Editorials from around New England
Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:
Rutland Herald, Oct. 14
Most Vermonters are aware of the need to make the shift toward renewable energy and away from reliance on fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, heating, industry and other uses. There is never unanimity about anything, but the reality of climate change is probably as uncontroversial in Vermont as it is anywhere in the country. The discussion in Vermont is more about what should be done than about whether action is necessary.
The federal government is another story. In recent days, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, staged a big event in Kentucky to announce that the war on coal was over. Pruitt declared that the EPA would abolish the Clean Power Plan initiated by the Obama administration to force power plants to move away from coal.
There is reason to believe, however, that Pruitt’s appearance in Kentucky was no more than a public relations stunt. In fact, it seems to embody the Trump administration method of governance — make a big splash in the media, make a lot of bold statements and shout to the rooftops about the talking points forming the Trump administration’s agenda.
Actually governing is another matter. It turns out abolishing a rule that you don’t like is not as easy as a would-be autocrat might wish. The EPA is bound by its own interpretation of the law to protect the public from the danger of carbon pollution. The EPA has already found that the emission of carbon dioxide is a danger, and for the agency then to repeal the rules designed to address that danger would leave it open to lawsuits claiming the agency was endangering the public.
In other words, according to a story in The New York Times, in order to replace Obama era rules, the EPA under Pruitt needs to come up with rules of its own. And it appears they are far from ready to do that. It has announced that it hopes to convene a process to receive input from the public about how to address the issue. The public process usually comes after the agency has come up with a proposal for the public to consider, but so far environmentalists and people in industry all say it appears the EPA is poised to do virtually nothing about its big promises.
That may be fine with those concerned about climate change, except that the agency’s efforts to sabotage action on the climate are, at the least, a slowdown and a hindrance. As with President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, U.S. inaction alienates the United States from all its international partners and moves the country closer to becoming a pariah state.
Trump also wants to relax standards on auto emissions, and though he can surely slow progress, it is unlikely he will halt it. Vermont had its own role in defense of the strict emission standards that are helping to shape industry practices. Federal law allows states to adopt and follow the strict emission standards adopted by California, which is more or less driving the nation’s auto emission policy. Vermont is one of the states to require autos here adhere to the California standards, and when the auto industry wanted to challenge the legal authority of states like Vermont to impose those strict standards, it chose Vermont as a venue for mounting a case in federal court.
In a landmark case, U.S. District Judge William Sessions, sitting in Burlington, put to the test auto industry claims that the industry would be harmed if it was forced to follow the strict emission standards imposed by California, Vermont and other states. Sessions found the industry’s claims to be largely baseless, affirming California’s standing as a leader in the fight against carbon pollution.
Thus, while the federal government remains mired in lawsuits and the stalling tactics of the Trump administration, states like Vermont are doing the serious work required to make decisions about wind and solar power, enhancing the grid, promoting conservation and shifting to electric vehicles. It is hard work, but somebody has to do it.
Portland Press Herald, Oct. 17
You probably aren’t aware, but you live in a border town. Yes, you in Newport, and you in Gorham. Yes, you in Augusta.
In fact, according to the U.S. Border Patrol, all Mainers live along the border, Windham just as much as Calais and Jackman. Almost all of the rest of New England, too.
That’s because decades ago, Border Patrol was given jurisdiction within 100 miles of any border or water boundary, an area that includes two-thirds of the country’s population.
For an agency with a record of poor oversight and a knack for overstepping its already broad powers, that is too large. At a time when the federal government has lost much of its sense on immigration enforcement, a change is desperately needed.
The 100-mile zone allows border agents to cast a wide dragnet along the southern border using permanent checkpoints and roving patrols, and the results have not been good.
Agents are supposed to have reasonable suspicion of a suspect’s “illegal alienage” before they conduct vehicle stops - and probable cause before searches.
However, investigations by the American Civil Liberties Union and others have found that a lack of critical oversight and a cavalier attitude toward the Fourth Amendment have led to many abuses, from everyday harassment to clear violations of protections from illegal stops, searches and detainment - of citizens and noncitizens alike. Complaints are rarely investigated - or even tracked and analyzed for patterns to suss out problem agents. Discipline is even more rare.
