Showing posts with label AmericanJournal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AmericanJournal. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Allen blasts Bush budget plan

Published in the Current and the American Journal

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, sharply criticized the budget proposed by President George W. Bush last week, saying Bush’s spending plan “looks like a budget to reduce economic growth.”

Allen plans to run for reelection to the House in 2006 and is mulling challenging Republican incumbent Olympia Snowe for her Senate seat.

In an interview with an editor at Current Publishing, Allen said the president’s budget, as well as the spending resolutions adopted by the House and Senate – are “all disastrous for Maine” and the rest of the country, and could result in inflation.

Allen, a member of the House Budget Committee, blamed the problems on Bush’s desires to spend huge amounts of money on defense and homeland security, cut taxes on upper-class Americans, and reduce domestic spending.

“It’s so hard for the public to understand that their opportunities in life get affected by how the federal government spends their money,” Allen said.

One aspect that particularly hurts Maine is a proposal to “eliminate … the federal funding that supports agricultural research at land grant colleges,” to research forestry, blueberries and potatoes, among other topics. “No orchardist, no blueberry grower, no landowner can do that (research) on his own,” Allen said.

Spending vs. taxes
While Bush’s budget increases spending overall, it reduces spending on the Small Business Administration, environmental protection, adult education, job training, agricultural research and public housing, Allen said.

“Why? Why is because the president can’t reduce the upper-income tax cuts,” Allen said, characterizing those tax cuts as inefficient. “They gave us too little economic stimulation” and too many long-term problems, including “horrendous budget deficits” topping $400 billion.

“We have to have a stronger sense of fiscal responsibility,” Allen said.

He wants federal revenue to more closely match federal spending. Federal spending is now at about 20 percent of gross domestic product, roughly where it has always been, Allen said. But revenue is at 16.3 or 16.4 percent of GDP, the lowest since 1959 – before Medicare and Medicaid began, he said.

He is also angry about being misled about the cost of the war in Iraq.

“We’re spending over $1 billion a week in Iraq,” Allen said. “Speaking in terms of Bath Iron Works, that’s a destroyer every 10 days.”

But that’s not what former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress before the war.

Allen remembers being told that Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. “The administration went in thinking it would cost very little money,” he said.

He proposed paying for increased domestic spending by getting rid of tax cuts for upper- and middle-income Americans.

“We ought to be investing in those things in particular that either enhance fairness in American society or contribute to economic growth,” he said.

Allen also voices support for federal funding of the Eastern Trail, an effort to create an off-road route from Kittery to South Portland and beyond. He has supported it in the past with earmarks of transportation money, and expects to continue to.

“To understand the value of trails, all you have to do is look at urban and rural trails where they exist,” he said. “They are heavily, heavily used.”

Allen expressed concern that the budget might not get a proper hearing in the chambers of Congress, as members debate the president’s biggest item, the privatization of Social Security.

“The debate over Social Security over private accounts sucks out a lot of the air” Congress would use to discuss other matters, Allen said.

Education and energy
Two topics that need additional scrutiny are the federal education and energy policies, he said.

“No Child Left Behind has become another unfunded mandate,” that has never been given the money it needs to succeed, Allen said.

“There’s not enough money to pay for all the testing and the training that’s required,” he said. “Most educators in Maine would say that we’re spending so much time teaching to the test that we’ve lost the spontaneity” that is crucial to education.

He also wants to revamp the government’s approach to energy, particularly the use of fossil fuels.

“We’ve wasted over four years when we could have been doing an energy policy that could have reduced demand,” he said, blaming the Bush administration for stalling on energy-conservation measures while demanding support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve in Alaska.

“They wanted to drill but not to save,” Allen said. But in a country that uses 25 percent of the world’s oil and has 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, “ANWR doesn’t matter,” he said.

“We need to be investing in alternatives,” including cellulosic ethanol, which can be added to gasoline to conserve petroleum-based fuel

Health care
Allen wants to “make our health care system more efficient,” to reduce the cost burden businesses bear, and help cover an estimated 45 million Americans who do not have health insurance.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., floated one idea Allen likes during the 2004 presidential campaign. That idea would have the federal government pick up the cost of all health care cases that cost over $50,000, effectively creating a nationwide high-risk insurance pool.

But Allen doesn’t think that will be approved without some means of containing the costs of health care, which could be a long way off.

He deferred questions on what specific drugs or procedures should or should not be included in government-funded programs, but said medical decisions will become increasingly political because of the expense.

“They’ll have to be because the cost of health care is so high,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to escape this.”

The latest Medicare reform bill requires insurance companies to cover one drug in each class, Allen said, but does not specify which drug, leaving private insurers to decide on their own.

“These are the kinds of things that probably require some kind of public process,” to allow the people at large to prioritize health care spending, Allen said.

He also blasted federal involvement in the Terri Schiavo case, saying it was “a clear case” of a decision that should have stayed within the family. If the family disagreed, he said the courts should handle it.

