Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Apr. 06, 2018
Editorials from around New England:
The (New London) Day
Her credibility on the issue of workplace harassment destroyed by her mishandling of threatening behavior by the top-ranking member of her own staff, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty is making the right decision in not seeking re-election in the 5th District.
While many have called for her resignation, including some fellow Democrats, there is no urgent need for her to step down. Esty's errors in judgment in handling a harassment issue took place nearly two years ago. She is not accused of ongoing malfeasance, but rather for failing to confront misbehavior forthrightly when she became aware of it.
In taking herself out of the race and allowing voters to choose new representation in November, Esty spares her supporters from making a difficult choice between voting for her in support of her policies or against her in protest of her failure to adequately protect a victim of workplace harassment.
Esty failed her test of character in May 2016. On May 5 that year, her then senior adviser, Anna Kain, played for the congresswoman a voicemail she had received from Chief of Staff Tony Baker. The two had dated, but Baker would not take "no" for an answer after Kain ended the relationship.
"You better f- — - ing reply to me or I will f- — -ing kill you," he said in the message left for Kain.
It was one of about 50 calls Baker had made to her phone that day alone, stated Kain in a petition she filed to obtain a restraining order against Baker, according to reports by the Connecticut Post and Washington Post.
Kain, according to those reports, says she also provided the congresswoman with detailed allegations Baker had punched, berated and sexually harassed her in the workplace. Baker, through a third party, has denied the allegation of physical abuse.
Once Rep. Esty verified that Baker had made that call and left that message, she should have fired him. Chiefs of staff serve at the pleasure of the congressperson. Short of that, Esty should have suspended her chief of staff, pending further investigation.
Instead, Esty allowed Baker to continue leading the staff for another three months. Whether it was a misguided act of loyalty, a reluctance to disrupt the leadership of her staff, or to keep a scandal quiet, the reality is that Esty put Baker's interests, or perhaps her own, above the interests of a harassment victim.
In announcing her decision not to run, Esty acknowledged as much.
"To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down," she said.
An internal review determined "the threat of violence (against Kain) was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women on my staff," Esty said.
"In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better," Esty said in ending her re-election plans.
Esty told the Washington Post that in opting to keep Baker on staff while conducting a review, she was following the advice of legal counsel and the Office of House Employment Counsel. It was a system, Esty said she later came to realize, that was designed to protect members of Congress and, by extension, top aides such as Baker.
In her last few months in office, Esty said she will work to reform that system. That would be one way of mitigating this dark mark on her career of service. Yet if the system was wrong, Esty should have followed a different path
Also troubling were the circumstances surrounding Baker's departure from the office in August 2016. He left with a positive recommendation that he co-wrote with Esty and a $5,000 taxpayer paid severance check. (Esty says she will repay the government). Esty signed a non-disclosure agreement preventing her from criticizing Baker or discussing the circumstances connected to his departure.
Recommendation in hand, and his past behavior covered up, Baker landed a job with Sandy Hook Promise, a group dedicated to nonviolence and protecting the innocent. The organization, it appears, had no inkling it had hired a man who had once threated to kill a former girlfriend for not responding to him. Baker and Sandy Hook cut ties after news of his actions in Esty's office became public.
Baker says he is in recovery from the substance abuse and anger issues that drove his misbehavior. We wish him success.
For a time, Esty, a champion for gender equality and protection of women in the workplace, forgot that that deeds matter more than words. That's a lesson all of us must keep in mind.
The Boston Herald
The president of the United States has a responsibility to secure the borders of the country. Additionally, our country's sovereignty must not ebb and flow with the cultural and political machinations of the day.
Tuesday, President Trump explained to reporters that he was taking a new tack on securing the U.S.-Mexico border. "We're going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military."
We should applaud the Commander in Chief's willingness to mobilize every resource at his disposal, (in this instance, the National Guard) to defend our borders. Their role would likely be supplemental as federal law prohibits the use of active-duty military for law enforcement inside the U.S., unless they get the go-ahead from Congress.
Though critics of the president are tossing terms like "authoritarian" all over social media, deploying our military assets to the border is not a maneuver unique to Trump.
In 2006, President George W. Bush sent the National Guard to the southern borders of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for operation "Jump Start." They conducted surveillance and constructed roads and fences, among other things.
Similarly, in 2010 President Obama sent over a thousand troops to the border in response to increased drug smuggling and the murder of a prominent Arizona rancher.
Border security is crucial to preserve any civilization and not so long ago this was the consensus among our elected leaders of all political stripes.
In 2006, then-Sen. Obama declared on the Senate floor, "Those who enter our country illegally and those who employ them disrespect the rule of law ... and because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we cannot allow people to pour into the U.S. undetected, undocumented and unchecked."
Indeed, in his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the need for border security. "Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made — putting more boots on the Southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years."
In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer's resolve was on display. "First, illegal immigration is wrong," he stated, "and a primary goal of comprehensive immigration reform must be to dramatically curtail future illegal immigration."
In 2013, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi listed her priorities on the matter of the border. "The bipartisan task force of seven has been hard at work on legislation that echoes the spirit of the Senate bill and upholds our basic principles: to secure our borders, protect our workers, unite families and offer an earned pathway to citizenship."
In 2015, candidate Hillary Clinton told voters at a New Hampshire campaign event, "Look, I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in, and I do think that you have to control your borders."
Going back a little further to President Clinton's 1995 State of the Union speech, we heard very strong language and determination from the Democratic Commander in Chief. "All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That's why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. ... We will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes." He continued, "We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it."
We must put our feelings for the current president aside and endeavor the return to common sense on border security.
The Providence Journal
In this day and age, there is no good reason to lock up ethics disclosure forms in an office and require citizens to physically visit that office if they want access to that information. That information should be online, in searchable form, available day and night to anyone with a computer or a smartphone.
So it is encouraging to see that Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has had enough of this nonsense.
When a public concern arose last week, he pushed for legislation to address the problem. It was filed yesterday, sponsored by Rep. Daniel McKiernan, D-Providence, and co-sponsored by Mr. Mattiello.
"The Ethics Commission, like all departments and agencies throughout the state, should have public records accessible on their websites. As public servants, we are all required to fill out the Yearly Financial Disclosure Statements and the public should not be forced to obtain them only during business hours," Mr. Mattiello said in a statement.
Under the bill, the Ethics Commission would be compelled to place these statements on its website beginning with the 2017 forms due later this month, on April 27, Mr. Mattiello said.
That is fast action. We urge the Senate to pass companion legislation and for the governor to sign it into law.
While this issue has re-emerged in the middle of a political year, it is not a new one, unfortunately.
As former Providence Journal staff writer Mike Stanton noted on these pages ("Put R.I. politicians' filings online," Commentary, June 30, 2016), sometime in 2010, Ethics Commission staff lawyer Jason Gramitt started posting on the commission's website the disclosure statements of statewide office holders and members of the General Assembly. "But the commission took them down a few years later after a state representative, at a budget hearing, questioned why legislators' statements were online but not those of other state and local officials," Mr. Stanton noted.
It is a reasonable question why General Assembly members' statements were posted but not those of other state and local offices. But the answer was not to take down everyone's statements. It was to put up everyone's statements.
Certainly the cost of holding those with political power accountable is money well spent. There is a great public benefit in having many more sets of eyes perusing these statements, searching for errors or troubling patterns.
Unfortunately, the Ethics Commission has been acting of late as less of a watchdog than a lapdog for political interests, and such citizens groups as Common Cause Rhode Island have been happy to go along. In 2016, they shamefully teamed up on an incumbent protection racket sought by legislative leaders, creating a 90-day "blackout period" during which complaints about incumbent politicians cannot be filed. The blackout takes effect just before elections — the very period when citizens are most apt to scrutinize those holding office.
And they jointly concluded that it was good enough for the public to have to trudge to the Ethics Commission office to see disclosure forms. As Mr. Stanton put it, commission members and Common Cause "felt that the current system successfully balances privacy and the public's right to know, and the commission chose not to put disclosures online."