There are indications now that Border Patrol is increasing its presence in New England.
Early this year, two Mexican nationals were stopped near the farm where they worked and lived while on the way back from an event protesting for migrant worker rights. The Border Patrol won’t say why their car, with Vermont plates and absent any traffic violations, was pulled over, though one agent told Vermont Public Radio that they can tell when someone doesn’t “fit in,” seemingly a use of racial profiling.
In August, Border Patrol detained 25 undocumented immigrants at a roadblock in New Hampshire nearly 100 miles from the border. Hardly career criminals, the list included two 11th-graders and a seventh-grader from a Massachusetts charter school.
The roadblock, which stopped hundreds of vehicles, also resulted in 32 additional arrests with no connection to immigration.
These efforts show how the wide latitude given to Border Patrol can be used to target minorities, or as a way around the constitutional protections from illegal stops and searches, all under the pretense of border enforcement, even if you are nowhere near the border.
This shotgun-style approach to border enforcement, with American citizens caught in the crossfire, was hardly considered when the 100-mile zone was established, with little debate, in 1953 - at the time, there were about 1,000 border agents.
Now there are more than 20,000, and Border Patrol, along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been given a new mandate by the Trump administration to target undocumented immigrants of all kinds, not just the violent criminals previously prioritized for deportation.
So now we have the country’s largest police force, one with insufficient oversight and a poor record of using its significant powers, unleashed on a vulnerable population, with American citizens caught up as collateral damage.
Congress should finally hold a review on the 100-mile zone and its effects far inland. Certainly, courts have recognized the right for expanded police powers near the border. But even those expanded powers have their limit, and it’s time to rein them in.
Portsmouth Herald, Oct. 15
Political tremors shook our region’s electoral landscape this week, shaping and foreshadowing the bare knuckle brawling that will be the 2018 mid-term elections.
First, four-term Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter announced she will not seek re-election in 2018. Her announcement last Friday seemed to come out of the blue. Once the shock wore off, nearly a dozen Democrats, including some from the Seacoast, said they’ll explore a run to succeed Shea-Porter. Clearly, there was a good deal of pent-up Democratic ambition being held at bay by the party base’s loyalty to Shea-Porter. It’s safe to say Shea-Porter would have been her party’s candidate in New Hampshire’s First Congressional District for as long as she chose to run.
Shea-Porter took a highly unusual path to power and remained unconventional after elected. She began her career as a grassroots activist protesting President George W. Bush and the Iraq War and soon expanded her protest to incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jeb Bradley, aggressively questioning him at town hall meetings. The Democratic Party establishment supported a different candidate in the primary but Shea-Porter prevailed and went on to shock the pundits by winning the general election.
Shea-Porter kept the seat in the 2008 Obama election, lost to former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta in the Tea Party infused race of 2010, won it back from Guinta when Obama was re-elected in 2012, lost to him in 2014 and beat Guinta again in 2016.
In Washington, Shea-Porter refused to take money from political action committees and frustrated the national party by falling short on fundraising. But while she may not have been a party establishment favorite, the grassroots Democrats who knock on doors, hold signs, stuff envelopes and make calls on behalf of candidates were with her all the way.
The back and forth battles between Shea-Porter, a liberal Democrat and Guinta, a conservative Republican, were frustrating to many, including members of this editorial board, because the district is politically moderate. In 2012, Obama beat Mitt Romney by 1 percentage point in CD1 and in 2016, Republican Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by an equally narrow margin. However, the highly partisan voters who cast ballots in primary elections chose politically polarizing candidates and the majority of unenrolled voters swung the election every two years largely by following the national electoral trends.
With no incumbent running in 2018 it will be interesting to see whether the parties nominate candidates from the extreme right and left or whether they support someone more moderate in tone and outlook. We certainly hope that’s what they do.
On Thursday, we awoke to the news that Gov. Chris Sununu had asked House Speaker Shawn Jasper to apply for the job of state agricultural commissioner and that Jasper had accepted. If the Executive Council approves the appointment, and we have no reason to doubt it will, Jasper will step down as Speaker, likely replaced by Gene Chandler, a previous Speaker for two terms who has indicated he will not seek the post in 2018.
Clearly, this is a case of Jasper walking before they made him run.
While Jasper is widely regarded as a fair-minded and decent man, he had completely lost control of the Republican caucus, as evidenced most clearly by the House’s failure to even pass a budget for the first time in at least 50 years. If that’s not enough proof consider this recent press release headline from the right-wing Freedom Caucus: “New Hampshire House Freedom Caucus Comments on Speaker Jasper’s Effort to Tear Apart Republican Party.”
Jasper’s departure is a clear sign the New Hampshire Republican Party is turning sharply to the right. It remains to be seen whether voters are heading in that same direction.
Finally, in Maine, after months of dramatic build-up, Sen. Susan Collins announced Friday she will not run for governor. While we have no doubt Collins could have won and been an outstanding governor, we’re relieved to have her remain in Washington as a moderate voice and vote. Our nation needs Susan Collins in the U.S. Senate.
The Greenfield Recorder, Oct. 19
We may love the romanticized image of old Yankees personified right here on many Franklin County farms. But as a practical matter, too few young hands are lining up to carry those farms into future generations. And that’s a worry.
Aging farmers own a collective $1.8 billion in farming infrastructure and land throughout Massachusetts, according to Land For Good, a nonprofit promoting New England agriculture.
For a while now, Land For Good, a Keene, N.H.-based organization specializing in farmland access, tenure and transfer, has been warning about the lack of first generation farmers able to break into the business as long-time farm families fade away.
Of 2,300 farmers older than 65, only 8 percent have someone under 45 working with them, according to Land For Good. And in the next decade, an estimated one-third of the state’s farmland is expected to change hands, according to findings by American Farmland Trust, Land For Good and U.S. Census of Agriculture data.
“What these farmers do with their land and other farm assets as they exit farming will shape Massachusetts’ agricultural landscape for generations to come,” cautions Lisa Luciani, a spokeswoman at Land For Good.
New England has lost more than 10,000 dairy farms in the past 50 years, with about 2,000 remaining. Franklin County had more than 125 about 40 years ago. Today, the number is fewer than 35.
If you don’t inherit farmland, it’s expensive if not impossible to buy into the business. Nationally, farm real estate averaged $3,020 per acre in 2015, up about $1,000 over 2006.
One solution is young, aspiring farmers leasing land from retiring or retired farmers as an alternative to ownership.
Lease agreements give young farmers a chance to break into the market. It can be a win for everyone involved, allowing young farmers to start small and to grow their operations, allowing older farmers to keep their land in production and, most importantly, protecting agricultural space from being turned into housing projects and shopping centers.
Land For Good helps young farmers create preservation trusts and navigate the legal process, while working with aging farmers to ensure their land remains in agriculture and sometimes facilitating long-term agreements.
Land For Good can play the role of matchmaker. It helped Mark and Jeannette Fellows sell their family’s 264-acre Warwick dairy farm, Chase Hill Farms, to Ben and Laura Wells-Tolley, a younger couple who share their farming principles.
Lease agreements of all kinds can be flexible to suit new and old farmers. Arrangements can be made per month, per year, or based on a flat rate or yield percentage.
Leases can lead to outright purchase but are viable in their own right.
Most people in Franklin County cherish the region’s agricultural roots, and the continued flowering of innovative small-scale farming. We like the availability of locally grown black Angus meat, locally produced milk and yogurt, fruits and vegetables of every kind. We have stayed or settled here, many of us, because we also appreciate the rural ambiance that the fields, pastures and orchards of our neighbor farmers create through their industry.
So, we are happy to see Land for Good helping many individual efforts to support agriculture, and to preserve that legacy.
Hartford Courant, Oct. 19
A state judge has made a troubling decision in granting lawyers’ request to withhold police documents. She has set a chilling precedent in bypassing the state’s Freedom of Information Commission
Judge Joan K. Alexander signed an order not to release police reports concerning Rupert Laird and Xavier Cruz, who are charged with kidnapping and assault. They were state troopers who were off-duty when, on Feb. 18, Mr. Laird allegedly beat a man while Mr. Cruz looked on. They were later arrested and fired.