“Congress had no business, in my view, injecting itself into a family matter,” he said, calling the law bringing the Schiavo case into federal court a political maneuver that ignored “the common sense attitude of a majority” of Americans.

“The silver lining to the Terri Schiavo case is more Americans will do living wills,” Allen said.

Soldier’s widow murdered: Lavinia Gelineau’s body was found in her basement on Central Street Friday afternoon.

Published in the American Journal; co-written with Mike Higgins

The widow of a Maine soldier killed in Iraq last year was brutally murdered by her father last week in Westbrook.

The father, Nicolae Onitiu, 51, strangled Lavinia Gelineau, 25, with a clothesline in the basement of her home on Central Street. Shortly after killing his daughter, police said Onitiu, who was visiting from Romania, took his own life by hanging himself from a floor joist in the basement.

State Police Spokesman Steve McCausland said that before killing himself, Onitiu took the time to smoke a cigarette. Police found the lighter still clutched in his hand.

McCausland said police believe the murder took place sometime late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

Westbrook Police Chief Paul McCarthy said it was the first homicide in the city since Oct. 27, 2000, when 21-year-old Brandon Feyler of Portland was stabbed by Anthony Osborne during an altercation outside Osborne’s home on Seavey Street. McCarthy said Osborne was convicted in connection with Feyler’s death.

Police discovered the bodies of Gelineau and her father on Friday afternoon. Gelineau’s co-workers had called and asked them to check on her because she had failed to show up for work.

Gelineau had worked since August at STRIVE, a non-profit in South Portland supporting young adults with intellectual and emotional disabilities. "It was going to be her last day, and she didn’t come in for work,” said STRIVE Program Manager Peter Brown. “We got concerned about her.”

The staff had planned a party for her, because it was her last day of work, before she headed back to school to become a French teacher. They called and left messages for Gelineau, but never heard back. Not showing up was “very unlike her,” and “a couple of employees had a sense that something was wrong,” Brown said.

The STRIVE staff called police twice, the first time to ask them to check on Gelineau. They asked police to call back to say what they had found. The police said they couldn’t call, but could have Gelineau call to say everything was alright.

Later, having heard nothing, they called Westbrook police again. That time, they were asked to describe the make and model of her car and other information, Brown said.

“We were just putting the pieces together ourselves,” Brown said. And, it wasn’t a good picture.

“We knew it had been, first of all, a really horrible year. And we knew that her father had just come into town, and they had a difficult relationship,” Brown said.

Brown said police called the company around noon on Friday to inform them of Gelineau’s death. He said staff members were given crisis hotline numbers to call if they needed someone to talk with and councilors visited the office on Monday to help staff members deal with the loss.

To say Gelineau was having a difficult year is an understatement.

Last April 20, her husband Christopher Gelineau was killed in combat while serving in Iraq.

By all accounts, Gelineau was devastated by her husband’s death and was still mourning his loss.

Gelineau’s mother, Iuliana Onitiu, had come to live with her daughter shortly after the death of Gelineau’s husband. They had previously shared an apartment in Portland before moving to a house in Westbrook just a couple of weeks ago. Gelineau also has a brother who is still living in Romania.

Shortly before her estranged husband arrived from Romania, Iuliana Onitiu had left Westbrook to visit Christopher’s parents.

McCausland said Nicolae and Iuliana Onitiu had a history of domestic violence.

“She wanted no contact with him,” McCausland said.

While it appeared Gelineau was aware of the previous violence between her parents, McCausland said it did not appear that there had been any previous incidents of violence between her and her father. In fact, about six moths ago, Nicolae Onitiu attempted suicide in Romania, and Gelineau flew to that country to visit him.

Gelineau, however, was wary enough about his visit to speak to co-workers about it, especially about how it would affect her mother.

“She was concerned about her father and her mother being in the same place,” Brown said. But Gelineau was not concerned about herself.

“She thought her father’s concerns were with her mother,” Brown said. “She was confident she could handle her father.”

In the wake of her death, those that knew Gelineau remember her fondly, speaking of her love for her husband and the compassion that she showed to other soldier’s families who were suffering as she was. They remember a woman who worked hard to get her life back on track.

“She was just a great lady, and she was doing her best to help everyone out,” said Maj. Peter Rogers of the Maine National Guard.

Rogers said that after Christopher Gelineau’s death, Lavinia remained active in the Guard’s Family Assistance Program, and attended the funerals of other Maine soldiers who were killed in Iraq. “She was very strong for a lot of family members,” he said.

Maine National Guard State Family Program Director Sgt. 1st Class Barbara Claudel said Gelineau had a great effect on the lives of soldiers and their families even after losing her husband. She said Gelineau kept in constant contact with many soldiers through e-mail and also shipped care packages overseas to them. “A lot of families had a deep connection to her because of the type of person that she was,” she said.

Like Rogers, Claudel also remembers Gelineau being at the funeral for every Maine soldier killed in action. Claudel remembers Gelineau offering comfort to grieving families by a kind word, a hug or just her presence. Claudel said he was amazed that Gelineau had the capacity for such compassion even in the face of her own tragic loss.

