- Associated Press - Friday, June 30, 2017

CONNECTICUT

New Haven Register, June 29

What would Mark Twain say about Aetna’s decision to move its corporate headquarters from Hartford to New York?

Twain was so entranced by Hartford while living there in 1882 that he opined that it “has a larger population than any city in America except New York. It is more beautiful than any other city excepting Worcester and it is the honestest city in the world.”

Hartford’s population recently stumbled to fourth in Connecticut when it was surpassed by Stamford. It was once among the richest cities in America; now it is among the poorest. Aetna’s incorporation in Hartford in 1853 contributed to the city’s nickname “The Insurance Capital of the World.” Now, that expired boast is a mockery of the condition of not only Hartford, but Connecticut.

Aetna was once synonymous with Hartford. Morgan Gardner Bulkeley, son of the insurance giant’s first president, became the city’s mayor before being elected governor and U.S. senator. Following his political career, he served as Aetna’s president for 43 years.

This all might have left Mr. Twain speechless.

Connecticut’s defenders can downplay the defection by underscoring that only 250 jobs are packing up for Chelsea, leaving the majority of Aetna’s 6,000 employees in Connecticut. But Aetna didn’t merely fire blanks in this warning shot. It didn’t just leave a bruise.

Those 250 people are executives and managers. They are the innovators and digital visionaries. They take the company’s top salaries with them, along with visions for growth. Make no mistake, that future will not be in Connecticut. Experts in insurance know a thing or two about playing the safest bet.

Like General Electric, which shifted jobs to Boston last year, Aetna is calling Connecticut out on its fatal failure to get its house in order.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy tried to find a tone that sought to convey assurance about the remaining jobs, but couldn’t help but communicate the subtext “Don’t blame me.”

“This is an important reminder that to be competitive, Connecticut state government must immediately take the necessary steps to produce a balanced biennial budget with recurring measures to reduce spending and structural solutions to our long-term problems,” Malloy said in a statement.

Connecticut needs to save many of its cities, not just Hartford. It will never compete with New York or Boston, but it can embrace that it is essentially a suburb to those metropolises.

Members of the General Assembly have already failed their constituents at a time when they hold Connecticut’s future in their hands. They are again hypnotized by the clock ticking toward their deadline, as past practice has conditioned them to act only when midnight approaches. The rest of us know that “Tick, tick, tick” sometimes ends in “boom.”

Mark Twain might have been hushed by a generation of missteps that have tainted Connecticut’s status in the world, but he once summoned words that are still appropriate for our legislators: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Online: http://bit.ly/2usKekX

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Republican, June 29

The Democratic Party is a study in frustration - at Donald Trump, at the public’s unwillingness to see problems they consider unmistakable, and to make matters worse, at themselves.

Central to their internal angst is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who shows no inclination to relinquish her power, despite scattered calls from party figures for her to step down.

Pelosi, 77, is expected to remain in her current position of power until after the 2018 midterm elections. The opposition to push her out is not organized. There is certainly no consensus that the party’s woes would be healed with an internal conflict at a time its energies are aimed at opposing Trump’s policies.

But Pelosi is not serving her party’s needs by clutching the reins of power. She is an easy target for Republicans and an obstacle for Democrats who want the party to represent a refashioned voice for the future and for millions of Americans who have tuned it out.

Pelosi represents the California district that includes San Francisco. She was once the voice of progressive liberal thinking in the House, similar to what the late Ann Richards represented as the nationally known governor of Texas in the 1980s.

That voice is represented by Senator Elizabeth Warren today. A Warren-Trump race in 2020 would be a titanic showdown of political opposites, and no one should be sure of the outcome.

Positioning any Democrat to beat Trump will require the party to reclaim at least some of the large geography it has lost, without sacrificing its fundamental principles or unduly alienating its base. That won’t be easy; with Pelosi, it will be much more difficult.

To many voters, Pelosi represents the previous generation. She also stands for the constant anti-Republican and anti-Trump rhetoric which, to many citizens, does not provide solutions for their biggest economic concerns.

