Editorial Roundup: New England

Bangor Daily News. October 15, 2021.

Editorial: Welcome home, 2nd Lt. Ernest Vienneau.

It only took three quarters of a century.

In 1944, Vienneau was a young pilot from Millinocket serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He was flying a bombing mission on Nov. 6 when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed off the coast of Croatia. He was hit in the head with a piece of flak and is believed to have died instantly, according to a family member and a forensic report.

Vienneau’s crew members were reportedly unable to get his body out of the sinking B-17 plane, and he had officially been considered missing for over 75 years. His long-awaiting homecoming started last fall, when divers from the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovered his body from the sunken Flying Fortress. That agency, a part of the Department of Defense tasked with recovering U.S military members who are listed as missing or as prisoners of war, officially announced in August that Vienneau had been accounted for in April.

And on Oct. 9, Vienneau finally was laid to rest in Millinocket.

“I am teary eyed. I knew I wouldn’t control myself this weekend,” Joyce Totten, a niece of Vienneau who never met her uncle, told Maine Public. “I do my best to, but this was so important to his parents and to his siblings, you know for decades they wanted to bring him home and it’s been so many years. We didn’t think it would happen.”

According to his recent obituary, none of his many siblings survived to witness this homecoming, though one of their widows is still alive. Grand-niece Chelsea Carbonell has done extensive family research and found that at least four of his siblings also served in World War II. His loss was felt strongly, she said.

“In Millinocket, back then, when you sent a boy off to war, it was the town’s boy, not just Joseph and Gertrude’s boy,” she told the BDN, referring to Vienneau’s parents.

That “town boy” mentality is encapsulated in several clippings from old editions of the Bangor Daily News. A search through those archives shows several updates on Vienneau’s military service, including an entry in “News of Aroostook County and Northern Maine Communities” from Jan. 7, 1939.

“Ernest Vienneau, stationed at Fort Wright. Fisher’s Island, New York and Patrick Vienneau, stationed at Fort McKinley, in Portland, have returned to their posts after spending their Christmas leave with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Vienneau, Somerset street,” this paper wrote at the time. It was not the only such update.

The Jan. 21, 1943 section “Here and There” included mention of Vienneau receiving his pilot wings. More than 75 years later, Joseph and Gertrude’s boy — the town’s boy — is back in Millinocket. And he’s been reunited not just with his town and his family, but with those wings he earned in 1943.

Totten, Vienneau’s niece, said she promised her mother before her death that, if he was ever found, she would reunite him with those wings that had become a family treasure.

“It’s going to be hard to give them up, but I will. That’s what my mother wanted. You know, we never thought we would be able to bring Uncle Ernest home, but 77 years later, here we are,” she told Maine Public. “Never give up hope on anything.”

We also hope this meaningful closure is possible for the thousands of other families of American servicemembers who remain missing from conflicts throughout our country’s history. According to the DPAA, and highlighted by Vienneau’s family in his obituary, that number is over 80,000. Most of the missing are from World War II.

And according to the agency’s website, which includes a breakdown of those numbers by state, Maine has over 450 people still unaccounted for. Hopefully more will join Vienneau as accounted for.

“Many thanks to the DPAA and their teams for their unrelenting work in finding Ernest and other lost service men and women,” said Vienneau’s obituary. “Our family is grateful that we have been fortunate to receive the remains of Ernest and be given the opportunity to honor his service.”

“His parents and siblings always held out hope that he would be found. Finally, we have brought him home,” the obituary continued. “We celebrate Ernest and his life well lived and brave service and sacrifice for God and his country.”

Amen to that. Welcome home.

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Boston Globe. October 15, 2021.

Editorial: The House takes the long view on redistricting

State legislators in the House and Senate used different approaches to create new majority-minority districts. The House’s approach maximizes the opportunities to elect a more representative Beacon Hill.

During the last redistricting process in Massachusetts, the state Legislature reconfigured the Seventh Congressional District to create the “strongest majority-minority congressional district in the state’s history,” as lawmakers called it at the time.

To the Seventh Congressional District, they added primarily Black areas (Randolph and a third of Milton) while removing mostly white areas, such as Boston’s North End. Among other redistricting moves, lawmakers also redrew the Hampden state Senate district in Western Massachusetts to create what became the third majority-minority district in the Senate.

In both of those districts, it took years after redistricting for a candidate of color to actually get elected to the seat: Ayanna Pressley did it in 2018 when she won the Seventh District, becoming the first Black congresswoman from Massachusetts; and Adam Gomez became the first Afro-Latino state Senator when he was elected to represent the Hampden district on Beacon Hill just last year.

This long-term dynamic illustrates one of the many challenges faced by legislators who embarked on this year’s redistricting process based on the population growth reflected in the 2020 Census that showed an increasingly diverse Massachusetts. Making sure Beacon Hill represents the demographics of the state is an important priority, but how exactly to do that involves some thorny judgment calls. In redrawing district boundaries, lawmakers first had to determine whether to go for a smaller number of safe districts, where a person of color will be heavily favored — or a larger number of districts that may not yield immediate results but are likely, over the course of the next decade, to become pick-up opportunities. And of course, they had to do so while minding legal obligations such as those outlined in the Voting Rights Act and in redistricting law.

The House chose the more long-term approach. Lawmakers there proposed a map of new House districts that would create 13 new majority-minority districts, bringing the total to 33 (up from the existing 20). That number even goes above and beyond what voting rights advocates had proposed.

“There is not an area on this map where you could draw 50% of any population, whether it be a combination of Black, Hispanic, and Asian or just Black and Hispanic, and we didn’t draw it,” said assistant House majority leader Michael Moran, who co-chaired the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, about his draft proposal for new House districts.

On the Senate’s side, the draft for new district lines includes two new districts where white residents are the minority, which would bring the total of majority-minority seats in that chamber up to five. That disappointed advocates who had identified four new majority-minority districts that could be drawn in the state.

The reason for the discrepancy is that the House used total population numbers when calculating ethnic and racial diversity in a district. In contrast, Senator William Brownsberger, the redistricting co-chair in the Senate, relied on estimating the population of citizens of voting age to get to a majority when drawing new such districts, a move that he staunchly defended but one that earned him criticism from voting rights activists for missing opportunities.

Brownsberger argues that basing districts on overall population, instead of the numbers of voting-age citizens, does not ensure that minority communities will actually have the clout to elect the candidate of their choice.

“(If) you draw a district that is perhaps 55% Hispanic or 60% Hispanic,” Brownsberger said, “but the citizenship rates are too low so the people are not actually voting, then you’re sort of holding out a bit of a false hope for people, right? It’s not actually a district where they can elect the candidate of their choice.”

It does make sense on its face, and in the immediate term, Brownsberger is probably right. But these districts will be good for the next 10 years; many residents of those districts will turn 18 or acquire citizenship during that time frame.

Brownsberger’s overly cautious method prevented the creation of two additional majority-minority districts, including a primarily Black seat around Brockton.

Instead, the Senate proposal leaves the district that currently represents Brockton virtually unchanged — it includes parts of East Bridgewater, Halifax, and Plympton. Beth Huang, executive director of the Massachusetts Voter Table and a convener of the Drawing Democracy Coalition, said the coalition had proposed grouping Brockton with Randolph, Stoughton, and Avon. Based on total population combined, that district would have been 34 percent white, 45 percent Black, and 11 percent Hispanic. But considering only eligible voters, whites become a slim majority, Huang said.

If the Senate had gone with total population in that area and created that new district around Brockton, maybe that district doesn’t get a Black state senator “in 2023, but certainly there is a long-term opportunity for a well established, well known Black leader from Brockton or Randolph to get elected,” Huang said.

Brownsberger said he wanted to strongly empower communities today, “not just tomorrow,” which is a noble ideal. But that short-term thinking is not incompatible with the long-term vision. It also ignores the fact that in a lot of gateway cities it just takes longer for people of color to establish their political power. Thus, the approach that the House redistricting map is based on is perhaps a safer, stronger bet.

“We don’t want to foreclose long-term opportunities for the sake of ‘continuity,’ ” said Huang. She is right. By going for the low-hanging fruit, the Senate missed key opportunities to give more communities of color a chance to diversify the State House.

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Rutland Herald. October 14, 2021.

Editorial: Perspective

There are some weeks where even we are feeling concerned about the news cycle. When it comes to crime, the last week has seemed unique. And while we can’t touch on all of the incidents, suffice it to say that veteran journalists who keep tabs on crime stories are befuddled by the range of the rage.

By our count, over the last week alone (since Oct. 4), Vermont State Police have made a dozen arrests for domestic violence or aggravated assaults (including several involving deadly weapons). One of the cases was a stabbing, allegedly between family members.