The Courant had filed a Freedom of Information request with police for their internal affairs reports on this case. If police object, normally the matter goes to the FOI Commission — created by an act of the legislature in 1975 to enforce the state’s open-records law. Normally, The Courant would have a chance to argue that the reports are in the public interest. Normally, lawyers for the ex-troopers could counter that open-records law contains an exemption for certain police records.
But that normal process was circumvented in a way that could endanger the open-records law.
Lawyers for the ex-troopers went to court instead of to the FOI Commission. They told the judge that they’d reached an agreement with the state prosecutor to withhold the records. Judge Alexander then signed an order withholding those records. The Courant was never notified of the court date and had no chance to argue its side in court.
State police are now using the judge’s order to keep those records from The Courant.
The Courant is fighting this before the FOI Commission and in court.
Judge Alexander’s order sends a signal to lawyers everywhere: Want to skirt the state’s freedom of information law? Don’t bother with the FOI Commission, which the legislature set up for just this purpose. Go ask a judge instead.
The transcript of the hearing suggests that Judge Alexander wasn’t trying to short-circuit open-records laws. But by issuing the order, she gave police a reason to suppress a record that by most standards should be open to the public. While that may not have been her intention, it was nonetheless a troubling infringement of the judiciary in a place it doesn’t belong.
A hearing will be held on the matter Friday at 10 a.m. at New Britain Superior Court. Judge Alexander should vacate her order and let the FOI Commission do its job.
Don’t let police officers accused of wrongdoing hide behind a judge’s robes.
The Providence Journal, Oct. 18
Ken Block, a software entrepreneur and two-time gubernatorial candidate, has been looking into Rhode Island elections of late. What he has discovered, he contends, is shocking.
Some 143,000, or about 31 percent, of the Rhode Islanders who voted last November election did not have either a driver’s license or their last four Social Security digits as part of their voter registration, something now required by a 2003 federal law. More than 22,000 of those people were registered to vote after the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2003, he said.
Moreover, these voters seem concentrated in certain communities. In Central Falls, for example, 21 percent of the voters registered starting in 2003 did not include that required information.
In Mr. Block’s view, that deficiency increases the chances of voter fraud — perhaps enough to sway some Rhode Island elections. In addition, the lack of data makes it harder to weed out names that should no longer be on the voter rolls.
Fearing that Rhode Island would not solve the problem, Mr. Block sent a complaint to the U.S. Justice Department asking it to enforce the law.
All this has stirred up some animosity. Board of Elections member Stephen Erickson, a former Democratic state representative and district court judge, blasted Mr. Block in a series of tweets — which struck a jarring note, given Mr. Erickson’s quasi-judicial role as a member of the board.
“His behavior screams publicity hound. No showing of good faith,” Mr. Erickson tweeted in one such message. “We could have (worked together, but Mr. Block) chose to punch (the Board of Elections) in nose instead.”
At a board meeting last week, Mr. Erickson seemed highly irritated, interrupting Mr. Block’s lawyer John Pagliarini and chiding him for calling him “Mr. Erickson” and then “Commissioner Erickson.” ″You’re an attorney and my title for attorneys is judge. It always has been and it always will be,” Mr. Erickson said.
Maybe everyone should take a deep breath.
To its credit, the board has promised to look into Mr. Block’s concerns as quickly as possible. Part of that is an examination of how the complex federal law has been interpreted and implemented by the other states.
While no one wants fraud to occur, it seems evident that legitimate older voters comprise most of the group Mr. Block is worried about. Moreover, Rhode Island has strong protections against fraud in place, including a voter I.D. law.
On top of that, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has done an excellent job of cleaning up voter rolls over the last 18 months. She acknowledges that information Mr. Block cited is missing for some Rhode Island voters, and implemented a change on her website requiring voters to include the data when updating their registration.
The key is for citizens and election officials to keep working together to limit the potential for fraud, while fully protecting the rights of legitimate voters to participate in the process. We look forward to the responses of the Justice Department and the Board of Elections.
Our system of self-government is strengthened when citizens pay close attention to how elections are conducted and safeguarded. They should feel welcome to speak up if they see something potentially amiss, even if they are not experts. It is the people’s government, after all.