Questions around the implementation of the new recreational marijuana law have sucked a lot of air out of a lot of rooms in Augusta, and in the news, for good reason. Bringing something out of the shadowy black market and into the light of day is a tricky thing.
There was a lot of fanfare in late January when the Legislature unanimously approved a bill to address major loopholes in the citizen-approved law to legalize recreational marijuana.
This past week marked the seventh anniversary of Citizens United, the catastrophic decision by the United States Supreme Court that declared “money is speech” and in so doing exposed our politics to a deluge of special interest and lobbyist cash.
Citizens United told the wealthiest people and the biggest corporations that politics could be their plaything; that Democracy could be bought, for the right price. By removing any limits on the amount of money that could be spent on elections, the decision put our politics on sale to the highest bidder.
The new legislative session has begun and legislators have received their committee assignments. I am pleased to have been appointed by the Senate president to serve on the Taxation Committee. As the ranking senator on the committee, I will provide leadership role in crafting responsible tax policy working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
The committee will play a very important role this session as we work on policy regarding taxes, tax credits, property valuation and assessment, plus municipal revenue sharing – the mechanism by which state funds get sent back down to our local communities to pay for things such as public works and public safety.
A collection of local musicians under the joint name Tri-City All Stars along with a group of PTO parents are spearheading a fundraising effort to give students at Loranger Memorial and Jameson Elementary Schools in Old Orchard Beach something Santa won’t be able to fit under the tree; a new playground.
Both schools are in desperate need of an update. They need quality playground equipment that is up to today’s safety standards. The “newest” parts of the playgrounds were installed over twenty years ago while the oldest parts of the playgrounds are over forty years old. It’s simply not made to last that long particularly because of the material it was made with. Older wooden playgrounds across the country are being replaced with newer, safer, and longer lasting materials like metals and plastic versions.
The Tri-City All Stars consists of accomplished local musicians including Yoho, Clay Bonks Plunk, Dan Merrill, Joseph T McLaughlin, Mookie Collins, Ted Warner, Keenan Wakem, Anni Clark, John Martinez, Skippy Scott Lank and saxophonist- George Shabo. Shabo also happens to be the assistant principal at Loranger. The band recorded a brand-new song to promote the effort and get folks to donate to an online page. They performed “Christmas by the Sea” in a music video that is available on the GoFundME page and the Facebook pages of both schools. The song was written, recorded, and produced by local musician Charles “Chuck” Yoho who is a member of the band. The upbeat eclectic song features each of the performers’ playing style which they are known for -such as rock, rap, blues, and folk.
I interviewed the band for this piece and for my TV show on Biddeford Public Access and let me tell you, they are a fun, passionate bunch. Many of the band members either went through Old Orchard Beach schools, taught there, or have kids is the system. They were inspired after hearing about the students holding a mock election to determine the playground need. In November, Loranger Grade 5 Students conducted a mock election with student led referendum questions as part of a cross-curriculum unit that involved math, language arts, and social studies. One question on the ballot asked if ‘voters’ approved updating the playgrounds with much needed modern equipment. Not a big surprise students and teachers voted overwhelmingly in favor of upgrading the playgrounds. Students in favor of the referendum even wrote eloquent letters to the Superintendent of RSU 23, John Suttie, urging him to consider supporting a fundraising effort to purchase new playground equipment. Superintendent Suttie supported the cause, as did the RSU 23 School Board. This resulted in the PTO getting involved and kick starting this fundraising campaign.
This harkens back to the days of our Young School playground needs in Saco. The Saco Parks and Recreation Department sought a Kaboom grant that helps with revitalizing playgrounds to promote healthy lifestyles of young people. On top of receiving this grant, many people, including local Rotary groups came together to build Young School’s current playground. I was on the crew with my fellow Rotarians and it was quite an undertaking, but so worthwhile to see the smiling faces of the kids who use it every day. Maybe a grant could be in their future in OOB, but getting community support for this new playground will be critical moving forward. It would be great to see kids get outside, put down their phones, and interact with one another. It’s an important part of growing up.
You can learn more information about the Playground Fund and donate at https://www.gofundme.com/oob-schools-playground-equipment.
Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, OOB, Hollis, Limington, & Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Follow updates at www.justinchenette.com, Facebook.com/JustinChenette, and Twitter.com/ JustinChenette.
Around Christmas time, we teach children the importance of giving, as well as receiving. We try to impart a sense of gratitude, not just for the flashy new things in our life (like Christmas gifts!), but for all the things we already have. This sort of mindfulness is important. It helps us stay grounded.
It’s not just a lesson for kids, though. We legislators would do well to keep that spirit of mindful balance as we near the start of the new legislative session in January.
