Maine senate campaign

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Curveballs, naked emperors and BS: post-election reflections of a reporter

German philosopher Max Weber said, “Politics is the art of compromise.”

And, Weber might have added: Elections are the art of exaggeration. We at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting spent much of the spring and summer checking out the claims of the three major candidates for U. S. senate, focusing mostly on what they said they had done to fix the economy and promote jobs. What we found, with some modest exceptions, had more spin on it than a Sandy Koufax (you call look him up) curveball. But there’s more to be learned from politicians “practiced in the art of deception,” to quote the Rolling Stones, which I like to do whenever the opportunity presents itself. Now that the votes have been (mostly) counted, the TV ads silenced and the pundits (there are so many) either crowing or eating crow, we thought we’d try to find some broader meaning from our months of reporting. Continue Reading →

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King’s laptops leveled playing field, but academic benefits hard to assess

At Freeport Middle School, students in algebra class play “Battleship” on their laptops as they learn to plot coordinates on a graph. At Massabesic Middle School, eighth-graders surf the web on their laptops to create their own National History Day websites. And at King Middle School, students carry their laptops into the field as they chronicle the civil rights movement through eyewitness interviews. These students don’t live in a high-tech mecca like Silicon Valley, but in the nation’s most rural state, where state tax money pays for one white Apple MacBook for every seventh- and eighth-grader in public schools. Laptops from mcpir3
More than 10 years ago, Angus King, then Maine’s governor and now a U.S. Senate candidate, pushed the $10- to $11-million-a-year program through a reluctant legislature.  King sold it as a way to give the state a competitive edge and provide computers to low-income students. Continue Reading →

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Bloomberg’s Maine Man

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When New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced last week that he’d be founding a Super PAC and spending some of his money in Maine in support of Angus King, the Independent candidate for U.S. Senate was as startled as anyone. “I can tell you without any equivocation that I had no idea he was going to do this Super PAC thing,” King said. “Mayor Bloomberg’s made this decision without any request from me.”

King has met Bloomberg just three times: once at a centrist summit in Oklahoma in 2008, once last week for a fundraiser at the Mayor’s private residence, and once during a 45-minute meeting on a visit this summer to New York City. “We talked about schools, we talked about centrist politics…. It wasn’t in great depth, but it was substantive,” King said in an interview Friday. Continue Reading →

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King cites his $900m tax break program as a job creator

The number one issue on voters’ minds this year is jobs. Angus King, the leading candidate in the U. S. Senate race, claims as governor he helped create jobs in Maine with some of his policies, including a program called BETR. BETR stands for Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement. Until King became governor, businesses had to pay property taxes on equipment they purchased, from paper-making machines to computers. In 1995, then-Gov. King persuaded the legislature that if the state gave the taxes back to the businesses, businesses would expand and create jobs for Mainers. Continue Reading →

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Charlie Summers interview with the Center

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting’s Naomi Schalit and John Christie interviewed U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Summers on Friday, August 17. With him was Jay Martin, Maine’s Small Business Advocate. The interview focused on Summers’ record of job creation, specifically on the creation of the Small Business Advocate position. There are two versions of the video. The first is an edited version of our interview, the second is the unedited interview.   Continue Reading →

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Summers’ jobs program fails to live up to his claims of success

Republican Charlie Summers has pinned his campaign for the U. S. Senate on a vow to improve the economy and create jobs on a national level the way he says he has on the state level. As Maine’s secretary of state, Summers added a $50,000 “Small Business Advocate” in his office that he says on his campaign website shows how “investing in small businesses will create jobs and strengthen our economy.”

If elected, Summers states he will “introduce legislation that will create a national small business advocate, just like the one I successfully lobbied for in Maine who has already saved Maine businesses from undue state regulators.”

But a Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examination of the business advocate’s own records tells a much more mixed story of the effectiveness of the new position that was filled last October by Jay Martin of Old Town. While Summers boasts the program is a job creator, in the 10 months the advocate has been on the job, records show few, if any, new jobs can be directly attributed to the work of the business advocate. For seven weeks this spring and summer, from June 1 to July 27, the advocate did not have a single open case, according to weekly activity reports. The records also reveal that the advocate claims credit for solving problems that others solved, suffers from legal restrictions that handicap his effectiveness and did not meet two of the six minimum requirements for the job. Continue Reading →

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King claim about pension funding neglects to tell the full story

In promoting his independent candidacy for U. S. Senate, Angus King claims credit for improving the financial condition of the state’s pension funding during his two terms as governor. The accuracy of the claim, made on his campaign web site, is important because Maine, like most states, has a history of going deep into debt due to poor financial management of the multi-billion-dollar program. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examined the claim for accuracy and completeness, relying primarily on records from the Maine retirement system and legislative studies. The research shows that while the pension system finances improved while King was governor, a major reason wasn’t because of anything he did – it was because he was governor during the stock market’s glory years when the system’s investments went up double digits. King’s use of statistics to make the case for himself have another problem: He counts only the first six years of the governorship, when the pension funding improved, and skips over the final two years, when the funding declined, although it was still better than when he took office. Continue Reading →

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Record shows little support for Dill’s claim to be job creator

Cynthia Dill, Maine’s Democratic candidate for Olympia Snowe’s soon-to-be vacant U.S. Senate seat, said on her campaign website last month that she “has a record of … creating quality jobs” during her six years in the state legislature. But an analysis of Dill’s legislative history by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting found that claim to be largely premature. To date, only five permanent jobs can be attributed to Dill’s legislation, plus another 323 temporary positions — the bulk of which are construction jobs. During an interview last week, Dill defended her record when questioned about the validity of her job creation claim.“It’s a job,” said the Cape Elizabeth state senator. “Whether they are temporary or not, it’s something that I’m very proud of.”

On the morning of July 17 — the day after the interview — Dill asked her web developer to modify the homepage, an email she provided to the Center shows. Continue Reading →

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Loss of moderates like Snowe means DC stalemates more likely

The number of political moderates in the U.S. Senate is dwindling, and the departure of Senator Olympia Snowe, who is not seeking reelection, could further reduce their ranks. Senate moderates, those who do not follow a strict party line, have declined from 46 in 1977 to only six in 2009, according to one study. In the same period, another study, this one based on conservative-liberal ideology, found that those who did not strictly adhere to either view dropped from 39 to nine.  Moderate groups in the two studies mostly overlapped. In both of the studies, as well as in earlier years, Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine’s two Republican senators, rated as moderates. The method of determining partisanship was developed by Keith T. Poole of the University of Georgia and his associates.  If 50 percent of party members voted in the same way on a bill, their position was considered the party’s position.  Each member was rated by how often he or she voted with party positions.  In 2009, Snowe voted with the Republican Party position about 60 percent of the time. Continue Reading →

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