chapman who says the community hasn't been happy with the departments operations since the 1980s. The group needs to collect 222 signatures in order to force a vote about the department.[28]