Every year I participate in the Saco Museum’s Annual Festival of Trees. It’s a fun way to get involved around the holidays and support our gem of a museum and library. Last year I designed a tree that aimed to honor all of my family members that served and are currently serving in the Armed Forces (there are quite a few). It was red, white, and blue themed and it screamed Fourth of July. This year though, I wanted to turn our attention to something equally as important and rarely gets the recognition they so desperately deserve; our police department.
It’s the holiday season. My favorite time of the year. A variety of decorations are strewn upon many households and public squares. Families separated through work, responsibility, and distance are brought together, even if just for a moment in time. People are generally more joyous and random acts of kindness are more plentiful.
This year there are two major holiday events that are great family friendly ways to kick start your Christmas spirit especially on a low budget.
This Saturday December 3rd is the annual Saco Holiday Festival and Parade of Lights. Saco Main Street, Saco’s downtown development organization that I’m apart of, is once again pulling out all the stops to make this an enjoyable day for all.
The day starts with the infamous cookie walk from 10am to 2pm. The Cookie Walk is an event where downtown businesses provide 2 cookies each to individuals with Christmas tins purchased in advance. It’s neat to discover businesses in our own backyard via a gingerbread map locating the tasty spots for cookie pick up. Be sure to get your tins in advance as only 60 are provided. We hope to expand this event in the future to allow for more participants.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will take some time away from their busy schedule in the North Pole for a visit with the kiddos at Saco City Hall from 2pm to 4pm. Kids are welcome for some Christmas crafting during that same time with plenty of holiday music to get you in the spirit.
Who doesn’t love a bean supper? From 4:30pm to 6:30pm there will be a bean supper at Most Holy Trinity Church to benefit the Toys for Tots program. All this leads to the grand finale, the Parade of Lights.
Starting promptly at 6:30pm around the mouth of Beach street, over 50 floats and parade participants will march through Main Street and end near Rapid Rays. You might want to bring some sunglasses, this will get bright! I’ll be in the parade, so be sure to say hello when you see our lighted banner and lighted reindeer antlers. This parade gets bigger and bigger every year and will be sure to delight. If you need to sit down, be sure to bring your own lawn chair or congregate on the steps of Saco City Hall.
In Old Orchard Beach, the Celebration by the Sea event is not one to miss the following day. It is hosted by the Old Orchard Chamber of Commerce and is held in the square near the Pier. There will be pictures with Santa, trolley rides, crafts, face painting, food, and of course the tree lighting. The tree is massive and rivals the Christmas tree in monument square in Portland. Hearing the crowd countdown to the actual lighting fills you with pending anticipation and a strong sense of togetherness. The Celebration by the Sea will be this Sunday December 4th from 2:30pm to 4:30pm.
So whether it’s the Holiday Festival, Parade of Lights, or the Celebration by the Sea, I hope you and your family get out and enjoy this special time of year out in our community.
Justin Chenette is finishing out his second term as state representative for Saco District 15 and is the Senator-Elect for Saco, OOB, Hollis, Limington, & Buxton. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Follow updates at www.justinchenette.com, Facebook.com/JustinChenette, and Twitter.com/ JustinChenette.
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” - William Arthur Ward
The holidays couldn’t have gotten here fast enough. I feel like we need them now more than ever this year.
Yes, there can be stressful parts. Running around frantically getting deals for the gifts for your family and friends. Sneaking in the wrapping of those gifts late at night. Last minute trips to the grocery store to get that cranberry sauce you forgot to pick up. Figuring out if you are hosting, traveling, or going to someone else’s place for a celebration. Need I go on.
Not to toot our own horn, but we have some pretty awesome schools in our community. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say we have some of the best schools in the whole state. While many of us share that belief, it’s sometimes nice to get validation from those outside the area. Most recently it happened with an award given at Saco Middle School. This wasn’t just any award, this was national recognition and praise.
From left to right, Bonnie Pothier, regional rep for U.S. Senator Angus S. King, Jr.; Andy Colvin, deputy director of communications for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree; Maine State Representative Justin Chenette; Dr. William Beardsley, Maine Department of Education acting commissioner; recipient Michaela Lamarre; Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards; Education Committee Member Rebecca Millett, Maine State Senator, SD 29; and Cathy Goodwin, representing U.S. Senator Susan Collins.
Since I’ve been a member of the House of Representatives in Augusta, I’ve railed against what I’ve seen as blatant attempts by lobbyists and special interest groups to bribe legislators and influence policy decision-making. It’s an ongoing fight. While sometimes I feel like it’s a losing battle, there are glimmers of hope that we can break through, like the passing of PAC and campaign finance reform this past session.
But something I witnessed this year that really bothered me was the amount of preferential treatment lobbyists had over elected officials. While I don’t consider myself any more important than any other resident in the state, I do place legislators on a higher pedestal than lobbyists. I know they are just doing their jobs, but I really dislike what they stand for – representing a corporation for the highest bidder without regard for its impact on others.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco