We marked a new era this past session of the legislature. The statehouse was filled with something it hasn’t had in over eight years; civility, respect, and mutual cooperation.
I haven’t had the best situations to compare it to. The only Governor I’ve ever known while serving in the legislature has been Gov. Paul LePage.
Sadly, this is a bad example of what is required in a position of leadership. It was the epitome of fear-based politics that erodes the very fabric of the institution itself. I vividly remember Republican legislators being yelled at and bullied behind the scenes to vote with the Governor over common sense, values, and facts.
One even was brought to tears over the treatment and that was on the same side of the proverbial aisle. It threw a wrench into any hopes of bipartisanship agreements and instead replaced with daily unnecessary drama.
What a difference an election makes. This session was entirely a complete 180 thanks in part to the leadership of Gov. Mills, Senate President Troy Jackson, and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.
After pulling my first all-nighter since college, we worked nearly 24 hours straight until 6:45 a.m. on the final day of session to finish the people’s business. As I recovered from sleep deprivation, I’ve been reflecting over the positive outcomes over the last six months.
The largest voting block in Maine isn’t Democrats or Republicans. It’s unenrolled voters. While they could be considered independent, it largely means voters not affiliated with any one party.
The latest voter registration numbers, from September of last year, largely reflect long term trends in Maine. Around 35% of voters are unenrolled, 33% Democrat, and 27% Republican. While these numbers can change from one election to the next, this has largely been the case. Around a third, a third, and a third.
As a proud Democrat, and a progressive one at that, I am in strong support of unenrolled voters or independents being able to vote in our primary elections. Some of my colleagues think that allowing those who are unenrolled to vote in a Democratic Primary Election would somehow harm Democratic candidates or the party itself. I strongly disagree.
As a Democrat, I believe in expanding voting rights and access. Increasing voter participation and citizen engagement in the political process is a core democratic value. It’s in our party platform and as a party, we oftentimes talk about respecting the will of the voters and protecting our democratic institutions. We either want participation or we don’t. We either want to expand voting rights or we don’t. Picking and choosing makes us look indecisive and goes against our core beliefs. It’s because I’m a Democrat that I support opening up our primary, not in spite of. If you support automatic voter registration, early voting, Ranked Choice Voting, and other electoral reforms to improve our political system to make it easier not harder to vote, then you should consider supporting open primaries as well.
According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, ‘…the reality is that many unaffiliated voters lean strongly toward on side. If a party wants to broaden its reach for the general election, allowing independents to cast ballots in primaries could help with both party building and boosting turnout.”
Welcoming unenrolled voters into our big tent party will ultimately yield more benefits in electoral outcomes than if we continue to shun them from participating. Voter turnout is around 3%-10% on average higher in states that opened up their primaries versus states that have closed primaries.
Maine is the outlier in the entire country when it comes to how we treat our unenrolled neighbors. Under current law, unenrolled voters can only participate in a partisan primary if they register to vote or enroll in that particular political party. Individuals must wait 90 days before unenrolling. Maine is one of less than a dozen states with closed primaries. The rest of the country has some form of open primary system. This includes our New England neighbors New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts. They must be on to something.
Moreover, we have individuals like U.S. Senator Angus King and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders who I would consider Democrats, but instead they choose to claim the independent title. Democrats back both of them consistently in their elections and in most cases don’t mount serious contenders against them because they caucus with the Democrats and vote reliably Democrat in their positions. This is not to say every independent is a Democrat though. There are plenty of conservative leaning independents as well. This example is to illustrate that not all ‘independents’ are moderate and they can’t be put into a box.
I am the lead co-sponsor to Rep. Kent Ackley’s open primaries bill. He is an independent who is my co-chair for the newly formed Democracy Reform Caucus we founded together. The bill is LD 211, An Act To Open Maine's Primaries and Permit Unenrolled Voters To Cast Ballots in Primary Elections. His bill is a common-sense measure that seeks to create semi-open primaries. Semi-open primaries refers to a system where those who are not enrolled in a political party can select which party to vote in during the Primary Election without having to actually register in that party. This allowance would not be for those already enrolled in a political party. So, we aren’t opening up Democratic Primaries to Republicans and we aren’t opening up Republican Primaries to Democrats. This is semi-open, just allowing unenrolled voters to vote in the primary of their choosing.
