Courier-Gazette Letters to the Editor, Oct. 26

Oct 26, 2017

Thank you, Sen. Collins

While watching President Trump’s impromptu news conference last Monday, I was reminded how thankful I am that Susan Collins has decided to remain in the Senate. Even though I don’t always agree with her positions, I am confident that she has been thoughtful and principled in her decision-making.

By contrast, our president’s arrogance, willful ignorance and gift for self-absorbed blather were on full display during his performance before the cameras. We can only hope that Sen. Collins will continue to protect us from some of the more harmful elements of the Republican legislative agenda, as well as the worst impulses of an all-too-reckless president.

Steve Mansfield

Warren

Reponse to Gen. Kelly

I’m a great admirer of Gen. John Kelly and I thought his defense of Trump’s phone call to the wife of the soldier killed in Niger exemplified his great strength of character and honor and I can easily imagine what a terrific combat leader he must be. However, he was wrong, As clear and concise as his defense was, he was wrong.

By way of explaining why he was ‘stunned’ by the Cong. Wilson’s having revealed the content of Trump’s private call to Pvt. Johnson’s widow, Kelly cited the loss of things we once held dear when he (and I) were children. The first of these was respect for women. I don’t know that our regard for women was any greater then than it is now, but I do know that one place that disrespect is and has been most profoundly on display is in the White House at the hands, quite literally, of Kelly’s own boss.

The second was for life and again, I don’t know that our regard for life is any less now than it was then, but certainly this president’s regard for the lives of people around the globe who are desperately seeking only the barest elements of that precious gift is nonexistent.

The third was for Gold Star families, families who have lost sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in service to our country. Kelly lamented that even that was no longer sacrosanct. In this case he may be right, but who has better shown that disrespect than Trump himself when he slandered the Khan family and the loss of their son who was killed in action in Afghanistan in service to our country? Kelly is a great man and a worthy soldier. So what is he doing in service to this man who is the antithesis of everything he so proudly stands for? I am completely baffled.

Finally, Kelly alluded to the unquestionable nobility, bravery and honor of every one of the men and women who serve in the military defending our country, young people who volunteered to give their lives to defend our freedoms when there was no demand that they do so. He’s wrong in this instance, too. Many of those people are possessed of precisely those qualities, but not all by any stretch. Many, while not drafted, are certainly being actively recruited and find the military offers them what they can’t find elsewhere in America: a steady income, security and respect.

I joined the military in 1964. I was not driven to do so by even a shred of patriotism. I joined because I didn’t know what to do with myself at that age and was a lost soul. I didn’t go to Vietnam to defend my country. I went because by then I was in and had to do what I was told. None of the guys in my outfit with whom I was close, a dozen or so, were there because they were willing to give their lives for their country. They had no idea what we were doing in Vietnam and were only there because they had to obey orders.

As Kelly said, there are a great many brave young people who do, in fact, more than self their country love but I’ll bet their presence in conflicts all over the globe is as big a mystery to many of them as mine and my buddies' were to us. We were not heroes. We did not know what we were signing up for.

Phil Crossman

Vinalhaven

Yes on Question 2

By voting yes on Question 2 Nov. 7, you will be casting a ballot to provide 70,000 of your fellow citizens with health insurance. You will also be voting to support Maine’s hospitals and health service industry by bringing $500 million a year in federal funds into the Maine economy, creating thousands of jobs.

Just who are these 70,000 Mainers? The vast majority are working people employed in relatively low-wage and/or seasonal jobs, where health insurance is typically not a benefit. They are people earning wages that result in annual incomes at or near the poverty level, who often cobble together multiple jobs as the seasons change. They are unable to afford private insurance, yet their incomes from employment disqualify them from Medicaid. They are the very people we should be encouraging to remain in the labor market, not driving them towards public assistance by trapping them in a health insurance "no man's land."

Passage of Question 2 will provide these people with health insurance by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Thirty-one states, including all the other New England states, have taken advantage of this ACA option. Not one has rescinded. With bipartisan support, the Maine Legislature over the past several years has approved expansion five different times. Unfortunately, it has failed to muster the two-thirds majority required to override Gov. Paul Lepage’s constant vetoes, falling just one vote short on one occasion

The federal government would fund 90 percent of the expansion costs. I would never advocate that federal monies should be accepted simply because they are available, but in this case we're not talking about funding for a “bridge to nowhere.” We are talking about providing health insurance to 70,000 Mainers who labor in our economy with the knowledge, perhaps the fear, that they are just one accident or illness away from financial ruin.

As Mainers we pay federal taxes, yet for the past several years we have chosen to forgo their return to help our friends and neighbors. Are we such a prosperous state that we can afford to continue to thumb our noses at these funds, simply to perpetuate some rigid ideology? I think the answer is obviously no.

Opponents of expansion say we can’t afford it. I say we can't afford not to! I am absolutely convinced that when all is said and done, this will be a net gain for Maine’s economy, more preventive care, fewer ER visits, etc.

But more importantly, we should vote yes because it is the right thing to do. This is not a question of “want,” it is a question of “need.” Every Maine resident needs affordable health insurance, and passage of Question 2 will be a major step towards that goal.

This may be our last opportunity to participate in this program, and if we don’t sign on now, we may regret our inaction for years to come. So please, talk to your friends and spread the word regarding this important upcoming vote Nov. 7. If you can’t vote on the 7th, vote by absentee ballot, which are currently available.

Vote yes on Question 2.

John A. Spear

South Thomaston

Maine House of Representatives, District 92

Suppor Dr. Lisa Westkaemper for Rockland City Council

As soon as Lisa Westkaemper moved to Rockland she became active in our community, quietly observing its workings and offering her insight and past experience where she could, and I am confident that her desire and willingness towards making a positive difference in our community will continue when she is elected to the City Council.

Her most visible contribution to our community so far is her very active involvement in reclaiming Rockland’s landmark Millay House and helping to build a literary and educational organization for our city. The annual Millay Arts and Poetry Festival now also exists, thanks in great part to Lisa and her husband, Alva, who were key in organizing the first one this past September. I volunteered at the festival and witnessed firsthand Lisa’s calm organizational and managerial skills. It was a huge undertaking to create and organize the festival, with a lineup of top-rated national poets, authors, actors and musicians offering workshops and performance in our downtown business district to an enthusiastic audience from all over the country. Lisa was in the forefront of envisioning, creating and organizing this annual event for our city.

I have seen Lisa make numerous other less noticeable contributions to our community, offering her services where she sees the need. Recently I ran into her at the transfer station, where she stood in the hot sun directing traffic for the toxic waste disposal. Lisa and Alva often offer welcoming and inclusive invitations to neighborhood gatherings where they generously open their home for meeting and conversation.

I hope you will join me in voting for Dr. Lisa Westkaemper for City Council. She has the qualities to be of great benefit to Rockland.

Rose Willson

Rockland

A surprise reunion

My friend Kathleen invited me to go with her to the Thomaston Public Library to a tea on the afternoon of Oct. 20. I had been having a tough time with asthma and wasn't sure I would be able to go. When she arrived at my apartment I wasn't doing well at all and suggested that we have tea there instead. She wasn’t interested in doing so; therefore, I pushed myself to go to the tea with her, thinking that I wouldn't last for more than a half-hour.

Shortly after we got there, Kathleen introduced me to her friend, Barbara. I then sat down and greeted other people. I kept looking back at Barbara, amazed at how much she resembled my childhood friend Barbara from my teen years in Bridgeport, Conn. I even said to her, "You look so much like my childhood friend; her name was Barbara also."

A few minutes later, the woman sitting next to me detected my accent and asked 'Where are you from?" I answered, "Sandy Hook, Conn." That's when Barbara piped up and said, "I'm from Monroe , Conn." (Monroe is right next to Sandy Hook). Then Barbara asked me, "Did you ever live in Bridgeport, Conn.?" "Yes, I was born there," I answered.

"Are you Bette-Jean Mastroni?" she asked. I jumped up out of my chair and hurried over to her and hugged her, crying the whole time. We had not seen each other in 58 years. Several people at the event came closer to partake in the joyous occasion. I think I even heard some applause. Barbara is now living in Rockport, not far from where I live in Thomaston. She told me that she has seen me on TV several times, but had no idea of how to get in touch with me. She said she doesn't have a computer, but tried to have a friend look for me, which her friend did unsuccessfully. We talked and reminisced, reveling all afternoon in the novelty of our surprise reunion, and we plan to get together soon.

B.J. Peres

Thomaston

Westkaemper seeks voters' support

I am Lisa Westkaemper, a candidate for Rockland City Council.

I have experience as a municipal leader, having served a full term as a city councilor in my prior city of residence. I have the ability to research complex issues and make balanced decisions by collecting ideas, facts and approaches -- gathered through investigation and by listening to community members.

Rockland faces many complex problems. Property taxes are high, combined with increasing demands for city services. We battle the perception of low-performing schools, combined with increasing school needs. Additional housing is a critical part of the picture in order to ensure a sustainable future for Rockland.

We cannot continue to burden taxpayers with additional city, school and county financial needs -- we have to find another way. State revenue-sharing is not what it should be, but attempts to change that have not been successful. I would like to see a major consortium of people from areas across Maine combining forces and presenting a persistent voice to the Statehouse. Representatives, citizens, mayors, city managers -- all speaking with one voice about the ramifications of inadequate state support. Our request is simple but imperative -- returning a state-law-mandated percentage of the sales tax revenue generated within our city limits. One strong message echoed by many strong voices.

The RSU 13 school district has an uphill climb. The perception is that our schools are not what they should be. I would like to see that perception broken wide open. I want to know what the criteria were that created that perception. Was it graduation rates? Retention rates? Test scores? Poor facilities? All of the above? We need to make sure those criteria are being addressed, improved and then publicized. I believe in our superintendent, our School Board, our principals, our teachers and our students. I want to support our school system in any way I can. If RSU 13 is already being turned around, then we need to publicize that fact more often and with more force. Let's change that perception!

