Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Aug. 17, 2018
Editorials from around New England:
The Times Argus
We have our candidates for the upcoming gubernatorial race.
The race between Democrat Christine Hallquist and incumbent Phil Scott, a Republican, should prove to be an interesting and historic matchup. Hallquist is the first transgender candidate to appear in a governor's race in U.S. history.
The issues on which the candidates end up stumping and debating will likely be the ones we have been hearing for years now: affordability, energy policy, economic development, jobs and education.
It feels like we just went through the election cycle, when Scott was squaring off with Democrat Sue Minter, and other fringe candidates. Yet, here we are again.
The two-year term for governor feels like a blink of an eye. Perhaps it does not need to be that way.
2019 is the next time Vermont lawmakers could consider a constitutional amendment to create a four-year term for governor.
Vermont is one of just two states in the country that still have a two-year term for governor. For the first 80 years that Vermont was a state, governors were elected to a one-year term. In 1870, a two-year term was implemented and it has remained in place for almost 150 years, though in 1880 there was an effort to switch back that failed. Since 1880, there have been 18 efforts to amend the Vermont constitution to expand the governor's term to four years. All 18 attempts have been unsuccessful.
Virtually every governor who has been elected over the past 100 years was re-elected to a second term in office — sometimes even a third term, occasionally a fourth term. Former Gov. Howard Dean had five terms.
Term length has become a hotly contested issue in Vermont — both politically and academically.
Those who argue for two-year terms say it makes governors more accountable to their constituents. Opponents argue that two-year terms do not allow governors enough time to engage in long-term planning. (Vermont does not have a recall process to remove a governor from office, so the two-year term serves as a method of accountability.)
In a paper by University of Vermont Professor Anthony Gierzynski in 2016, two-year terms limit the governor's opportunity to develop a sound policy as it "forces the governor to campaign after the first year of his or her term." In a four-year term, the first year you learn how to be governor, in the second and third year you can do what you hoped to do, and in the fourth year you can seek re-election. Two-year terms obviously truncate that process, and limit what can be done, policy-wise.
"In addition, a longer tenure is necessary for intergovernmental relationships to mature so that policy can be more effective," Gierzynski wrote. Overall, it is believed that four-year terms are more conducive to successful incumbency, he said.
It is worth noting, however, that in Vermont all of the governors since 1961 have served at least two terms, suggesting that a two-year term in Vermont is also a de facto four-year term, Gierzynski found.
The process to change the term limit seems ridiculously complicated and long.
It needs to start in the Senate and it needs to win two-thirds of the votes. Then it goes over to the House, where it has to receive a simple majority. If that happens, you have to wait for a while because the plan has to be considered by the next legislature that's elected.
Then it starts in the Senate again — this time it only needs a simple majority, and if it's approved, it goes back to the House. Now if the House approves it that second time, again by a simple majority, it goes to voters in a statewide referendum.
In 1974, it actually made it all the way to a statewide referendum but failed.
But those were different times. The state has different challenges today, and requires a longer view. The problems facing us are huge; they threaten to continue to plague us fiscally, and without significant changes in policy and tax reform, Vermont will continue to track along a path of unaffordability.
We need stability and consistency that comes from a process of creating laws and policies that are proposed, approved, implemented and have some measure of outcomes. That way, we are not constantly building legislation and agendas based off short-term goals and temporary staffs. We cannot keep letting ourselves have our hands tied by decisions that were right for a time.
But things change, and they need to.
We would support the reintroduction of a constitutional amendment. It is worth having the debate again, both at those political and academic levels. It comes down to sustainability. It comes down to doing the best thing for Vermont.
The Concord Monitor
Why are liberals so angry? We've seen that question, and its variations, frequently over the years in online comments on the Monitor's website and in reader-submitted letters and columns. We have also seen its inverse from time to time: Why are supporters of Donald Trump (or Republicans in general) so filled with hatred?
The questions are not meant to be answered; they are intended to be disqualifying.
The architects of these two distinct camps, the angry and the hate-filled, are unwittingly united in their embrace of disharmony. To add a little bit of farce to this tragicomedy, each side appears to be blind or numb to just how much they rely on their foes in the construction of their own political identity. In that one sense, at least, 21st-century America has its perfect president: Anger and hatred is what keeps Trump up at night and gets him out of bed in the morning. If you don't believe that, take a look at the time stamps on his tweets.
But Trump's reality, although an irresistible draw for pundits and trolls, isn't reality for most Americans. From our perspective, the day-to-day actions of most people are not driven by anger or what and whom they hate. Not only that, most people don't really think of themselves in terms of whether they are pro-Trump or anti-Trump (as much as that fact may disappoint the president). They are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers or any number of other identifiers that mean so much more than Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative.
There is not a person on Earth who deserves simplistic categorization; everybody has been shaped and continues to be shaped by a jumble of experiences and circumstances. If you are aware of your uniqueness, why would you deprive anyone of theirs regardless of how much you disagree with them on the issues of the day? There is only one answer: to disqualify them from debate and win by forfeit.
In moments of unexpected national tragedy, Americans have tended to rediscover, however briefly, their shared humanity. Anger dissolves, hate recedes and differences are celebrated for their contribution to the whole. This plays out on a smaller scale daily and throughout the country — at the scene of fires and floods, accidents and tornadoes. We witness acts of generosity and kindness, and never once wonder where these heroes of the day exist on the political spectrum.
It never seems to matter all that much in the great scheme of things.
The Bangor Daily News
Last week, Massachusetts became the 13th state, along with Washington, D.C., to adopt an automatic voter registration law. Under such laws, qualified individuals are automatically registered to vote when they do business with the state's motor vehicle agency.
Under the Massachusetts law, adult citizens who sign up for MassHealth, the state's health insurance for low-income and disabled residents, will also be automatically registered to vote. Residents could opt out of the automatic registration. Nearly 700,000 additional voters could be added to Massachusetts voter rolls in coming years with the change, which was signed into law last week by Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican. Other states that have implemented automatic voter registration have also seen significant increases in registration.
Unless you don't believe all qualified Americans should have a voice in their government, encouraging more people to vote is a good thing.
That's why Maine should join this trend.
Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, states were required to allow citizens to register to vote when doing business at motor vehicle and social service agencies. Oregon was the first state to implement automatic voter registration in 2016.
Despite the so-called motor voter law, 60 percent of people said they have never been asked to register to vote, according to a 2016 Pew Charitable Trusts poll. Motor voter laws are well intentioned, but still too few people are registering to cast a ballot.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 20 percent of eligible voters were not registered to vote in 2014. Other countries avoid such problems by automatically including eligible citizens on voter lists. In Canada, for example, when someone becomes a citizen or a citizen turns 18, they are added to the voter list. As an added benefit, lists of automatically enrolled voters are more accurate and up-to-date than lists of voters who registered to vote but didn't update their registration when they moved, for example. North Dakota is the only state that does not require voter registration.
Maine lawmakers considered a bill to start automatic voter registration last year, but it was rejected in party-line votes. This is an idea worthy of reconsideration.
Richard Bissell of Bangor told lawmakers that the proposed legislation would help disabled veterans like himself who may have difficulty getting to a town office, which may have limited hours, especially in rural areas.
"This bill should not be controversial. It's a common sense, modern approach to make the lives of Mainers easier," he told members of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in April 2017. "The history of voting rights includes big leaps like giving people of color and women the right to vote, and it's time we take this small, sensible step in the direction of ensuring that our democracy is more inclusive, fair and secure."
The bill was backed by AARP, the Maine ACLU, the League of Women Voters and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.
Many efforts are underway to make it harder to cast a ballot in America and to gerrymander political representation.
Political parties are drawing district boundaries for their benefit, not the benefit of the people who live in those districts. Some Republicans are working to increase roadblocks to voter registration and, sometimes, intimidating groups (college students are a favorite target in Maine) who traditionally don't vote Republican. The federal government is backing away from longstanding efforts to ensure that racially motivated impediments to registration and voting are removed.
Against this backdrop, states should take steps, as Massachusetts did, to make registering to vote easier. Automatic voter registration does this.
The Providence Journal
The Trump administration's aggressive stance has set off a fierce debate about the role state and local governments should play in enforcing the nation's immigration laws. Now, absent help from Congress, it appears our courts will have to provide some answers.
On one side, the U.S. Department of Justice has told local law enforcement agencies that they must help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents or they will lose federal grant dollars.
On the other side, the long list of challengers includes two Rhode Island cities — Providence and Central Falls — which last week filed a lawsuit against the justice department on the grounds that it is trying to "coerce local governments into enforcing the federal government's civil immigration priorities."
Specifically, the cities object to the department's stance that it can withhold grant money if local law enforcement agencies refuse to share information and provide access when immigration violators are being released from custody.
Rhode Island has also joined other states in a class-action lawsuit that argues that the justice department lacks the power to set such conditions on the grant money, because that practice interferes with the rights of states to set and follow their own law enforcement policies.
Americans, of course, have long been divided on immigration.
Some argue that Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that the burden of enforcing immigration laws falls on the federal government, which means that local law enforcement is not obliged to help. And some want to withhold cooperation because ICE — like any agency staffed by humans — has made mistakes, sometimes detaining people who should have been set free. In one Rhode Island case, Ada Morales, a native of Guatemala who became a U.S. citizen in 1995, was held for several days in 2009 on an immigration detainer. A federal judge ruled that the detention was illegal and violated her constitutional rights.
The question is whether such mistakes, and the fear of being sued, mean that Rhode Island and other states should stop cooperating with federal officials and ignore all requested detentions.
ICE argues that such policies make it difficult for the agency to preserve the rule of law and protect the public from genuine predators who have no legitimate business being in America.
There is a point to the rule of law, which is essential to our democratic republic and the operation of justice. Without it, the strong can very easily prey on the weak. This does not mean local police should be doing the work of the federal government. But it does make sense for there to be a level of cooperation.
All this strengthens the argument that Congress should overhaul the nation's immigration system. There should be an effective means of enforcing our federal immigration laws rather than a patchwork system under which states often do as they please, endangering the public in the process.
But a comprehensive reform must also include bringing longtime illegal residents out of the shadows and setting them on a path to citizenship, while beefing up efforts to deter future illegal immigration.
Short of that, we can expect more division and more battles playing out in the courts.
The Berkshire Eagle
All life is precious, whether it belongs to a newborn baby or a robber holding up a convenience store. If there is any way to avoid taking life — particularly in a law-enforcement situation — it should be used. This is the philosophy behind the Pittsfield Police Department's initiative to provide more less-lethal weaponry and training to its officers.
The traditional law enforcement weapon is the pistol and the bullet, but there are situations where an officer ought to have at their disposal a deterrent that does not necessarily end the life of a suspect. One of the most tragic of such occurrences is "suicide by cop," wherein a person with mental or other issues creates a situation that can only be resolved by deadly force — with the perpetrator hoping for a quick, final ending to their problems. If a police officer had at their disposal a beanbag shotgun, stun gun or pepper ball launcher to disable the suspect so that they could be safely taken into custody, a potentially fatal encounter could be avoided to the benefit of that person, the police officer and society at large.
Less-lethal weaponry can provide a valuable option for police officers who, presumably, would prefer any safe alternative to taking a life in the course of their work. For less-lethal weapons to be of maximum effectiveness, proper training in their use is critical — and the PPD is expanding both the necessary instruction and the ready availability of the weaponry as part of police officers' standard equipment. We urge all Berkshire police departments to do the same.
While American law enforcement culture has been slow to embrace less-lethal technology, Police Chief Michael Wynn has rightly embraced it as an important tool that, rather than short-circuiting a life with a flying chunk of lead, provides a better chance for the legal system to run its proper course in determining the fate of the accused.
As an institution that preaches God's love and care for others, the U.S. Catholic Church stands glaringly exposed in the spotlight once again.
It is yet again a painful day for victims of clergy sex abuse and a horrifying time for American Catholics, whose bishops have said for nearly 20 years that they were addressing the problem and ending a dark under layer of scandal and moral turpitude.
That was not the whole truth. On Tuesday the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed cases going back as far as the 1940s and named names — not only accused priests but bishops identified as having protected the accused over their victims. The report claims at least 1,000 child victims, with the conclusion there are probably many more.
Some cases go so far back that the abused children are now far into a scarred adulthood. Tragically, other cases are fresh.
With the naming of bishops whose actions kept sexual predators on the job, and with the recent accusations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, it is clear why the noxious problem persists, and what must be done about it.
McCarrick is accused not of abusing young children but of using his power to command sexual compliance from young priests and seminarians, including some minors. He was the archbishop of Washington, D.C., and a top leader in the National Catholic Conference of Bishops. His status exemplifies why the church never completely rid itself of abuse. If the man at the top was himself vulnerable to accusation, how could it? An ecclesiastical celebrity could not risk a clean sweep lest somebody, as the blunt saying goes, might have the goods on him.
McCarrick's successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a former bishop of Pittsburgh, is named in the grand jury report as one who covered up accusations, which he denied.
While there are American bishops who have acted in good faith, as a group they are too close to the failures of colleagues to act effectively. The statutes of limitations in effect at the time of an alleged act of abuse will keep many cases out of civil or criminal court. Bishops' failure to enforce standards and investigate claims in their own dioceses leaves no recourse for victims.
At least one bishop has recognized that and provided a credible suggestion a week before the public release of the report. Albany Archbishop Edward Scharfenberger said, and we agree, that the church needs an investigatory panel of lay people known to be of good character and familiar with the Catholic Church.
"I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer," he said.
Scharfenberger made the suggestion in response to a statement by Wuerl that the bishops need a policy to discipline fellow bishops. Rather, they need to confront ecclesiastical complicity in crimes so heinous that most of society can't comprehend how they could be allowed to continue. And yet, it's no surprise that powerful people will protect their institutions first. We have seen the reluctance of universities, TV networks and sports to respond to repeated reports of abuse until forced or shamed into facing them.
But because this perfidy is happening in a church, it is worse. It is a scandal in the deepest sense of the term. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the universal guidebook for faith and morals for all Catholics, has this to say, under a section entitled "Respect for the Dignity of Persons":
"Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. ... Scandal takes on particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized ... Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal ..." The teaching could not be clearer.
The report's naming of Cardinal Wuerl, a close adviser to Pope Francis, takes this scandal right to the door of the Vatican. These sins started generations before Francis' papacy, but trust is now in tatters. To root out this persistent evil, the church needs lay Catholics — parents and grandparents, married and single, straight and gay — to take up the internal investigation and follow it wherever it may lead.
Eastern Connecticut is home to thousands of Catholics, active and inactive, the descendants of French, Polish, Irish, Italian, Latino, Haitian and other immigrants who brought their faith with them generations ago. With Catholics all over the country they share the shock, sorrow, anger and embarrassment of these scandals. We agree with Bishop Scharfenberger that the American Church needs its people, all its people, to bring this sorry chapter to a close.