- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Editorials from around New England:

VERMONT

The Rutland Herald, Nov. 9

It turns out resistance is possible. That is an important lesson to be gleaned from election results on Tuesday, when the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia trounced a Republican who was using the Trump-style politics of fear.

Turnout surged among those who wanted no part of the racist, anti-immigrant scare tactics employed by Republican Ed Gillespie. Thus, the determination and focus of millions of people who marched on the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration were translated into a new wave of voters eager to say no to Trump. If the whole range of grass-roots efforts that has taken root since the 2016 elections remain active, the Republicans could be in dire straits next year.

There is also a lesson in the election for Democrats. As one columnist said, Virginians who elected Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam as their new governor opted for “boring, competent and decent.” Democrats who wondered whether they would have to swing far to the left to capture popular enthusiasm saw that for many voters a middle-of-the-road, experienced old hand may be good enough.

There were special circumstances in Virginia. It was the site of the Charlottesville march, where Nazis and other white supremacists showed the ugly extremes toward which the Trump presidency is pointing. That Trump’s first impulse was to defend Nazis turned off Virginia voters. In the election on Tuesday, they were saying, “That is not who we are.”

A lingering question has haunted the nation since the election of Trump. Does a major segment of the American electorate really approve of Trump’s way of abusing of racial minorities and immigrants and his belligerent behavior toward almost everyone? Has the nation really become that ugly, or is Trump merely the distillation of the resentments and fears of a few?

Since the loss of 2016, Democrats have been flagellating themselves about their inability to reach the working-class voters left behind by a changing economy. But Trump’s margin of victory was even wider among white people with middle- class incomes. It appears that in Virginia they have seen the mistake they made in electing Trump, and they emerged in droves to reject the candidate whom Trump supported. Clinton won Virginia last year, but this year Northam won by even more.

Republicans are now in a quandary. In Trump’s view, Gillespie lost because he did not exploit the magic of Trump. In fact, Gillespie tried to run on Trump’s issues but without identifying too closely with Trump himself. He would use Trump’s racist message, but he would keep Trump on his side of the Potomac, believing, no doubt, that Trump himself would have driven voters away.

So Republicans may now be in the midst of a GOP death spiral: The more Trump uses abusive language and racist politics to excite his base, the more he drives middle of-the-road Republicans into the embrace of the Democrats. Trump thinks Virginia Republicans didn’t get enough Trump. Gillespie probably thinks they got too much. Republican candidates next year will be trying to figure out whether to run toward Trump or away from him.

Democrats, meanwhile, must move into the future, beyond the internecine battles between forces loyal to Clinton and to Bernie Sanders. That is so yesterday. Following the Democratic loss in 2004, the party turned to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to be party chairman, and he promoted a 50-state strategy that breathed new life into the party, paving the way for the 2008 victory of Barack Obama.

The anti-Trump resistance on Tuesday extended even to Maine, where voters turned against their Trumpian governor and chose on their own to expand Medicaid. Building for the future is what the Democrats have to be about, not fighting past battles. Their program does not have to be ideological and exclusive - it can be boring, competent and decent, like Ralph Northam. The American people are on to Donald Trump. Republicans may be starting to rue the day when they decided to bow before him.

Online: http://bit.ly/2iM2ilJ

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Portsmouth Herald, Nov. 9

With eight of the nine candidates this paper endorsed winning seats on the City Council, clearly we’re encouraged by the outcome of Portsmouth’s municipal elections.

We have no doubt Jack Blalock will continue to be an effective mayor for all the people of Portsmouth.

Cliff Lazenby, in his first run for council, finished a strong second and will bring a much-needed neighborhood perspective to his new role as assistant mayor.

We also want to congratulate the one winner we did not endorse, Rick Beckstead, for the hard work he put in to win the ninth seat on the council.

Becksted’s election should inspire the many excellent candidates who fell short this year. In the 2013 council race he received just 713 votes, finishing near the bottom. In 2015, he received 1,636 and this election he won with 1,818 votes. Becksted raised his profile by attending and participating in nearly all the significant board meetings in the city, serving on the Recreation Board and coaching youth football and baseball. His victory is well deserved and we have no doubt he’ll bring a fresh and energetic perspective to the council’s deliberations.