The party has fallen into a reputation as “bi-coastal,” popular in the Northeast Corridor and on the West Coast but ceding too many states and voters in between. Trump won 30 states. The Democrats cannot beat him without getting some of them back, and it’s hard to see Pelosi serving as the resonant, relevant voice to that goal.

The party’s more immediate goal is to win 24 new Congressional seats and reclaim House majority in the 2018 midterms. If that happens, Pelosi’s tenure will be deemed a success.

That’s possible. Cries for Pelosi to step down increased after the expensive, much-publicized Democratic Congressional loss in Georgia, but the party came closer than usual in a traditional GOP stronghold.

Results in 2018 will not be measured by coming close, but by victory or defeat. Regaining influence for the Democrats will not occur until they reconfigure their message.

Pelosi represents an old message that many voters find irrelevant and stale. Maybe that’s unfair, but her continued presence as House Minority Leader will tell voters that nothing has changed with the Democrats, leaving less reason to think election results will, either.

Online: http://bit.ly/2sv5nt9

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, June 28

Two years ago, Rhode Island began the job of reforming its campaign finance laws. State lawmakers put an end to commingling of personal and campaign finance bank accounts, required end-of-year bank statements to be filed for campaign accounts, and required candidates who raise or spend $10,000 or more in a single year to have a treasurer.

All of these changes moved the state in the right direction. But as a recent parade of elected officials facing criminal charges shows, the job isn’t done.

One of the common threads for many of these politicians who have been accused or convicted of running afoul of the law is campaign finance violations. Former House Speaker Gordon Fox, now in federal prison, appropriated $108,000 from his campaign account for personal use. Former House Finance Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison, who will soon be heading to federal prison for four years, was fined last year for misreporting $18,850 in campaign contributions. Former Providence City Council President Luis Aponte was indicted last month on four charges, all involving the misappropriation of campaign money.

These are not the only examples. But they demonstrate that when Rhode Island’s elected officials violate the public trust, the problems often involve campaign cash.

State lawmakers still have an opportunity to do something this year, by passing a bill that would require routine audits of campaign finance accounts. Introduced at the request of Gov. Gina Raimondo, House Bill 6115 requires audits of at least a quarter of the reports for candidates who raised more than $10,000. It also increases the fines and penalties for filing late reports, requires more information on candidate declaration forms, and lets the state seize campaign funds if a candidate is convicted of crimes “related to public office service.”

“Rhode Islanders deserve confidence in their government,” Governor Raimondo said. “So I say strengthen the rules and strengthen enforcement so that we can find these bad actors sooner and deter bad behavior.”

That makes sense. Regular audits of these accounts would unquestionably encourage more responsible behavior and deter crimes.

There are also two more dubious bills that would prevent people from running for elected office if they have campaign finance violations. While such violations are a serious matter - as of last month, the unpaid fines levied by the Board of Elections totaled more than $3.5 million - this would raise constitutional questions, because the law would stop people from exercising their rights based only on an administrative ruling, as opposed to a ruling in a court of law. We could end up with the Board of Elections deciding who could or could not run for office, depending on the timing of complaints, which raises the potential for political shenanigans.

Rather than march down that path, the state should enforce laws that are on the books. As the Rhode Island office of the American Civil Liberties Union points out, state law lets the courts take action against campaign finance violators and impose civil penalties of up to three times the value of the contributions that have not been reported. Certainly, there should be much more aggressive enforcement than there has been.

This approach, combined with the audits called for in Ms. Raimondo’s bill, would be positive steps for a state that has seen a significant minority of public officials put self-interest ahead of the interests of the people who voted them into office.

Online: http://bit.ly/2uskSUn

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VERMONT

Rutland Herald, June 30

A criminal complaint filed by a group of current and former school board members challenges the authority of the state to coerce voters into merging their school districts.

The complaint, filed with the U. S. Justice Department, represents another salvo in the battle of local school officials against the intrusive hand of state education officials as they try to force changes at the local level. It is questionable whether the Justice Department under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions will take an interest in the problems of dissident school board members in Vermont. But the complaint is indicative of the growing unhappiness of school officials across the state with Act 46, the school consolidation law that has forced school districts to conduct laborious and sometimes futile efforts to comply with state strictures.