You know we have entered a new world when a Rhode Island House speaker is a greater champion for the public's access to information than Common Cause Rhode Island and the Ethics Commission.
Let's hope the legislature and governor move quickly to rectify this problem.
The Bennington Banner
Rationality has been in short supply during any debate over gun issues, whether at the Statehouse in Montpelier or in communities of every size or demographic makeup throughout Vermont.
But perhaps the most irrational moment occurred shortly after the Legislature passed controversial bill S.55 on Friday and sent it on to Gov. Phil Scott for his signature, which is expected.
During a rally outside the Statehouse on Saturday, coordinated by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, and Rob Curtis of Williston, executive editor of Recoil, a magazine based in California, some 1,200 high-capacity 30-round magazines were handed out among the crowd.
The reason? This was apparently an in-your-face gesture aimed at a provision of the proposed law that includes a ban on long-gun magazines with more than 10 rounds and pistol magazines with more than 15 rounds.
Curtis apparently had contacted a firearm accessories manufacturer, Magpul, and received a donation of the 30-round magazines, all 1,200 of which were given away on Saturday.
This was yet another moment in this nation's long, often crazed debate over gun laws that went far off the rails.
Those at the rally were right to voice their opinions, just as many thousands have in favor of tighter gun laws in the wake of deadly shootings at schools around the country and the daily gun-related killings in which the United States tragically leads the industrialized world.
The ban on higher-capacity magazines was, in fact, the final piece of S.55 still being hotly debated by lawmakers on Friday before the final voting. It was cited as difficult to impossible to prosecute for violations and possibly unconstitutional, but it was narrowly approved in the final Senate vote. Chances are, this issue will come up again next session, if not earlier.
Any magazines already owned by Vermonters, it also should be noted, would be grandfathered under the new law and the owners not subject to any kind of penalty.
So what was the point on Saturday of handing out the type of high-capacity magazines used to commit mass murder around the country in recent decades? Beyond pointless, that was a heartless gesture when the memories of students gunned down in schools in Florida or Connecticut or Colorado, among numerous other educational sites, are given any kind of consideration.
Like much else that has fouled the tone of debate in an era of vulgar presidential tweets, handing out military style magazine clips during an exercise of free speech helped sink the bar of civil discourse still lower.
The people on the other side of this debate aren't trying to take away the rights of law-abiding gun owners (grossly inflated as they are into a sacred inheritance by NRA and gun manufacturer lobbyists, far beyond anything actually written in the Second Amendment).
Those fellow citizens who supported and passed S.55 and the related bills last week in Montpelier were merely responding, in a rational manner, to a national crisis that can no longer be ignored.
The Bangor Daily News
When poor Americans don't have health insurance, they don't get health care. That's the simple conclusion that drove the creation of the Affordable Care Act, with the goal of making health insurance more affordable and accessible to those American who don't have it. The act also allowed states to expand Medicaid to reach low-income Americans without insurance.
This simple conclusion was bolstered by a recent analysis in Maine that found that half the state's uninsured low-income residents did not have a regular source of care. A similar percentage had trouble paying medical bills. As a result, they put off needed care, endangering their well-being.
"Compared with their insured counterparts, low-income uninsured Mainers have more trouble finding a health care provider to see them, are less likely to seek needed medical services, and have greater difficulty paying their medical bills when they do obtain health care," says the report by the Muskie School of Public Service and the Maine Health Access Foundation.
This is an important message to keep in mind as lawmakers in Augusta debate the implementation of Medicaid expansion in Maine.
Last year, voters strongly endorsed an expansion of Medicaid in Maine, making the state the 32nd to expand the public health insurance program.
By expanding Medicaid, Maine will make insurance coverage available to 80,000 Mainers. These are people who work but can't afford health insurance or their employer doesn't offer it. They are not poor enough or do not have a disability to qualify for Medicaid without an expansion. Under the ACA, the federal government covers 90 percent of the cost. Maine is estimated to receive more than $525 million per year for a state investment of about $55 million annually, beginning in 2021, the first full year of implementation.
With health insurance, 80,000 more Mainers can access preventative care, vaccinations, addiction treatment, counseling and other needed care. Currently, many people without insurance put off doctor's visits until illnesses or injuries become so bad they threaten their work and well-being. When they do seek care, it is more expensive.
Fifty-four percent of low-income uninsured Mainer adults have no regular health care provider and 27 percent had trouble finding a doctor who would see them when they needed one, the Maine Health Access and Muskie School analysis found. Affordable care is another barrier as 51 percent of those without insurance had trouble paying medical bills. As a result, nearly half put off medical care or purchasing prescriptions and 54 percent put off dental care. These percentages are much higher than for low-income adults in Maine who do have insurance.
By extending insurance to 80,000 more Mainers, Medicaid expansion will make medical care more accessible and affordable. It will also put Maine hospitals on more secure financial footing by reducing their uncompensated care and expanding their patient base. In many rural communities, hospitals are the largest employers.
It will also help the state's economy as billions of federal dollars flow into the state, creating 6,000 new jobs, according to a report by Elizabeth Kilbreth of the Muskie School.
Yet, opponents, led by Gov. Paul LePage, argue that Maine can't afford the expansion and are working to stop or delay it. A state implementation plan is supposed to be filed with the federal government Tuesday, but it is unclear if the administration will meet this deadline.
LePage has thrown out demands — that paying for expansion can't raise taxes or take funds from other programs, for example. This can easily be done.
Maine lawmakers must ignore the grandstanding and demands from LePage. Remember, the Legislature approved expansion five times and each time LePage vetoed it, setting up November's vote. They must also focus on verified budget numbers, not the scary, skewed versions shared by LePage.
Mainers have said extending health insurance to their friends, co-workers and neighbors who don't have it is their priority. It is time for lawmakers to make that a reality.
To the surprise of a lot of Americans, Donald Trump proved that the low road leads to the front door of the White House. John Kasich is betting the high road gets you there, too.
Ohio's Republican governor hasn't announced whether he will challenge Trump in the next presidential election, but the evidence of a 2020 run is mounting. While in New Hampshire on Tuesday for an event at New England College, Kasich paid another visit to the Monitor to speak with the editorial board about his vision for a kinder, gentler nation. Collectively, his answers to our questions about Trump and the state of American politics in general amounted to a Cliffs Notes version of the State of the State address he delivered at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, on March 6. There are many things Kasich doesn't like about Trump and his administration, but good luck getting a list out of him. He would rather talk about St. Augustine than Scott Pruitt, Friedrich Nietzsche than Betsy DeVos, Thomas Aquinas than Ben Carson — and in the endless Trump news cycle, that can be refreshing.
But we wonder how effective a philosophical candidate can be against an unphilosophical president who bullies people into submission for sport and holds zero reverence for truth.
Kasich is a thoughtful, intelligent, kinetic person who speaks with a volatile intensity, even when he is discussing the deepest aspects of existence or the qualities of human love. If he is going to challenge Trump, he will have to find a way to speak to voters about compassion and humility while fending off attacks from a man who views such traits as human weaknesses that he himself does not possess. He will have to find a way to channel any anger or frustration he feels into sharp, verbal edges that slice through Trump's Twitter feed.
Albert Camus, another one of Kasich's favorite philosophers, spent much of his life writing about the high road of human existence that Kasich favors. But above all else, Camus was tormented by human injustice. The same man who wrote with so much empathy and compassion for his fellow human beings in The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel also wrote pointed, rage-filled editorials in a French resistance newspaper during the Nazi occupation in which he condemned German killers and French cowards alike — and he did so by naming them and their offenses whenever possible. While the tone of his essays differs from that of his political editorials, there is an undeniable unity in the content: Part of being a good person, part of living a meaningful life, is refusing to avert your eyes from injustice.
We're glad that Kasich has planted his flag on the high road, and we hope every candidate, in every race and from both parties, joins him there as the nation continues to debate gun control, immigration, nuclear proliferation, climate change, health care and so many other issues that divide Americans. But we also hope that in the process of elevating the national dialogue, these high-minded candidates are willing to veer off the path once in a while to boldly confront the bully of the low road.