Housing issues in Rockland are complex, but there are solutions. We have buildings, houses and commercial spaces that are not fully utilized. We need to investigate the barriers to occupancy and address them directly. We need to look at the Habitat for Humanity model and go one step further. They are doing great work, but we have more properties than they can handle -- let's get a group together to directly support their work in Rockland and ensure additional success for that part of the housing equation. There are proven methodologies for avoiding gentrification and ensuring that residents don't get priced out or driven out by rising taxes or excessive valuations.

We can go a long way towards addressing these issues if we focus our energies. Please vote Nov. 7. Thank you.

Lisa Westkaemper

Rockland

Expanding Medicaid helps Maine

Health care has rightly held a dominant place in our national debate for many years now, and for good reason. It makes up a sixth of our national economy, and few policy areas touch us as personally as the debate over how to provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care.

Clearly, health care is an important local issue here in Knox and Waldo counties. The people in our community deserve access to good medical care at affordable costs, and there is no denying that our local health care organizations are major area employers and a key part of the local economy.

That’s why we all have a stake in Question 2 on this November’s ballot, which asks Maine people if they want to expand our state’s Medicaid program – known as MaineCare -- to low-income people, most of whom have no other options for affordable coverage.

There are good, compassionate reasons for doing this. If Question 2 passes, it would extend MaineCare coverage to nearly 80,000 low-income Maine people, many of whom work but have no access to affordable health insurance. This will translate into better health and medical outcomes for these individuals.

Remember that these are our neighbors, our employees, our family and our friends. Though most have jobs, they do not earn enough income to qualify for subsidies on the Exchange.

Question 2, however, is more than an opportunity to help hardworking Mainers. It is a chance to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Maine, create thousands of jobs and stabilize our community health networks, including Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital.

With the federal government picking up no less than 90 percent of the cost of expansion, Maine will see an infusion of $496 million a year into its economy, and an estimated 6,000 jobs will be created as a result. While the state government will eventually have to pay 10 percent of the cost, this would amount to roughly a 5 percent increase in state Medicaid spending and account for less than 2 percent of the overall state budget.

This is good for Maine. Most of us with private insurance pay a lot more in out-of-pocket expenses than 10 percent of the cost. And indeed, if the state of Maine were asked to grant $55 million a year in tax breaks to attract an employer that would create 6,000 jobs and bring half a billion dollars a year into Maine’s economy, wouldn’t it make sense to do so?

Right here in Knox and Waldo counties, the Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates there will be a $39 million impact on our local economy, with 367 new jobs created.

Passage of Question 2 will also help to stabilize our community hospitals and local health systems. In fiscal 2016, 19 of Maine’s 34 hospitals lost money, and many others fell short of budget. In that year, Maine’s 36 hospitals had a combined operating margin of $29.4 million, but if you take Maine Medical Center and Eastern Maine Medical Center out of that mix, the remaining Maine hospitals lost $50.7 million. And while our hospitals are struggling to maintain services and meet their bottom lines, they are sending hundreds of millions of dollars to states that did expand Medicaid. Passage of the referendum would keep these dollars at home supporting our own Maine people in need.

Within our local organization, which includes both Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital, Pen Bay was among those 19 hospitals that lost money, and we have worked hard against a difficult tide in recent years. Waldo County General, meanwhile, has fared better as a hospital designated as “Critical Access” and eligible for more favorable reimbursement from the government. But the pressure on community hospitals is mounting. While expanding the MaineCare program won’t solve all the problems faced by our community hospitals, it will help to keep services in place.

As Mainers, we have to ask ourselves, what would be in the best interest of our most vulnerable residents and our communities?

The benefits of Medicaid expansion far exceed the costs. Voting “yes” on Question 2 is not just good for patients, our communities and our health care system, but also for Maine’s economy. That’s especially true for rural areas of our state like ours.

Dr. Mark Fourre

President & CEO

Pen Bay Medical Center I Waldo County General Hospital

Coastal Healthcare Alliance

Voting for Westkaemper

As I’ve interviewed residents of Rockland for the Heart and Soul project, I’ve learned how important our town is to all of us. Most really care about Rockland’s schools, festivals, fishing industry, Coast Guard, boat yards, arts community, and library. Perhaps most appreciated and loved is Rockland’s “real life” characteristics, its authenticity.

Managing the growth of our special place has become vitally important, and I am sure that Lisa Westkaemper, as one of our new City Council members, will do just that. Lisa has proved to us how capable she is by her participation in the purchase of The Millay House and her diligence in shepherding our Millay weekend -- an enormous undertaking, well done.

Lisa is sincere, with no hidden agendas, intelligent with a firm belief in exploring all facets of an issue before reaching a decision, and deeply committed to the balanced growth of our town.

With previous experience as a city councilor, management experience in arts and educational institutions, and great educational credentials, I know Lisa will serve us well. We are presented with a wonderful candidate for our City Council, and I urge you to vote for Lisa, as I will.

Barbara Klapprodt

Rockland

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