We encourage the nine candidates who did not win seats on the council to stay involved and look for opportunities to serve. The community is grateful not only for your willingness to serve but for the honorable campaigns you ran. In a race where emotions were running high, there were very few low blows.

In Portsmouth’s other contested race, Jim Splaine successfully moved from assistant mayor to police commissioner as the top vote-getter in that race. Incumbent Joe Onosko was also re-elected. The Rev. Arthur Hilson’s write-in campaign fell short, but we think this is more a reflection of the difficulty of winning a write-in campaign rather than any reflection upon the candidate.

Two ballot questions approved by voters will increase financial disclosure requirements for the city’s elected and appointed officials. Whether these charter amendments will increase transparency as supporters contend, or discourage qualified people from serving on the city’s land-use boards as some former chairmen of these boards suggested, only time will tell.

Kittery took a major step forward with voters, by a more than two-to-one margin, sending a clear message through a non-binding referendum that they want to renovate and expand the existing Rice Library in the Foreside rather than building a new library at the Kittery Community Center. After years of hand-wringing about this issue, the town now has a clear directive from voters regarding the future of the library.

York voters also moved the town forward, overwhelmingly approving the use of funds to complete the Long Sands Bathhouse project.

In Eliot, voters just said no to the sale of recreational marijuana in town, imposing a 180-day moratorium that can be extended at the Select Board’s discretion. Voters also approved a local food ordinance to permit the face-to-face sales of locally produced food without state or federal regulation.

Both statewide and locally, voters did the right thing and resoundingly rejected a foolish ballot referendum question that would have given the exclusive rights to a single developer to build a York County casino. For a change, we agree with Gov. Paul LePage who called the casino question: “another case of big-money, out-of-state interests using Maine voters to get a sweet deal.”

In a repudiation of the governor, Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion, which LePage has vetoed five times. Expanded Medicaid has brought enormous resources to states, including New Hampshire, which set aside partisan political animosity in order to accept “Obamacare” dollars. In the Granite State, hundreds of millions of dollars have allowed nearly 60,000 previously uninsured working men and women to get health insurance and thousands more have received drug treatment and recovery services due to expanded Medicaid. In Maine, it is now estimated that 70,000 people will be eligible for health coverage under expanded Medicaid. Maine is lucky to have the ability to override its irrational governor through referendum questions when the Legislature is unable to do so.

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

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MAINE

Kennebec Journal, Nov. 10

You might think that a federal panel created to catch lawbreakers would scrupulously follow the law itself.

But you might want to think again. In apparent violation of federal transparency regulations, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has been excluding some of its own members from its deliberations. Now one of them, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, is having to sue to get the commission to do what it should be doing as a matter of course.

In his federal lawsuit, Dunlap outlines an information freeze that began this summer, when his communications with the panel slowed to a few emails focusing on logistics rather than fact gathering or analysis. Since Sept. 12, the date of the commission’s second meeting, Dunlap has “received utterly no information or updates” of any kind, he wrote in an Oct. 17 records request prompted by a reporter’s question about the arrest of a commission staffer. The secretary of state hadn’t known that the staffer had been hired - let alone that the man had been arrested on child pornography charges.

Although Dunlap is the only Democratic commissioner who’s suing, he’s not the only one being kept out of the loop. New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner also has not heard from the commission since Sept. 12, he told the Press Herald on Thursday. The same goes for Alan King, Jefferson County, Alabama, probate judge, and West Virginia county clerk Mark Rhodes, the website ThinkProgress has reported.

So of the five Democrats originally named to the panel, four say they’ve been shut out of its activities. The fifth, David Dunn, died unexpectedly during heart surgery Oct. 16, and there’s been no talk of replacing him on the part of the commission’s Republican co-chairmen, Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Dunlap told ThinkProgress on Thursday. The public and the Democratic commissioners all have a right to know whether Pence, Kobach and others are conducting work without them, given what’s at stake. The co-chairs have made clear that they take seriously the panel’s specious mission - to tackle the vanishingly rare problem of voter fraud - which means they may well be working in secret on initiatives aimed at voter suppression.

Kobach and other true believers have already used their baseless concerns to justify mandatory photo-ID laws and other regulations that serve only to keep likely Democratic voters from casting a ballot. That the federal government is enabling the development of equally harmful policies is bad enough - this process should be done where everyone can see and object to it.

We’re happy that Maine’s secretary of state is putting the pressure on, and we hope that his legal fight forces the commission to make clear how far it will go in its fact-averse quest to disenfranchise legitimate voters.

Online: http://bit.ly/2zM7BfM

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Berkshire Eagle, Nov. 9

When conversation turns to the Housatonic River it is probably most often about the endless saga of the PCB cleanup, currently in limbo as General Electric and the Environmental Protection Agency quarrel over the latest EPA plan. Yet the river keeps flowing, making its way south unburdened by appeals and counter-appeals.

The Housatonic Valley Association is dedicated to drawing attention to the river and its undeniable beauty, making a distinction between the river and the corporate-government battles that drag on about the river’s future. The Housatonic flows from Berkshire County through Connecticut to Long Island Sound, and the nonprofit HVA is dedicated to not only the river’s restoration but creating more canoe access, providing education about the river and protecting a watershed area that comprises 83 communities in two states.

A bend near the Sheffield Covered Bridge is a particularly picturesque section of the river, and a new bench was installed there Wednesday to symbolize the effort to bring people closer to the Berkshires’ distinctive waterway. The bench was donated by the Salisbury Bank & Trust, which has a branch in Sheffield, in cooperation with the HVA.

The bank is one of HVA’s RiverSmart Business Partners, a group formed to promote the HVA’s goal, in the words of the group’s Berkshire director, Dennis Regan, “to get people more involved with the Housatonic River.” The business partners were recruited to educate customers and the community about the river and act as stewards in attempts to reduce stormwater runoff pollution and address other issues that threaten the health of the river and the watershed area.

The HVA’s efforts have been joined over the years by other groups in Berkshire County, and the Housatonic River Walk in Great Barrington has over the past two decades opened up a section of the river to residents and visitors. Volunteers participating in an annual cleanup have removed hundreds of tons of trash and debris from the river over the years. The bend in the river near the Sheffield Covered Bridge is a popular spot for walking and launching canoes, and the new bench, besides providing a place for people to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet, draws attention to the goal of promoting the strengths of a river that is usually in the public eye only for controversial reasons.

Regan is correct that most people “only hear the negatives about PCBs” when it comes to the Housatonic. It’s unfortunate that the cleanup process is stalled as the EPA has put forward a reasonable plan that takes into consideration GE’s concerns about its obligations regarding the river. Still, the river can be enjoyed and appreciated regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in the years ahead. The river has played a major role in the Berkshires over many decades and it has earned our continued attention and appreciation.

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

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CONNECTICUT

The (New London) Day, Nov. 9

The sentencing of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was among the most difficult any military court will ever face. The judge, Army Col. Jeffrey R. Nance, utilized his intimate knowledge of military law and his experience as an officer in rendering a decision.

It was a controversial one, no doubt. Bergdahl escaped prison time for his crime of desertion. Prosecutors had asked for 14 years of incarceration. Nance did order a dishonorable discharge, reduced Bergdahl’s rank to private, and required him to forfeit $1,000 a month of pay for 10 months.

The sentence will automatically go through a review process, which allows reduction of the penalty, but not an increase in severity.

Critics of Nance’s ruling contend further punishment was called for given that other soldiers suffered severe, life-altering injuries in searching for Bergdahl after he walked off an Army base in Afghanistan in 2009. It would have helped provide context had Nance explained his reasoning. He chose not to do so.

In the final analysis, however, the military legal system was best suited to assess the punishment for the crimes of this confused soldier, not arm-chair judges, and certainly not the president.

President Trump acted in an unprincipled fashion, showing contempt for basic constitutional rights and the chain of command, when he sought to generate a lynch-mob mentality at his campaign rallies by characterizing this soldier as a “dirty rotten traitor” who deserved execution.

With his election, Trump became commander-in-chief, making him the top military authority. But instead of respecting the process, he again sought to poison the well, referring to his “comments in the past” when questioned last month about the Bergdahl sentencing hearing then underway.

And after the sentencing decision, this commander-in-chief showed disrespect for Judge Nance, who had done his duty as he best saw fit, by taking to twitter and denigrating the colonel, calling his ruling a “complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”

Rachael VanLandingham, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and a retired Air Force lawyer, told the New York Times the president’s statements were so inappropriate they “exponentially increased Bergdahl’s chances of getting this whole case tossed on appeal.”

Army investigators determined that a then 23-year-old Bergdahl, who according to defense testimony suffered from a severe personality disorder, left the relative safety of his base in a delusional effort to hike to a larger base and report to superior officers command problems in his own unit.

Captured within hours by the Taliban, he did not act in a traitorous fashion. There was no evidence he cooperated with his captors. Instead he sought to escape several times and return to his unit, in one case eluding capture for eight days.

During his five years in captivity, Bergdahl was beaten and tortured, suffered from severe dysentery much of the time and was largely confined to a metal cage less than seven feet square.

Upon his release in 2014, Bergdahl provided what Amber Dach, an intelligence analyst, called a “gold mine” of information about the treatment of captives by the Haqqani network, information that has already altered survival and captive training.

These are not the actions of a traitor.

Certainly Bergdahl, now 31, will face a life sentence of sorts, haunted by the mental and emotional damage stemming from his captivity, the guilt from having caused others to suffer by putting them in harm’s way, and the reality of being separated from the comrades he once served with and the help other soldiers receive.

This is not to dismiss the harm Bergdahl’s desertion caused. Sgt. First Class Mark Allen was shot through the head during a search for Bergdahl, leaving him unable to walk, talk, or care for himself. Senior Chief Petty Officer Jimmy Hatch saw his career as a Navy SEAL end due to the leg wounds suffered during an attempt to rescue the missing Bergdahl. They and all who joined in the search for the wayward officer are heroes.

This is a tragedy with no silver linings. The president should stop exploiting it.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, Nov. 9

We know how aggravating - and often dangerous - it is to lose power. Unfortunately, people have a tendency to apply magical thinking to electricity. It’s just there. No modern power plants are required to generate it. No natural gas pipelines are needed. Trees knocked over in a storm are not supposed to take down any wires, and if they do, power is supposed to be restored instantly.

In the real world, of course, we do need power plants and the infrastructure surrounding power generation. In the real world, nature does wreak havoc, and it takes time to make repairs.

On the night of Oct. 29, Rhode Island got a tutorial in all this when a powerful storm raked the state. It was much more severe than predicted. Thus, the governor did not appear on TV prior to the storm warning people to be ready. Similarly, National Grid - which relies on weather forecasts for planning - was caught off guard.

“Instead of the 40- to 50-mph winds of a coastal storm, the state got a major blast, with sustained winds of around 60 mph in some areas; gusts at Conimicut Light hit 81 mph,” Providence Journal Staff writers John Hill and Kate Bramson reported on Nov. 4. “It was the difference between falling branches and uprooted trees. Gusts of 72 mph were reported in Warwick, 69 mph in Charlestown and 67 mph in Westerly. On Cape Cod, Mashpee recorded 93 mph winds.” In other words, this was a serious storm.

Based on the forecast, National Grid projected 15,000 customers would lose power, mostly along the coast. The actual number turned out to be about 150,000.

The storm slammed much of the eastern seaboard, knocking out electricity for more than a million customers from New York to Canada. Four days after the storm, some 17,000 Rhode Island customers of National Grid, which serves the vast majority of the state’s residents, were still without electricity.

That left people understandably frustrated. Politicians reacted.

“Rhode Islanders should expect the lights to come on when the switch is flipped,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “National Grid owes Rhode Island families and businesses a swift response when power goes out and thoughtful planning to prevent outages when storms are forecasted.”

But it does appear that National Grid worked to get power back as quickly as possible for people.

By the time the storm’s winds were receding, it was clear that the 50 Rhode Island crew members and 17 private contractors deemed sufficient on Friday were not going to cut it. The company put out a mutual aid-request for 175 more crews from private contractors and utilities. With other New England states doing their own cleanups, reinforcements had to come from Ohio, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Florida, and St. John’s, Canada. Most did not arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday.

The governor called for an investigation into the matter. The state’s Division of Public Utilities and Carriers is taking a look. That makes sense. In addition, National Grid will evaluate its storm response. It should look into whether it can react more quickly when a storm is worse than predicted, without excessively burdening ratepayers.

But all of us should remember: There is no magic wand to wave. The best we can do is maintain our electric infrastructure, plan ahead, and act as quickly as possible when a storm exceeds expectations.

Online: http://bit.ly/2zxD84z


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