Act 46 is producing positive results in some places. Some supervisory unions had already achieved a high level of cooperation among school districts and, to a degree, had already merged. For them to unify under a single board meant the loss of school boards in towns on the periphery and the transfer of central authority to a large districtwide board for the whole union. Geography and recent history allowed for a relatively smooth transit ion in those places.

But education is a local endeavor. It is the human encounter of teacher and student in a room in a school. The school has a local setting within a specific community, where parents and family members participate. Dictates from afar about how this endeavor should be organized may prove destructive to those communities.

The civil rights complaint of the school board members alleges that the state violated voters’ rights by using the threat of financial punishments to coerce voters into following the path toward consolidation. It is a valid complaint, even if the state’s actions do not constitute a civil rights violation. After all, the school districts and towns, legally, are creatures of the state. Their charters and authority f low from state authority. The state can set the rules, even if those rules run counter to local interests. Act 46 is the product of good intentions hyped up by the arrogance of lawmakers and the previous governor. The good intentions involved the perceived need to reduce the top- heavy administrations staffing the state’s many supervisory unions and the plethora of school boards running the many small schools scattered around the state. On its face, Vermont’s system doesn’t make sense. Surely, reducing the number of school boards and bringing greater rationality to the system would save money and improve education.

That is the rationality of the organization chart. In fact, it is also rational to look at the reality of Vermont’s geography and history. A district that makes sense on an organization chart might not make sense in the real world.

There are small schools throughout the state with small enrollments and stellar performance. Many of them function with budgets that are frugal and responsible. They don’t want to be forced to close; nor do they necessarily want to be governed by a distant central school board. They ought to have that choice, as the authors of the criminal complaint would contend. If the state Agency of Education is aware of schools in the grip of organizational dysfunction or suffering a serious deficiency in educational opportunity, they ought to focus their attention on those schools. They do not need to subject the entire state system to a reorganizational effort that wastes the time, effort and money of hardworking school board members around the state.

The school boards that are finding it hard to comply with the state’s preferred organizational structures ought to realize that there are alternatives. The advice they are getting from the state may be steering them toward the state’s preferred alternatives without highlighting other options. There have been no test cases so far of district refusing outright to comply.

Those will come. In the meantime, the state is on notice that school officials around the state are restive, unwilling to surrender their local prerogatives over their local schools.

Online: http://bit.ly/2spFCQ6

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Portsmouth Herald, June 29

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, provided some welcome news Wednesday to the more than 1,500 people, including children at two day care centers, who have elevated levels of PFCs in their blood from drinking contaminated groundwater at Pease International Tradeport.

Shaheen, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was able to include $7 million in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to fund a nationwide study on the health implications of PFCs in drinking water. Shaheen said she’ll seek additional funding each year until the study is complete.

This study is important not just for those exposed at Pease but to Americans across the country who have ingested perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) through drinking water. Testing for PFCs only began in the past year or two and already more than 660 PFC contaminated sites have been identified. Experts expect that number to grow exponentially as more testing is done.

Early studies have tentatively linked PFC exposure to health problems including cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, developmental delays, pregnancy induced hypertension and preeclampsia. This nationwide study should provide more definitive answers about the link between PFCs and human health, which will help doctors and their patients better monitor and treat the problem.

In a press release Wednesday evening, Shaheen said her amendment “authorizes the Department of Defense to fund a health study on the PFOA contaminant, which has impacted the drinking water sources of military bases across the country. Communities in New Hampshire have been fighting tirelessly for answers about the risks from exposure to perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water. The federal government needs to be a better partner to these communities and that’s why I worked across the aisle to amend this defense bill to authorize the first nationwide health study on the effect of these potentially harmful materials. The health implications of these chemicals is deeply concerning to New Hampshire families and they need to be able to trust that their drinking water is safe. Going forward, I’ll work to ensure that this national study pays particular attention to the health impacts on Seacoast residents.”

Shaheen’s announcement comes less than a month after the U.S. Air Force said it would not pay for a health study of affected Pease tenants because it did not have the resources, expertise or authority to do so.

Perfluorinated chemicals got into the groundwater at Pease from firefighting foam used at the former Air Force Base, which closed in 1991. Now that funding is in place we expect the U.S. Air Force will be a far more cooperative partner.

We’re grateful to Senator Shaheen for continuing to focus on this issue when so many other major challenges, including our nation’s health care system, are taking up so much of the Senate’s attention.

We’re also grateful to our local water warriors. State Rep. Mindi Messmer, who serves on the governor’s Pediatric Cancer Task Force, has been a forceful advocate for stronger state groundwater protection laws. Andrea Amico, of Portsmouth, Michelle Dalton and Alayna Davis of Dover, founders of Testing for Pease, have put in hundreds of hours researching the issue, educating the public and advocating on its behalf, while holding state and federal agencies’ feet to the fire. Stefany Shaheen, a member of the Pease Community Assistance Panel (as well as a former city councilor and the senator’s daughter), has forcefully and effectively advocated for the health study and clean water initiatives.

The extent of groundwater contaminated by PFCs is just being discovered and thus far the links between PFCs and human health have not been conclusively proven. This nationwide health study is an important first step for all Americans to understand the risks we face as well as best practices for treatment. We are grateful to Senator Shaheen for getting this funding included in the Defense Authorization bill and urge all members of Congress to support the funding as it makes its way through the appropriations process.

Online: http://bit.ly/2tth5Jn

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MAINE

The government led by the author of “The Art of the Deal” is once again demonstrating its complete lack of negotiating skills. The latest case in point: allegations that a sudden Labor Department push to address the guest-worker visa shortage in Maine and Alaska is linked to crucial votes on the draconian Senate health care bill held by Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

Collins, Murkowski and a bipartisan group of 30 other senators have been seeking extra H-2B visas for temporary seasonal workers for months, but there was little progress until last week.

First, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it expected to begin issuing the desperately needed visas in late July. Then, according to the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, senior Trump administration political appointees ordered federal officials to immediately draft a rule increasing the number of visas issued to seasonal foreign workers for Maine innkeepers and Alaska fisheries.

Several sources, who weren’t named, told ProPublica that “while no one in political leadership invoked the health care bill specifically . the sudden urgency and apparent desire to tailor the rule to specific states has drawn concern.” Even industry groups resisted the expedited rule: “It’s not appropriate to pick and choose (which state or industry) should be winners or losers,” said Laurie Flanagan of the H-2B Workforce Coalition.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leaders are scrambling to recast the Better Care Reconciliation Act in a less obviously punitive light. Good luck with that, given the damning findings in nearly back-to-back Congressional Budget Office reports: the first, on Tuesday, which showed that an estimated 22 million people would lose their health insurance under the BCRA, and the second, released Thursday, which sharply contradicted President Donald Trump’s declaration that Medicaid spending would actually rise if the bill passes.

And good luck with the deal making, if, in fact, it’s taking place: A spokeswoman for Collins said the senator’s office has not been approached about any quid pro quo involving the health care bill and the additional visas.

Collins meant business when she announced Monday that she would vote to stop the bill from coming forward for debate. Her unequivocal statement forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the vote that he’d planned for this week - and he didn’t get where he is by misjudging whether his colleagues mean what they say.

Certainly, Maine’s senior senator is no supporter of the Affordable Care Act. She’s also made clear, however, that she won’t stand for efforts to replace the ACA with a package that would hurt the thousands of poor, elderly and disabled Mainers now covered by Medicaid. Murkowski also has issues with the Medicaid cuts, though the Alaska senator has remained noncommittal on the Senate health care legislation. Both of them have raised serious concerns that deserve in-depth answers, not bush league horse trading.

Meanwhile, the tourist season in Maine is well underway, and with no additional visas expected for another month, many hotels, restaurants and other tourism businesses will be critically shorthanded for much of the summer.

Online: http://bit.ly/2sqkkS9

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