Maine bids to rename Columbus Day, Clean Election system falter

Good morning from Augusta. What’s in a name? A lot, as history has shown.

What we call things has a lot to do with the development of public perception. It’s no accident that President Barack Obama’s administration called his health care bill the Affordable Care Act and that the campaign to label it a failure calls it Obamacare.

There’s also a reason why in other parts of the world, people we call “terrorists” are known as “militants” by some and “freedom fighters” by others. And there’s a reason why journalists in Maine should be careful about using “welfare reform” in the place of “changes to social services.”

The name game and propaganda around it were in focus again on Thursday in the Legislature with two House debates that resulted in no changes.

In one debate, Maine’s native people lost to Christopher Columbus. Again. A bill debated Thursday in the House of Representatives sought to rename Columbus Day, a federal holiday that falls on the second Monday in October, to Indigenous People’s Day.

The bill failed on a mostly partisan 75-67 vote with Democrats in the majority after a brief debate highlighted by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, objecting to another House member’s implication that Columbus’s discovery of the New World and the events thereafter have been whitewashed in the history books.

This wasn’t the first time this idea has been floated at the State House or elsewhere in Maine. In 2015, the city of Belfast did away with Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People’s Day, making it the first municipality in Maine to rename the holiday. There was high interest in the bill during the committee process, with 58 people testifying for and against.

“This would be an annual opportunity to share the history and traditions of Maine’s native people with the citizens of this state,” said Rep. Henry John Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, at the time. “A deep understanding of Maine’s past is critical to its promising future.”

Columbus Day wasn’t the only thing up to be renamed Thursday. A bill sponsored by Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren, sought to change the Maine Clean Election Act and the Maine Clean Election Fund to the Maine Campaign Public Financing Act and the Maine Campaign Public Finance Fund, respectively.

It was a move to change public perception of the program but the bill failed Thursday in the House with a 79-65 vote. The bill goes to the Senate where it might fare better but that won’t matter. It’s dead at this point and clean elections will continue in Maine regardless of how clean they are or aren’t.

Some might argue that the way things are named are inconsequential, but they are. If you need further proof from the nation’s highest elected official, consider how the president has insisted that bills to repeal and replace Obamacare not be called Trumpcare. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin still ‘thoroughly reviewing’ Republican health care proposals. The Republican from the 2nd District is Maine’s member to watch on the issue. He didn’t commit to voting one way or the other on Republicans’ last proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act before it was pulled for lack of support in March. A new proposal would allow states to opt out of the current law’s regulatory framework and it has gained some conservative support, but no vote has been scheduled as moderate Republicans waver on it. Poliquin spokesman Brendan Conley said in a Thursday email that his boss is “still thoroughly reviewing all proposals” and wants to ensure “there is coverage for those who have pre-existing conditions.” However, he noted that the proposal would “incorporate the success” of Maine’s high-risk pool system established in a 2011 health care law championed by Republicans. Poliquin doesn’t appear on a Republican whip count published by the Huffington Post, indicating that his party is counting on his vote if the new proposal goes to one. — Michael Shepherd
  • Democratic Party bigwig coming to Maine. Democratic National Committee Deputy Chairman Keith Ellison will be the featured guest at the Maine Democratic Party’s Spring Dinner on May 26. Ellison, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota, was elected to the deputy position earlier this year after an unsuccessful run for the top position. DNC Chairman Tom Perez visited Maine earlier this month. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Bangor Elks’ Lodge, but RSVPs with the party are required. — Christopher Cousins
  • The UMaine system’s credit rating has improved. Ratings agency S&P Global Ratings has upgraded its outlook for the University of Maine system from negative to stable and affirmed the system’s AA- long-term rating, according to a news release from the system. The news comes two years after the rating was downgraded in response to demographic, fiscal and competitive challenges for the university system. The upgrade is due to a number of factors including the system’s first enrollment growth in 13 years and financial performance that ended two years of recurring deficits. The improved rating means the system can enjoy lower interest rates on loans, among other things. — Christopher Cousins
  • Maine’s U.S. senators will be on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King will sit for a joint interview, a producer tweeted on Thursday. Vice President Mike Pence is also making an appearance. — Michael Shepherd
  • Now is the time for public comments about LePage’s nominee for public advocate. Gov. Paul LePage nominated former state lawmaker Barry Hobbins, a Democrat, as the state’s next utility ratepayer advocate earlier this month. Hobbins would replace Tim Schneider, a LePage appointee whom LePage turned against during a conflict involving state solar policies. The public hearing for Hobbins’ nomination has been scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9 in Room 211 of the Cross Building in Augusta. Written comments about Hobbins are due to the Legislative Information Office by 9 a.m. on May 9. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The Legislature is out and the committee schedule is light with most lawmakers heading home for the weekend, but two highlights stick out.

The Transportation Committee will also work on bills to provide $14 million to expand Maine’s public transit system and ask the state to work with Bangor, Lewiston, Augusta, Waterville, Auburn and Rockland to study the extension of passenger rail service.

Today’s full schedule can be viewed here. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

A banana for the ages

My kid is learning about ancient Greek mummification and for the past week we’ve had a series of sandwich bags on top of our bread box with disks of rotting banana in them.

Mummification? Rotten bananas? I know, I know. Bear with me.

Each bag has a banana bathed in a different substance. Corn meal, flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, combinations of those. Today marked a milestone in the project when he decided a mixture of flour and cornmeal worked best. I can’t lie: Throwing his mummification project into a deep fryer has crossed my mind but there’s his social studies grade to think about.

This is one lucky banana. The sarcophagus, which is made from a Nike box, will include a number of “riches” to support the banana in its afterlife, such as cloth and rope, a bowlful of “jewels” and canisters of food (no bananas). For the next eight weeks, a full banana will be hidden in the sarcophagus and the sarcophagus will be hidden from the world.

I’m more than a little curious what we’ll find come June when the flour and cornmeal-coated bananas are exhumed. My guess is that it will smell better than the Nikes we just bought him will by then. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.