In Maine, polling has shown that between 75-80% of Maine voters support moving to a semi-open primary. With our Senate district reflecting the very same breakdown of party affiliation as the statewide numbers, an entire third of my constituents cannot participate in an election they help pay for. Ahead of 2020, I think any voter wishing to vote Democratic should be encouraged and welcomed with open arms. Every citizen deserves a right to vote in our elections, not just ones dictated by political parties.
Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, and a member of the Environment & Natural Resources Committee. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy Commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Justin is the Marketing Coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, Marketing Director of the Scamman/Valentino Real Estate Team, and is Vice President of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at www.JustinChenette.com
Long lines. Waiting in the cold. Shoving. Throngs of people. Images of Black Friday can literally terrify people. As someone who has spent many a Black Friday hunting for the best deals for Christmas gifts, it can be an exhaustive mess navigating the chaotic annual occurrence.
There is an alternative. One that is more positive and that deviates from the traditional Big Box stores we too often rely on. It’s called Small Business Saturday. It arrives the day following Black Friday and is aptly named to focus on the smaller establishments among us that deserve our business.
Last year, I learned that patients in Maine could effectively be denied access to the licensed health care provider of their choice when a woman from Old Orchard Beach, Mary, shared her health care story with me. Mary suffers from Lyme Disease - an infectious disease that is becoming increasingly more common in Maine. Yet, she had difficult time finding doctor who specializes in Lyme treatment that would also be covered by insurance. After finding a naturopathic doctor that worked for her, she was excited to learn that Affordable Care Act required naturopathic doctors to be covered by insurance. Unfortunately, her private insurance representative told her that, while the naturopathic doctor was a covered provider, her specific insurance policy did not cover naturopathy.
I had a dream most of my life – to run a nonprofit organization. In summer 2013, I made it a reality.
The Saco Bay Center for Civic Engagement was born out of a need to house creative community service projects that didn’t quite fit within the area’s existing nonprofits; projects and initiatives that I and others in the community always wanted to do but didn’t have an outlet for.
Now, five years and countless fundraisers and projects later, we are saying goodbye.
Saco will soon be home to a brand-new ice cream parlor…with a twist.
The Saco Scoop is opening this Saturday and is located at 209 Main Street. The twist? It’s not just about the delicious Shain’s of Maine ice cream and Seadog Biscuits being served, it’s also about the side order of community.
This is a project of Saco Main Street and the brain child of Rob Biggs, our executive director.
Saco Main Street is Saco’s downtown development organization. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, independent from the city, that is designated as a Main Street - Maine Community by the Maine Downtown Center and as a National Main Street program. Our organization focuses on promotions and marketing, design and preservation, economic development and volunteer organization to revitalize and improve Saco’s historic downtown area.
In order to fully enhance the effectiveness of our mission, we needed a community hangout, a place to go a socialize with your neighbors and promote all Saco and our downtown has to offer. An equal component of this ice cream shop will center around community engagement. We will offer information on all of our downtown businesses and an opportunity to discover how to plan out an amazing 48 hours in Saco. For tourists and residents alike. Sometimes finding out what’s in your own backyard is equally fun.
The history behind the space is noteworthy. The Saco Scoop is in the original Atkinson furniture store building. Former Saco Mayor Bill Johnson’s wife Mary’s grandfather HP Atkinson, sold furniture in the early 1900s in the exact same space. H.P. Atkinson was the founder of the Atkinson furniture company. We will have photos on the wall of Saco then and now. Reinvigorating a space with so much history is downtown revitalization at it’s best. We hope to transport you back in time and connect with Saco rich, dynamic history.
Saco Main Street just finished creating the new community park next to the Post Office, so having this new ice cream shop right next door is a perfect combination to attract folks to eat, shop, and live in our downtown. Making the downtown a walkable destination with things to do in the evening is a critical element to the future vibrancy of our entire city. When your downtown does well, your whole community does well.
Aside from ice cream, the Saco Scoop will offer merchandise from our area schools, like Thornton Academy. Alumni that come in for reunions for instance will now have a one-stop-shop for all things TA. Perfect timing for all my classmates coming in for my 10-year reunion from Thornton next year! I could use an extra maroon and gold sweatshirt myself.
All of the proceeds of the shop will stay within the community through our nonprofit. It will be put towards the good work we are doing to attract new business development, support and promote the existing businesses that are here, enhance the quality of downtown through service projects, and continue to put on free family-friendly events for all ages.
So that scoop of ice cream doesn’t just fuel your soul, it will fuel our community. Hope to see you at our grand opening this Saturday at 10AM!
As Memorial Day weekend is upon us, it’s important to reflect on the true meaning of the day and what is being done to support those who put their lives on the line. It’s easy to take the weekend for granted as just an additional day off, but we must not lose sight of the heroes among us.
I come from an extended military family. Cousins, uncles, grandfathers, you name it, I have a family member who has served in various branches of the Armed Forces in various wars and conflicts. It makes me proud that they have chosen this particular way of serving our country.
While we can always do better in society on this front, there is good work taking place in our community to support our veterans.
For instance, we have some exciting news in Old Orchard Beach. Veterans will now be able to park for free, with their veterans plates clearly displayed, in any town lot or space with a parking meter on Memorial Day itself.
Memorial Day weekend is usually the official start to the summer tourism season, so naturally it’s a time to put up the parking meters. The least we could do on the day itself is to let veterans park for free. After all, the parade and the ceremonies are for them and honoring the memory of their fallen comrades.
This week the Masons, Saco Lodge No. 9, delivered dozens of bikes to students at Fairfield, Young, and Burns schools for the third year in a row.
I was honored to be there alongside the Masons as the bikes were randomly distributed at school assemblies to some very deserving kids. It was especially neat to see how the kids cheered for their fellow peers even when they knew they weren’t going to get a prize. It demonstrated that it wasn’t just about them, but about seeing their friends succeed and be happy – such an important life lesson for all.
The Saco Bikes for Books program achieves two very important missions. Number one it promotes childhood literacy and gets kids excited for reading tangible books. Young School, for instance, reads a combined total of well over 500 books. Keep in mind this is above and beyond any work currently being done in the classroom. Number two it gets kids outside. In this day and age of smart phones and eyeballs glued to some type of device, these bikes represent a catalyst to get outside, breathe the free air and smell the roses. Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get the point. It’s the idea of being kids again and not reliant on technology to keep yourself entertained.
This all culminates into the Saco Community Bike Rodeo this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Saco Public Works Facility on North Street. It’s a fun, free, family event with bike safety checks, a bike course, helmet safety station with free fittings, Touch a Truck, raffles, wellness vendors and and more. The kids who won bikes at school can pick them up and everyone is encouraged to bring their bikes to participate. If you would like to donate a bike or scooter or nonperishable food, organizers will be collecting donations to distribute to those in need. I’ll be there with Saco Main Street, so be sure to stop by and say hello.
By now you’ve probably heard in some form that the Legislature is crippled with partisan gridlock and currently in recess until we head back in to deal with the governor’s long list of vetoes.
I’d like to provide some perspective on this situation.
Last week, a small group of House Republicans voted to block an extension of the legislative session, blocking our ability to continue working. They essentially shut down the Legislature from finishing the work we had left. Bills like transportation bonds for roads and bridges, Medicaid expansion, funding for our schools, banning conversion therapy, implementing marijuana business licenses, expanding student loan assistance, and how to deal with state level changes from the Trump tax plan. Important pieces of legislation destined to just die without debate, without a vote.
This childish display of strategic antics is unacceptable. We were elected to do a job and it’s time to do it. We can’t just negate our duties because you want to go home. I’m here, ready to work until the job is done whether it’s today, tomorrow or two months from now.
I often talk about the influence of lobbyists at the statehouse in Augusta. For the most part my advocacy on this topic centers around reducing the role money plays with lobbyist influence, but we can’t ignore the culture that we’ve allowed to be created in the hallowed halls.
Pay-for-play is common practice and at this point is pretty common knowledge. The special interest group and corporate lobbyist with the largest checkbook has the most direct influence over public policy decision making. What isn’t as known, is how lobbyists are treated versus legislators.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco