Like most people, the holidays are personal. It’s my favorite time of the year.
With Thanksgiving upon us, I’d like to take a second and reflect on what this particular holiday means to me. It would be easy to be distracted by the food. What’s not to love about sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows or that gravy boat of deliciousness poured over Stovetop stuffing? I like a good Thanksgiving meal like the next person, but ultimately, it’s who you share it with that represents the true meaning of this day.
We’ve seen stories of late of Congress people on both sides of the aisle afraid to hold town hall style forums back home in their districts with their constituents. Here in Maine it’s rare to see open access to our congressional delegation. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen one of our congressional members in the House or Senate, actually holding an open, free, public meeting.
I’m a firm believer in the idea of having an accountable government. Having a direct line of communication between constituents and the elected officials they are supposed to represent. I’m not talking about going through a staff member, but being able to go straight to the office holder. For me, it allows me to gauge what is important to the community and what I need to be fighting for at the Statehouse.
It was a sad week in Augusta. A minority of the House of Representatives may have killed ranked-choice voting in Maine.
The vote was on a bill I co-sponsored to propose a constitutional amendment that would have addressed concerns raised about ranked-choice voting by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The amendment won majority support in a 78-68 vote, but that wasn’t enough to meet the two-thirds threshold necessary to send a constitutional amendment out to voters for approval.
The amendment was never about ranked-choice voting. It was about whether to put the final decision on a voter-approved law back in the hands of the voters, where it belongs. Unfortunately, without a major shift in votes, the amendment is dead, and the path forward for ranked-choice voting is difficult at best.
The protection of personal privacy is an issue that transcends party affiliation, where you come from and is something that overall Mainers value.
I’d like to give you a scenario.
What if your personal internet search history was shared with everyone in your neighborhood? What if it was shared with all of your co-workers? What about any information you enter on a website like vital health information and your location to the highest bidder?
We aren’t talking in the abstract. This would be real life if we don’t act now.
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.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco