Editorial Roundup: New England

Hartford Courant. August 11, 2022.

Editorial: Black bears are here to stay. We need to learn to live with them.

West Hartford resident Bill Priest said it best: “I was in total shock.”

And let’s all be honest with each other, how else would you feel if you walked into your kitchen and there was a big black bear munching on marshmallows? (turns out bears love them too).

And Priest, who has now become relatively well known around the state for what he did — actually keeping his cool and chasing the pesky ursine out of the kitchen — had to scream at the animal to get the ‘get out’ message across.

It came back the very next day.

This time the animal ripped a screen trying to get in and we agree with Priest that this was alarming.

Given that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection estimates there are more than 1,200 bears living in our state, the idea of a bear coming into your house should be alarming to more people than just Priest

Do the math. There are 169 towns in Connecticut and that many bears means about seven bears per town.

Of course it does not quite work that way: While bears are territorial, they don’t honor municipal lines. Even though DEEP’s Wildlife Sighting Public Viewer is not particularly user-friendly, it does show bears are more partial to some parts of the state than others.

In reported sightings to date in 2022, for instance, it shows that Torrington has had 369. At the other end of the state, woodsy Old Lyme had fewer than 30. The bear epicenter appears to be in the Farmington Valley and toward the Northwest Corner. But you don’t need to tell Priest that and you likely don’t need to tell most Connecticut residents that we live in a state where the bear comeback is what DEEP calls “a success story.”

We don’t dispute that a nature comeback is a win for the state. The same goes for the presence of bobcats and other animals that were uncommon or nonexistent until a few years ago. Many of us are no longer surprised when we hear coyotes howling at night.

We also don’t dispute that we as people can contribute to what DEEP calls the habituation of bears — and that means we attract them by leaving out birdseed, garbage, and other potential edibles.

“Bears learn from us,” said Jason Hawley, state wildlife biologist on the bear program with DEEP told The Courant. “The more bears are interacting with people, the more comfortable they become.”

It turns out bears are not only really smart and agile (they open doors), they also have good noses. Maybe even good enough to smell those enticing marshmallows Priest left in his kitchen?

We know bears come for the food and not our company and the problem seems to be growing as more Connecticut residents report issues with the large, clawed animals. Earlier this summer, a bear that broke into multiple homes in Canton was euthanized by DEEP.

That bear had cubs and that’s unfortunate but she had clearly become habituated and that means more dangerous to people.

And therein is the problem: bears are potentially dangerous to people and livestock, while not understanding people simply do not want to share our homes, garages, barns or lunch with them.

It would not be possible to keep all the food in our kitchens sealed in a way that no passing bear could get a whiff of cookies baking, or marshmallows sitting on a countertop.

But it is possible for all of us to stop feeding birds from April to November, to lock up garbage, and to keep campsites tidy. Possible for us to be part of the solution.

A bear’s life may depend on it and we hope that no homeowner has to face a bear in their kitchen again.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. August 10, 2022.

Editorial: Levy win shows it’s still Trump’s party

There’s been growing talk in recent months of the Republican Party moving on from Donald Trump. Some prominent right-wing outlets have professed their disappointment at the findings of the Jan. 6 committee in Congress, and the elite of the party has seemed to tire of the ongoing drama of the Trump saga, with its endless grudges and recriminations and investigations.

But if the leaders of the party have moved on, the voters themselves remain in his thrall.

We should be clear that what happened in Connecticut’s Republican Senate primary on Tuesday was an enormous upset. Themis Klarides is an institution in state politics, and had the backing of basically her entire party apparatus. She would have been a more-than-credible gubernatorial candidate.

She lost, convincingly, to someone few outside of Greenwich had heard of until this race. Leora Levy is herself a lifelong Republican Party insider, but she has reinvented herself as a carrier of the Trump torch, and for that she was rewarded with the former president’s endorsement and the voters’ support.

Levy will now face incumbent Richard Blumenthal in November’s general election, and she will again be a decided underdog. But the fact that she’s here at all shows the power Trump continues to hold over the Republican electorate.

There are a number of factors at play. Klarides’ claims of electability were always somewhat overblown — just like it’s hard for a Democrat to win in the Deep South, a Republican will face huge headwinds in Connecticut no matter who the candidate ends up being. Supposed moderation only goes so far when every election is nationalized.

Then there is the changing face of the party. Trump not only lost Connecticut twice, but during his time in office the party shrank. Many moderate Republicans are now unaffiliated, and with Connecticut’s closed primary system, only registered party members can participate. That meant more voters were attuned to the likes of Levy and Peter Lumaj, another Trump supporter, who combined to win about 60 percent of the vote.

Another factor is turnout. There were less than 100,000 votes cast among the three candidates. When Blumenthal won reelection in 2016, he won more than 1 million votes. A primary win is a major accomplishment, but repeating that feat will not be easy.

Elsewhere around the state, results were a bit more predictable. Both endorsed Democrats who faced statewide primaries, Erick Russell for treasurer and state Rep. Stephanie Thomas for secretary of the state, won their primaries easily. Thomas will face Republican Dominic Rapini, who has made election security his top issue, even as voter fraud is vanishingly rare.

There were only a few contested state legislative seats, but several of note. Bridgeport state Sen. Dennis Bradley, who was indicted last year on federal campaign finance charges, lost his primary to Herron Gaston. State Rep. Trenee McGee, a rare Democrat who opposes abortion rights, came out on top against her challenger.

The focus now turns to November, especially the governor’s race. With Bob Stefanowski having donated to Levy’s campaign, it could be easier for Gov. Ned Lamont to tie his opponent to the new Senate candidate, and by extension Trump. Republicans could come to rue this outcome.

As always, the voters will get the final say.

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Boston Globe. August 7, 2022. .

Editorial: Massachusetts candidates shouldn’t be making promises in secret

Everyone running for state office should follow the example of Chris Dempsey, a Democratic candidate for auditor, by releasing their answers to questionnaires given by advocacy groups.

The time has come, the watchdog said, to talk of many things: of candidates and interest groups — and the sly pledges an election sometimes brings.

Here, we speak of those quiet commitments politicians often make on the questionnaires that advocacy groups give to candidates seeking their endorsements. It’s a process cloaked in shadows, since those groups usually refuse to release the completed questionnaires.

So kudos to Chris Dempsey, Democratic candidate for auditor, for posting on his campaign website the questionnaires he has completed, allowing voters to see not just what those electorally involved organizations are asking but also how he has responded.

There is good reason to want candidates for auditor, the most important monitor of state government, to be as transparent as possible, but every candidate for office in Massachusetts should follow Dempsey’s example. The campaign of state Senator Diana DiZoglio, Dempsey’s rival in the Democratic primary, has said she will post her completed questionnaires as well. As of Thursday, four were up, but she hadn’t posted those from the Massachusetts Teachers Association or the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, both of which have endorsed her.

It should go without saying that candidates shouldn’t make undisclosed commitments to constituency groups. Nor, for that matter, should constituency or advocacy groups ask for answers they themselves won’t make public.

Yet many do. Take, for example, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. In a brief phone conversation, president Steven Tolman said this of his union’s questionnaires: “We don’t release people’s responses. That is for our internal information.” Pushed on whether it was appropriate for the union to seek nonpublic commitments from candidates for public office, Tolman said he would get back to the Globe editorial board. A spokesman later emailed a statement in Tolman’s name that failed to address the appropriateness question.

“While we do not release candidate questionnaires, we are proud to stand by the candidates we endorse and the issues for which we advocate,” it proclaimed.

Over at the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Scott McLennan, a spokesman, said the state’s largest teachers union wouldn’t release the completed questionnaires and advised a reporter to instead request them from the various candidates. Asked why the union thought it appropriate to seek commitments it wouldn’t make public from public candidates for public office, McLennan ducked and dodged.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees didn’t respond at all to a Globe editorial board request for the documents.

In a phone interview, Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the business group has not yet written, let alone distributed, its endorsement questionnaire for non-incumbents, but added: “We don’t publicly disclose those.”

Still, thanks to Dempsey, we know the commitments at least some of these groups seek.

For unions, it’s often about limiting competition.

The AFL-CIO, for example, wants candidates to support so-called project labor agreements, which effectively keep non-union construction firms from competing for public construction contracts. Similarly, the union opposes any attempt by state government to contract with private firms for services currently provided by public employees. Thus this question: “Efforts to privatize in the name of larger corporate profits are a threat to the public services that working people rely on in our Commonwealth. If elected, what will you do to protect public services and defend against privatization?”

But AFSCME makes the AFL-CIO look like a piker when it comes to opposing privatization. That public-employee union asks no fewer than five questions on the matter, seeking not just a candidate’s commitment to the Pacheco Law, which makes privatization very difficult, but also to expanding that competition-discouraging statute. To wit: The union wants to extend the law to cover all municipalities, not just state government.

The MTA, unsurprisingly, is using its questionnaire to try to leverage anti-charter school promises.

Despite top-flight academic research showing the educational value that charter schools impart in Massachusetts, the MTA is dead set against the innovative public-school academies because they aren’t automatically unionized and answer to the state board of education rather than the local school district. Thus the MTA’s questionnaire seeks commitments from candidates on maintaining a current cap on charters and requiring local approval of all new charters, a tall order in most districts.

The MTA also wants candidates to join its never-ending battle to eliminate the MCAS test as a graduation requirement. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System is widely credited with helping boost Massachusetts into the role of national leader on educational quality. But the state also uses scores from those standardized tests to evaluate schools and, if they are consistently subpar, to intervene to improve them.

The MTA also wants teachers to be given the legal right to strike and seeks support for changes in the pension-reform law passed a decade or so ago.

No matter where one stands on these public-policy matters, the candidates’ responses to those questions should be public.

“Publishing these responses on our website lets voters see for themselves what I am saying and what commitments I am making,” said Dempsey. “Every candidate should join me in taking this pledge for the sake of greater accountability and transparency. It’s the least that voters deserve.”

It’s hard to put things any better than that.

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Rutland Herald. August 10, 2022.

Editorial: Next steps

We knew going into Tuesday’s primary that history was going to be made. Suffice to say, Democrats are poised to make it take hold.

Primary elections were held this week in Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Tennessee’s primary contests were held last Thursday.

The Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, has been tracking results for women candidates in these races.

The center pointed to several critical factors for women.

First, State Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint handily won the Democratic nomination for Vermont’s at-large U.S. House seat. She will compete in a general election contest currently rated as “Solid Democratic” by Cook Political Report, and is strongly favored to become the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress from Vermont. Vermont is the only state that has never sent a woman to Congress. Balint will also be the first openly gay member of the Vermont congressional delegation, if elected in November.

In addition, Charity Clark won the Democratic nomination in the open-seat contest for attorney general against rival Rory Thibault, the Washington County State’s Attorney. If successful in November, she would be the first woman elected attorney general in Vermont. Current incumbent Attorney General Susanne Young, the first woman to hold the office, was appointed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott in July to fill a vacancy.

But that only tells a piece of the Vermont story.

Emerge Vermont, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, delivered big wins up and down the ballot in Tuesday’s primary election.

The organization had 48 alums on the ballot with 44 wins and a 92% win rate. At least 37.5% of alums on the ballot were members of the New American Majority — Black, Brown and Indigenous women and women of color, as well as LGBTQ-plus, young, and unmarried women — while 10 were first-time candidates.

Among them, Anna Tadio, seeking a state Senate seat in Rutland County; Anne Watson, the sitting mayor in Montpelier who is seeking a Senate seat to represent the new Washington District seat. (Watson was a top vote-getter over some long-time incumbents.) Also on the list were Balint, Brenda Siegel, who is running for governor; Clark, for attorney general; Kari Dolan who is seeking the Washington-2 House seat; Sarah Copeland Hanzas, who won the nomination for secretary of state; Sarah George, the nominee (and incumbent) for state’s attorney in Chittenden County; Stephanie Jerome, who is seeing the Rutland-9 House seat; and many more.

Another group of women recently completed an intensive campaign training, with 11 (85%) also winning their primary races. Among them were Ela Chapin, who is the nominee for the Washington-5 seat; Kate McCann, who won the nomination with Conor Casey for the Washington-4 seats; and Rebecca Holcombe, the former education secretary and one-time gubernatorial candidate who is now the nominee to the Windsor-Orange-2 seat.

“More women are winning when running for office than ever before, thanks in part to Emerge Vermont, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run,” stated former governor Madeleine Kunin in a statement issued Wednesday. Kunin founded Emerge Vermont in 2013. “I’m thrilled that Emerge Vermont is making a difference in women’s high success rate.”

According to the release, alums of Emerge Vermont were on the ballot for offices at every level, from the Legislature to governor to the congressional delegation.

Prior to Tuesday’s primary, 54% of alums have gone on to run for political office or been appointed to local boards or commissions, and of those who have gone on to run for an elected position, 39% have won, including Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski, Senate Pro Tem Balint, and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, who was challenging Balint for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to the statement, nationally, Emerge has trained more than 5,000 alums since 2002 and currently has more than 1,000 alums in elected office across the country.

“The organization is committed to reaching 100,000 women of the New American Majority over the next 15 years, fostering a lift as you climb culture for women in politics, and repowering political structures. There are currently 27 state affiliates, and the organization has impacted a total of 45 states, Washington, D.C., and territories,” the release stated.

We congratulate all of Tuesday’s victors. We look forward to the next phase of your campaign and the leadership you will bring to Vermont.

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