On Sunday evening, Colchester Police received a report of an armed robbery by crossbow at the intersection of Route 15 and Barnes Avenue. Within minutes, several other crimes were committed, and a chase occurred involving Ben. J. Webb, of Middlebury, that resulted in damage to two Colchester Police cruisers, ramming of an Essex Police cruiser and injuries to two Essex officers. The vehicle Webb was operating was reportedly taken without permission. Webb, too, faces multiple aggravated assault charges, as well as two charges of robbery.

And then there was an incident that started in Duxbury.

Troopers say John Grayson Eckroth, 29, of Granville, was driving erratically, illegally passing and tailgating cars, blocking traffic, and nearly caused several accidents on Route 100 on Friday afternoon.

Police say Eckroth followed Larry Runk for 30 miles from Duxbury to Runk’s home in Hancock and drove by the house several times, honking his horn.

Police say Runk retrieved a shotgun and fired bird shot, hitting Eckroth’s vehicle and shattering the back passenger door window. No one was injured. But both men were cited.

Runk was issued a citation for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment.

Eckroth was charged with negligent operation, disorderly conduct and giving false information to police.

You don’t have to read it here to realize road rage incidents are feeling commonplace. It is disconcerting to see so many incidents of aggression from behind the wheel of a vehicle.

According to the state’s website, “A reduction in incidents of road rage and aggressive driving is an important mission of the Vermont DMV. The preventable individual driving behaviors and decisions made by aggressive drivers can lead to loss of life and life-threatening injuries to our friends, family, and children. Our goal is to change these behaviors and outcomes through enforcement, education, and assistance.”

Law enforcement has been working hard to follow up on road rage incidents, and educating the public about the shift we are all seeing. “Society is moving at a faster pace now more than ever. It is possible the increased value of time is causing us to be much more aggressive on the road, especially during commuting hours,” the state website states. “Some drivers only see the traffic ahead of them as an obstacle to overcome at any cost. When we couple this with society’s becoming accustomed to instantaneous communications, the problem becomes more pronounced. Whatever the reasons may be, this attitude can place those who share the roadway in jeopardy.”

But here is an irony.

What dominated the news cycle on Monday morning was an act of vandalism that appears to be linked to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday.

On Sunday, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Bennington Police were dispatched to the Bennington Museum on Main Street for a report of a vandalism that had occurred overnight. A large banner had been placed between two light poles at the museum’s entrance stating “Land Back.” In addition, a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the museum courtyard had been sprayed with red paint on the statue’s face and hands and at the center of the statue’s chest was the number 38.

According to Bennington Police, the vandalism is allegedly in reference to the Dakota 38, when 38 Dakota men were hanged under the order of President Abraham Lincoln. The hangings and convictions of the Dakota 38 resulted from the aftermath of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 in southwest Minnesota. This incident remains under investigation.

The vandalism is troubling, of course. And the messaging seems driven by principle, and certainly deserved news coverage.

Sometimes, we, too, are eager to splash the condemnation of such moments across the top of a news page.

But on this day, we remind you that over the last week, which included Indigenous Peoples’ Day, there were significant incidents of domestic violence, rage between stranger, and situations where any one of us could have been harmed or killed.

News requires perspective. The lessons are everywhere.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. October 14, 2021.

Editorial: CT needs to kick a bad tobacco habit

Does Connecticut want people to smoke?

If “Jeopardy!” posed a question about which states are tied in last place for spending on tobacco control, it’s reasonable that many contestants could cite Tennessee as one of the right answers.

It’s equally reasonable that a second guess would be a different Southern state, say North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia or Georgia.

So the correct response of “Connecticut” makes it seem like a trick question.

Yet the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids locks Tennessee and Connecticut together in the basement of the standings for per capita spending to combat tobacco use.

The Connecticut Mirror reports this week that agencies that take a clear stand against smoking are pressuring the state to invest more resources in fighting tobacco addiction.

The article notes that Gov. Ned Lamont acknowledged during his first year in office that his state needs to reverse the history of collecting billions of dollars from Big Tobacco and Small Tobacco (that would be the individual smoker) without spending it on initiatives to stifle addiction.

Two years later, Lamont’s words seem to have gone up in smoke.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a formula that recommends Connecticut spend $32 million annually on efforts such as steering kids away from tobacco. The state’s General Fund is short of reaching that figure by... $32 million.

The governor’s office offers some hazy answers on cessation programs that show up elsewhere in the budget. To be fair, Lamont has been pretty occupied in the past 19 months with a more immediate public health crisis.

One way Connecticut has tried to discourage smokers is by having the second-highest cigarette tax among states ($4.35 per pack). That generated some $350 million, which would seem to be enough to spare for that $32 million goal.

In an era when even James Bond seems to have kicked the habit, consider the bigger picture. Connecticut is new this year to the marijuana revenue stream. And we’ve frequently reported on concerns from educators about the rise in vaping among students in Connecticut classrooms.

From an even broader perspective, the Food and Drug Administration just this week made the surprising announcement that it is approving the sale of an e-cigarette for the first time.

The FDA’s reasoning is that the product’s benefits for adults trying to quit smoking outweighs the risk of hooking teenagers. In this case, the Vuse e-cigarettes are limited to a tobacco flavored rather than tastes from a Trick-or-Treat basket.

While we take issue with the FDA’s logic, it at least acknowledges the goal of discouraging the smoking of tobacco.

Connecticut needs to embrace the wisdom of reducing tobacco use as in investment by saving billions in health costs. Bryte Johnson, Connecticut director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, says tobacco-related illnesses come at a $2 billion annual cost to the state’s public and private sectors.

Does Connecticut want people to smoke? We don’t really think so, but we shouldn’t have to squint to see a clear picture through the smoke.

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Portland Press Herald. October 15, 2021.

Editorial: With housing shortage, new Mainers run into old problem

There’s no place to put the migrants, a situation all too common for low-income residents.

Hundreds of new Mainers are running into what’s becoming a very old problem — the state’s lack of affordable housing.

That’s a challenge not only for the asylum seekers who have arrived here over the last few months, and those that are expected to arrive in the next few, but also for anyone who wants our state to progress and thrive.

The migrants, mostly from central Africa, came to Maine after passing through South and Central America and over the Mexican border, where they are able to request a destination while they await the adjudication of their immigration status. Based on word of mouth, many have chosen Portland.

But with housing so hard to find, particularly in Maine’s largest city, there’s no place to put them. City staff told councilors this week that 478 individuals were being housed temporarily by the city.

Unfortunately, they are finding out what it’s like to try to live here for far too many people. Even with the city of Portland paying, the migrants can’t find anything more than shelter space or a hotel room.

That’s similar to the situation faced by thousands of workers at the lower end of the earning scale. Unable to afford rents that are rising far faster than wages — the result of a failure to build more affordable housing — these residents are being pushed out of Portland and its immediate suburbs, as well as other city centers around the state. They have to live farther from where most of the jobs are, cutting down on the positions they can seek without significantly raising the cost of their commute.

That dynamic has been going for years. But it happens one person at a time, so it’s not quite as noticeable as when a few hundred asylum seekers arrive in just a few months.

Either way, we shouldn’t ignore it. As we’ve said before, asylum seekers, as human beings escaping circumstances unimaginable to most of us, deserve dignity and support. Maine has been generous with them before, and that generosity has been paid back — asylum seekers and refugees have added so much to the Maine communities they now call home.

And they are eager to work. While they need help getting settled — people seeking asylum cannot work or receive federal housing aid while they wait for official immigration status, a process that can take two years — asylum seekers eventually become a valuable addition to the workforce.

As Portland struggles to house the migrants, they should get whatever help they need. Taking care of asylum seekers now is in the best interests of all of Maine.

In addition, statewide policymakers should recognize that the housing shortage affecting the new Mainers is also a barrier for anyone looking to answer one of the many “Help Wanted” signs up around the state. Even if the workers have managed to obtain a rare federal housing voucher, something unavailable to the asylum seekers, there is a years-long wait for an apartment.

People can’t work if they can’t find safe, affordable housing near a job that is the right fit for their skills, experience and home life. Local and state officials should think about that when they bemoan the unfilled positions slowing business across the state.

Investing in housing is the same as investing in workers, just as our government invests, usually in much higher sums, in business development through tax breaks and other programs.

Gov. Janet Mills has pledged to use $50 million in federal COVID relief funding to help close the 20,000-unit affordable housing gap in Maine. A legislative task force is now debating how best to do that, including how to get reluctant municipalities to open up their zoning to more kinds of housing.

The goal should be a market robust enough to handle migrants and other immigrants as well as workers new to the area.

In all the important ways, they’re the same thing.

END