“I don’t know how she had that kind of strength," she said. “I don’t think she ever stopped giving, even though she was grieving.”

Gelineau also took the time to continue pursuing her dreams. She and Christopher met at the University of Southern Maine. Last May, she received her diploma and a diploma posthumously awarded to her husband to a standing ovation from the audience in attendance at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“A real tragic end,” said Rogers. “Things were just starting to look bright for her.”

Brown said the staff at STRIVE will be feeling Gelineau’s loss for quite some time. “She was a really nice person who had really suffered a lot,” Brown said. “She was very well liked by our clients and our staff alike.”

Claudel said she would remember Gelineau’s compassion to others in the wake of her own tragedy.

“She was a very special person, and she affected every one of us,” she said. “People don’t do that anymore. They don’t reach out, and she just did. She was very special to a lot of people.”

Looking for a bright spot, Claudel said that at least now the pain that Gelineau was feeling for the loss of her beloved husband was finally over. “She grieved and she grieved a long time because she had an undying love for this man,” Claudel said. “She had a love that most of us don’t see, and now she’s with Chris.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Buxton woman maintains labyrinth

Published in the American Journal

A Buxton woman is creating a peaceful refuge off Joy Valley Road, including a couple of stone circles and a labyrinth, for meditative walking.

Fran├žoise Paradis built her labyrinth, 60 feet in diameter, out of local sand and stones three years ago, when she moved to town from Presque Isle.

“I moved here because I found this place,” she said. Her home, where she also runs a psychotherapy practice, is in a secluded spot surrounded by trees and grass.

“I have all this lawn, that just called for a labyrinth,” which she had been working with for years to help patients.

Labyrinths date back to ancient times, and are often traced to Crete, though most are not like the labyrinth that trapped the mythical Minotaur, which was a series of winding passages hard to find your way out of.

Before the Crusades, wealthy Europeans went on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. During the 12th century, the Crusades made roads too dangerous to travel. Some cathedrals were declared “pilgrimage cathedrals,” where people could visit and make symbolic journeys by walking a labyrinth. One of those was at Chartres in France.

Labyrinths, like the one at Chartres, on which Paradis’s is based, are not mazes, but rather single paths with multiple turns between the entrance and a destination spot in the center.

In modern times, they are used for spiritual or reflective purposes in many faiths, and not solely as surrogates for Catholics’ journeys to Jerusalem.

They can be used as part of walking meditation, or as a way to spend some prayerful or reflective time.

“The walk in is kind of a metaphor for your life,” Paradis said. The center is a place where realization and enlightenment can be found, while the walk out is a time to integrate the new realizations into your life.

Labyrinths exist all over the world, in various forms, including labyrinth-like designs made by native people in the Americas and Africa.

Paradis, who learned about labyrinths from a friend in northern Maine, had typically used seven-turn labyrinths, based on the Cretan design. “I had never done a Chartres labyrinth” before moving to Buxton, she said. Now, she uses a 13-turn path based on a design at the Chartres Cathedral.

She uses what she calls a “soul-directed approach,” in which she encourages her patients to understand what their souls want to do.

“When our life is aligned with our soul’s purpose, or our soul’s journey, we’re happy,” she said.

Paradis took a similar approach with the labyrinth. Having felt that the space was asking for one, she followed what she felt. “It’s like it guides you,” she said. “You’re not the one that is in control.” She determined the location of the entrance and the positions of stones in the center, and laid out a 60-foot circle by using a dowsing rod and a dowsing pendulum.

Dowsing, most commonly known as a way of seeking underground water, has also taken on a spiritual significance for some, who believe it can be used to determine energy lines in the Earth, or even in the human body.

“A whole bunch of synchronicities happened” during the construction. The man who dug a hole, to be filled with sand for the base of the labyrinth, recommended a landscape architect who lives nearby.

During the early work, Paradis went away to a dowsing conference and attended a workshop on stone circles. When she returned home, the architect was in the middle of laying out a stone circle, having chosen the plan on her own.

The excavator also owned a gravel pit, and delivered a load of stone, which Paradis used to mark the outside of the labyrinth. She went over to the pit and chose stones to line the paths. “I thought it would take me three or four years to collect rocks,” but it was done in a few weekends of work.

Mostly, the labyrinth is used by her patients, either as a way to relax and focus before a therapy session, or during a session, “when they’re stuck” on an issue or need to make an important decision. At those times, Paradis will have her patients walk the labyrinth with a particular intention, and seek inspiration and guidance during the walk.

But other people find Paradis’s Web site, www.HiddenSprings.info, which is
named after her property. And four or five times a year, they call up to make an appointment to walk it, or ask about retreats Paradis offers.

She has room for eight people to stay, and is working on renovating a barn to allow more lodging.

Most of her retreats are for her patients, though occasionally other groups will be a good fit for her work. She also opens the labyrinth to the public around the summer solstice. Without an appointment, the labyrinth is closed to the public, to protect her patients’ confidentiality.

Her therapy clients have different reactions to the labyrinth. Some walk it once and don’t ever do it again, while others have transforming experiences.

“It takes so long to go through that your mind just goes quiet,” Paradis said. “Once you’re in the path, if you’re going to continue in the path,” you have to focus. Many people are “amazed at how quieting it is.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Gorman asks Law Court to reconsider

Published in the Current and the American Journal

The lawyer for convicted murderer Jeffery Gorman says the Maine Supreme Court made a mistake when it upheld Gorman’s conviction, and will ask the court to reconsider. He may also ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

Last week, the Maine Supreme Court unanimously upheld Gorman’s conviction for the murder of Amy St. Laurent after a night out in the Old Port in October 2001. In 2003, Gorman was sentenced to 60 years in prison for the crime.

Gorman initially asked the Law Court to reverse his conviction, saying the prosecution’s key evidence should not have been heard by the jury. That evidence was a tape recording of testimony given by Gorman’s mother, Tammy Westbrook, to a Cumberland County grand jury.

Westbrook told the grand jury that Gorman called her Dec. 9, 2001, the day after St. Laurent’s body was found buried in a wooded area off Route 22 in Scarborough.

In that conversation, Westbrook said, Gorman confessed to the crime, and told his mother something nobody but the killer knew: St. Laurent had been shot once in the head.

During the trial, Westbrook testified she had no recollection of speaking to a grand jury, and no memory of any conversation with her son about St. Laurent. She also testified that she was receiving psychiatric treatment for delusions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The prosecution argued an audio tape recording of Westbrook’s grand jury testimony should be presented as evidence during the trial. Superior Court Judge Nancy Mills agreed.

The evidence figured strongly in the prosecution’s case against Gorman, and jurors in the criminal trial asked to see a transcript of the recording during their deliberations. That was not permitted, but they were allowed to hear the tape played again.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously convicted Gorman of the murder.

Gorman appealed the conviction, claiming that the tape should not have been played because Westbrook could not be cross-examined about the statements she made in the recording.

The right to cross-examine witnesses is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Westbrook could not be effectively cross-examined because she did not recall making the statements, or any discussions regarding the case, said Christopher MacLean, an attorney who represented Gorman during the appeal.

In a February interview, MacLean said there might have been enough evidence to convict Gorman of manslaughter, but not murder.

Asking for reconsideration Monday, MacLean reacted to the judgment of the Law Court, which upheld the admission of Westbrook’s recorded grand jury testimony, the murder conviction and the 60-year prison sentence.

“I’m disappointed,” he said. MacLean will ask the court to reconsider its decision, “focusing on the fact that the Maine Law Court really didn’t deal with the problem” of what is and is not admissible testimony.

The appeal process was halted earlier this year when a U.S. Supreme Court decision clarified some aspects of admitting recorded testimony into evidence. Lawyers for Gorman and the Attorney General’s Office updated their arguments before the Maine Supreme Court in light of that ruling.

But in its written decision last week, the Maine judges did not address the issue fully, MacLean said. The new decision demanded that “cross examination really take place,” he said. At Gorman’s trial, “clearly there was no cross-examination on the subject matter” of Westbrook’s testimony.

The Law Court could deny the request or ask for MacLean and the Attorney General’s Office to submit new arguments, either in writing or orally.

Taking the case to Washington
MacLean also said he would discuss with Gorman an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We haven’t made any firm and final decisions in that regard,” MacLean said. He had not yet talked to Gorman, though he had left a phone message at the Maine State Prison and had mailed Gorman a copy of the Maine Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I’m very interested in getting this before the U.S. Supreme Court,” MacLean said. He assumes Gorman will approve the move, which MacLean admitted is “a bit of a long shot.”

A case appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court is not automatically taken up by the country’s highest judges. Instead, lawyers must ask the court to review the case, a request the judges can either accept or deny.

“Who knows whether they would take a case like this,” MacLean said. “The vast majority of requests to the U.S. Supreme Court are denied.”

MacLean, who has never before asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take a case, and has never handled a case before the court, said he believes the court may take the case because it has “public policy” implications, particularly for
domestic violence cases, in which witnesses make statements to police and later claim they cannot remember what they said.

If statements recorded earlier but later disclaimed by witnesses are still admissible, “I shudder to think” of what could happen in large numbers of cases across the country, MacLean said.

A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court would clarify the rules regarding that type of testimony, even if the justices affirmed the decision of the Maine judges.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

New racino proposal under investigation

Published in the Current and the American Journal

A member of the legislative committee that came up with a new racino law last week claims his fellow board members shut the public out of negotiations on the plan.

Rep. Kevin Glynn, R-South Portland, has accused legislators of hashing out the proposal in a locked-door meeting.

The proposal would allow Scarborough Downs to seek a new home in two years, according to Glynn, who filed a complaint alleging the meeting was “inappropriate if not illegal,” because it violated the state’s public-access law.

House Speaker Pat Colwell, D-Gardiner, said he takes Glynn’s allegations “very seriously,” and has begun an investigation, which will include interviews with every member of the committee. “This was a bipartisan mistake,” Colwell said. “There’s nothing more important than public access to public meetings.”

The proposal combines the referendum approved by voters in November with a request from Gov. John Baldacci to increase regulation of racinos, and a new proposal from the harness-racing industry.

Committee documents indicate it would give more money to the state of Maine for “administrative and enforcement costs,” give a percentage of the take to a host community – in addition to any independent arrangement a track might make – and give some of the slot revenue to the state’s two largest Indian tribes.

It would also maintain or increase the percentage of the take approved by voters to support harness racing, prescriptions for seniors and college scholarships; share some of the money between the state’s two harness tracks, even if only one had slot machines; and give part of the take to off-track betting parlors.

New shares of the profits
The bulk of the proposal came from the committee’s two chairmen, Sen. Ken Gagnon, D-Waterville, and Rep. Joseph Clark, D-Millinocket. Gagnon told committee members that officials from Penn National Gaming had approved the allocations, which would give the company 58 percent of the racino take.

If a single racino operates in Bangor, the company’s take is estimated to be worth $15 million in the first year and as much as $48 million by 2006.

Penn National owns the Bangor Raceway and holds a harness-racing license for that track. Penn National also has an exclusive deal with Scarborough Downs to develop a Southern Maine racino.

Glynn, who demanded that committee members end their session in Gagnon and Clark’s locked office, and hold their discussion in the public committee meeting room, thinks the deal would be different if it had been arranged in public.

“I would not believe that the end result could be the same,” he said. “I am hoping that the decisions that were made will be nullified” because of the alleged violation of the state’s right-to-know law.

“Basically, the committee is behaving badly,” Glynn said. “We’ve shut the public out of the process.”

Gagnon and Clark could not be reached for comment on the matter.

After the committee returned to the public committee room, Glynn and others suggested several changes to the proposal. Glynn has repeatedly asked his fellow committee members to prevent Scarborough Downs from seeking a new home, and wants any change to the racino law to go back to voters in a combination question that would also allow Mainers to repeal the law entirely.

Glynn’s changes and others were rejected, though some minor changes in allocations of racino proceeds were made.

“If it wasn’t agreed to in the closed-door meeting, they weren’t going to do it,” Glynn said. He said his complaint was not a result of the rejections of his ideas.

Money talks
In the complaint, addressed to Colwell and Senate President Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta, Glynn said he did not entirely blame the committee leaders and members.

“The (committee) has been under attack by extreme lobby techniques of Governor Baldacci’s office through his staff, paid lobbyists who outnumber the members of the committee and just about every other special interest group within the Statehouse,” Glynn wrote.

“There is so much money on the table” that the committee hearings have turned into “a feeding frenzy,” Glynn said later. Gagnon had at one point suggested a portion of the racino proceeds go to the state’s dairy farmers. That proposal failed.

The Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe had also failed their request that the committee allow them to bid for the racino contract at Bangor Raceway. They would get 1 percent of the racino take under the newest proposal, to compensate the Penobscots for expected losses in their high-stakes bingo operation, Glynn said.

The Passamaquoddies are also cut in, because committee members thought it would be unfair to give money to one and not the other, said Glynn, who opposes any cut for the Indians. The proposal does not give any money to the state’s two smaller tribes, the Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

“All this was supposed to do was regulate the slots,” Glynn said. “They’re taking so much heat from so many people that they had to go off into a locked room and cut a deal,” he said. “Now we feel like what the politicians in Washington must feel like.”

Colwell agreed that the committee is under lots of pressure. “The lobbyists have been so thick up there that it’s difficult for the members of the committee to feel comfortable,” he said. “I think there’s more Gucci shoes up there than you would find on Rodeo Drive.”

Rep. Gary Moore, R-Standish, was in the meeting that Glynn complained about. He said there was “a convergence of people” in the office shared by Gagnon and Clark.

“There certainly was no formal meeting,” he said. “I would doubt whether at any one time there actually was a quorum there.”

He said he is still interested in allowing the Downs to look for a new hometown that would allow slot machines, and said he is still finding support for that position among his fellow committee members.

“Nothing has been voted in; nothing has been voted out,” he said.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Saving the lives of unwanted horses

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

Cassie Fernald of Standish was on a mission. In January, she was calling farms and businesses around Maine, trying to find a place to house two dozen horses for a few hours.

She had no luck – people didn’t have the space, the time or the desire to help – until she called Hauns Bassett at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough. Bassett, the camp’s new program director, heard Fernald describe the plight of these horses and said he’d help. Fernald burst into tears, and Bassett “very nearly did too,” he said.

The horses were coming from Alberta, Canada, where they had been on a large farm, raised to supply estrogen to the pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies need estrogen to make hormone supplements for menopausal women. One way they get estrogen is from the urine of pregnant mares.

Fernald is part of FoalQuest, a group originally set up to help handle the “by-product” of the mares’ pregnancy – foals. The group links adopters from the U.S. and Canada with farmers who want to get rid of their foals.

Without the group’s help, many of the foals would be slaughtered, Fernald said.

The group has taken on a new mission in recent months. A medical study late last year called into question the safety of one of the drugs made with pregnant mares’ urine (PMU). As a result, demand for the urine has dropped, causing most of the farms to close or drastically reduce their stock.

The horses Fernald was hoping to unload were mostly pregnant mares, which would be adopted largely by people in Maine. Some horses in the shipment were adopted by folks from Connecticut and New York.

Bassett agreed to donate the use of one of the camp’s corrals, and to coordinate having hay and water on the site when the horses arrived.

The horses arrived Tuesday morning, after a 3,400-mile trip from Canada. People were there to greet them, and horse trailers streamed down Black Point Road for much of the morning, as adopters arrived at Camp Ketcha, picked up their horses and left.

Outside the corral, one spectator, whose friend is adopting a horse, said the gathering was like a meeting of “horse-aholics anonymous.”

“It’s such a relief to see them here,” Fernald said.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a couple of months now,” said Joyce Carney of Rochester, N.H. It’s her first mare from the PMU program, though she has adopted foals in the past.

The mare will be the 11th horse on the family farm, and when she foals in May or June, there will be 12. “I would like to fox-hunt her,” Carney said.

The group may have another shipment in coming months and is asking adopters to visit the Web site www.pmufoalquest.com to look at available horses.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Gorman appeals conviction

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Jeffery “Russ” Gorman has appealed his conviction for the murder of Amy St. Laurent, asking Maine’s Supreme Court to grant him a new trial. His appeal asks for a judge to exclude damaging testimony from his mother about the killing.

In January 2003, Gorman was convicted of the “intentional and knowing” murder of Amy St. Laurent following a night out in Portland’s Old Port and at a house on Brighton Avenue in Portland.

The key issue in the appeal is the testimony of Gorman’s mother, Tammy Westbrook. She testified at a grand jury hearing that resulted in Gorman’s
indictment for the murder. At the grand jury, she testified that Gorman had called her Dec. 9, 2001, the day after St. Laurent’s body was found buried in a wooded area off Route 22 in Scarborough.

In that conversation, Westbrook told the grand jury, Gorman confessed to the crime and told his mother something nobody but the killer knew – that St. Laurent had been shot once in the head.

During the criminal trial, Westbrook testified she had no recollection of testifying before a grand jury and no memory of any conversation with her son about St. Laurent. She also testified that she was receiving psychiatric treatment for delusions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The prosecution argued that an audio tape recording of Westbrook’s grand jury testimony should be presented as evidence during the trial. Superior Court Judge Nancy Mills agreed.

The evidence figured strongly in the prosecution’s case against Gorman, and jurors in the criminal trial asked to see a transcript of the recording during
their deliberations. That was not permitted, but they were allowed to hear the tape played again.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously convicted Gorman of the murder.

He was later sentenced to spend 60 years in prison, following a prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation that claimed Gorman tried to rape St. Laurent and killed her to cover it up.

Gorman’s new lawyer, Chris MacLean, told the Current allowing the tape of Westbrook to be played to the jury was unfair because it prevented Gorman’s trial attorney, Clifford Strike, from confronting Westbrook about her taped claims.

The right to cross-examine witnesses is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Westbrook could not be effectively cross-examined because she did not
recall making the statements, or any discussions regarding the case, MacLean said.

MacLean makes two additional arguments in the appeal filing. He says Westbrook should not have been allowed to testify at all because she was not mentally competent to do so.

He also says the jury’s conviction was in error, arguing that evidence presented by the prosecution was not sufficient to convict Gorman of “intentional and knowing” murder. The filing asks for the conviction to be overturned and for the case to be sent back for a new trial.

MacLean told the Current there may have been enough evidence, depending on how the state Supreme Court views the case, to convict Gorman of manslaughter, but not murder.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Portland on Friday, Feb. 13. A decision could take months.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

McKenney running for state Senate

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Paul McKenney of Scarborough, who recently moved to town from Cape Elizabeth, is running for state Senate as a Republican and hopes to challenge Democrat incumbent Lynn Bromley in November’s general election.

He does not know of any other Republican running for the seat, which represents Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough, but may have to face a primary runoff in June if any others put their names in.

McKenney calls himself a “moderate Republican,” saying he is “pro-environment, pro-jobs and pro-family,” and wants Maine to “be more fiscally prudent.”

McKenney will be running a “clean campaign” under Maine’s clean elections law, which requires him to get 150 people to donate $5 to his campaign. In exchange for agreeing not to accept large donations from private supporters, McKenney gets access to state funds to run his campaign. If he is opposed in both a primary and the general election, he could get as much as $23,000 in state funds, plus additional money if his opponents spend more than his limit.

“I am running because of what I see happening in the state of Maine, and I want to make a difference, and I know I can,” he said.

“I’ve always had an interest in public service,” he said. “I’ve served the public for many years in the military.”

He is now co-owner, with his wife, and president of Dirigo Financial Group, a financial planning company in Cape Elizabeth. McKenney is also a major in the Maine Army National Guard. He served nine years as an Army aviator and has been in the Guard for six years.

He has military and civilian university training in leadership and management and is active in the Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts of
America, Rotary and the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce.

He wants to improve Maine’s business environment and lessen the tax burden.

“It should not be an arduous task to open a business and to run a business,” he said. In particular, businesses often have to fill in several state-required forms with the same information going to different agencies.

Making Maine friendlier for business will help the state’s finances even as it helps residents.

“You cannot tax your way into prosperity. You have to grow your way into prosperity,” he said.

Town and state spending are raising coastal property taxes “without consideration for the people who have been there for decades,” he said. “We’re driving these people right out of their family homes.”

McKenney has a general guideline: “Every time we pass legislation we need to keep in mind Maine families,” considering how laws affect workers’ ability to earn a living.

He also has some specific ideas: “I think our tourism industry could grow 10 times,” he said. The state should spend more money promoting tourism, because money tourists spend stays in the state.

State program spending should focus on areas where dollars are proven to yield results, such as early childhood education.

The state should not spend money on building schools in towns with small growth and should consider privatizing some services.

“It’s not the public sector’s job to do everything for everybody,” McKenney said.

Another way to save money could be the impending retirements of many state employees, he said. As they leave, the state should analyze the services it provides and “realign these jobs, realign these departments,” without laying people off.

The Republican county caucus will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, at Southern Maine Community College. If there needs to be a primary, the vote would be held in June.

Maine RX Plus launches amidst protest

Published in the Current and the American Journal; co-written with Kate Irish Collins

Despite a much-hailed launch, a new state prescription drug program called Maine Rx Plus is not getting support from three pharmacy chains in Maine.

RiteAid, Community Pharmacy and CVS are not participating, saying Gov. John Baldacci asked them earlier this month to accept a reduction in state administrative fees and is now asking them to voluntarily cut prices of prescriptions.

Hannaford and Shaw’s, through their pharmacies, are participating in the program, which will allow low-income people to get reduced-price prescriptions when they present a state-issued card.

Wal-Mart has not made a formal decision about the program, but a pharmacist at the company’s Scarborough store said that if someone arrived with a card, they “would likely honor it.”

The program was launched last week by Baldacci, state legislators, the attorney general and activists interested in the issue. The governor hailed the program as making Maine “a leader in bringing lower-cost drugs to our citizens.”

Cardholders will be eligible for 10-25 percent discounts off brand names and 60 percent off generic brands for a wide range of drugs that are also listed as preferred drugs in the state’s Medicaid program.

Discounts became available on Saturday.

Pharmacies participate in the plan voluntarily and can opt not to honor the cards. RiteAid, Community Pharmacy and CVS objected to a proposal in which the Medicaid program would cut pharmacy administrative fees 40 percent. The companies said they will “consider” participating in Maine Rx Plus if the governor withdraws the proposed cut, which they termed “devastating.”

Prescription drug costs have long been an issue in Maine. After the Maine Rx program was challenged by federal regulators and then upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, state officials reworked the plan.

“We have reconfigured the program to meet federal concerns, to integrate it with Drugs for the Elderly and to make it ready to coordinate with the new Medicare drug benefit when that program starts,” Baldacci said.

Maine Rx Plus will also use its volume to negotiate discounts from drug companies “later in the year,” he said.

House Speaker Patrick Colwell added, “Maine Rx Plus will negotiate lower cost prescriptions for Maine seniors and working families by using our buying power as a state. The Medicare bill Congress recently passed takes the opposite approach by forbidding the federal government from negotiating prices.”

“Until the federal government allows the bulk reimportation of prescription
drugs,” said Rep. David Lemoine, a member of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drugs, “Maine’s Rx Plus model is by geography and price the nearest thing to Canada.”

To be eligible, individuals must earn less than $31,440; for couples it is $42,420. For a four-person family, the cutoff is $64,400. Program enrollment will be phased in. Maine Rx Plus cards will be sent automatically
to 73,000 Maine residents, who had participated in the now defunct Healthy
Maine program, which was halted by the federal government in December 2002. Others who may qualify can apply for a card by calling 1-866-Rx-Maine (1-866-796-2463).

Legislature to debate slots at non-profits

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Local lawmakers who voted in June to allow slot machines at VFW halls, Eagles lodges, and other veterans’ and civic organizations may be changing their minds.

In a June 3 vote on a bill that could come back to the Legislature as early as next week, all of the local Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives, and half of the local Republicans, voted in favor of installing up to five slot machines at veterans’ halls and lodges of nonprofit civic organizations.

The machines would accept a maximum bet of $5 and make maximum payouts of $1,250. Of the money the machines took in, 80 percent would be
returned to bettors, who would have to be over 21 and either members or guests of the organization – not the public.

Of the rest of the money, 75 percent would go to the organization hosting the machine, 2 percent would go to a statewide problem-gambling treatment fund, 2 percent to state regulatory expenses and the rest would be divided between statewide revenue sharing and payments directly to the town hosting the machines.

How they voted
Voting in favor were Janet McLaughlin, D-Cape Elizabeth, Larry Bliss, D-South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, Chris Barstow, D-Gorham, Ron Usher, D-Westbrook, Bob Duplessie, D-Westbrook, Louis Maietta, R-South Portland, Gary Moore, R-Standish, and House Republican Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Windham and Raymond.

Voting against it were Kevin Glynn, R-South Portland, Harold Clough, R-Scarborough and Gorham, Philip Cressey, R-Casco, Naples, and Sebago, and David Tobin, R-Windham. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, was not present for the vote.

Now some who voted in the favor of the slots are changing their minds.

“My position right now would be against any expansion of gambling,” said Barstow. Saying he had learned more about the gambling industry and heard more from constituents since June, “it’s best that we try to cut back gambling,” not expand it, he said.

Usher said he didn’t know why he voted to allow slot machines at veterans’ halls and lodges for other civic organizations in June and didn’t know how he would vote if it were included as part of new gambling legislation this session. “I want to get some more details on that,” said Usher.

He did say, however, that he was concerned that with the new smoking ban in bars, bar patrons may already be headed for halls and lodges of civic organizations.

Adding slot machines would be another draw to bring people into those establishments.

“What a change in environment,” said Usher. “Are we getting minicasinos?”

Duplessie said he had not changed his mind and still supports regulating slots at the organizations. With over 1,000 illegal slot machines operating in the state, he said government should regulate them and get a share of the take. “People are going to gamble,” he said.

Bliss said he did not recall the June vote, and would have expected himself to vote against it. (A House roll call shows him supporting it.)

Bliss said he would oppose the issue now. “I don’t think slot machines are the answer,” he said. “Economic development doesn’t come from slot machines.”

Glynn, who voted against it in June and said he would do so again, remembered the June vote and the 90-minute debate on the issue that preceded it. He was surprised that some legislators said they didn’t remember. “Any bill that comes out as a divided bill that we debate, I know how I voted,” Glynn said.

Back before committee
The bill passed the House by a vote of 84-53, and went to the Senate, which did not take a vote.

Instead, the Senate sent it back into a legislative committee to review after the statewide Nov. 4 racino and casino referendum votes.

Now the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling legislation, is sending the proposal back to the House.

The changes could allow slot machines at veterans and non-profit organizations, as well as off-track betting parlors, while simultaneously regulating slot machines at harness racetracks. The changes could also consolidate regulations on high-stakes bingo, beano and the state lottery, according to Rep. Moore, the ranking minority member of the committee.

The request for slot machines came from veterans organizations and other civic groups, Moore said. “Usually, there’s not a lot of agonizing when, for whatever reason, a veterans group comes forward and asks for something.”

The groups pointed out their civic activities and told the committee they needed more money to do more work.

“Basically, they were saying, ‘we’re dying off because of old age, and we need a new revenue stream,’” Moore said.

He supported it in the committee and in the House vote, in part, because “there are a lot of places that it’s already happening.”

Gaming already exists
Maine State Police records indicate that 14 organizations have licenses to operate bingo, beano and other games of chance – including video poker. Most of them are for bingo or beano, though state records don’t differentiate between types of licenses.

Westbrook’s 32 licensed organizations include the Holy Name Society, granges, Knights of Columbus halls, veterans organizations, sports boosters, Little League and the fire department.

Windham’s eight licenses are held by the Rotary Club, three fire companies, the Lake Pine Association, the Lake Region Eagles, Maine Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Msgr. William Cunneen Knights of Columbus.

Scarborough’s 14 licensed organizations include the VIP Bingo hall on Route 1, as well as Bayley’s Camping Resort, the Higgins Beach Association, St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, the Scarborough Chamber of Commerce and the Scarborough Athletic Boosters.

A license for the Loyal Order of Moose to operate a game of chance called “pull tabs” was approved by the Town Council Nov. 19, but has not yet been sent to the state, according to Moose lodge administrator, Bob Lerman.

The game involves tickets similar to scratch lottery tickets, but instead of scratching to win, you peel back a perforated tab to uncover the results. The Moose would use the roughly $800 it would make for every 4,000 tickets sold to add to their charitable donations, which total about $6,000 a year, Lerman said.

Glynn, who also serves on the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, fears allowing the slot machines will create “little minicasinos of up to five slot machines per establishment.”

He said the state law would prevent towns from increasing regulations after the law passed. Town councils will have to approve the slot licenses the same way they now approve liquor licenses, but organizations will be able to appeal to a state regulator if the town denies a license. That would effectively allow the town’s decision to be overruled.

“A town would have to preemptively block it,” Glynn said. “If towns do nothing and this law passes, they will have slot machines.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Kids swap experience at laptop conference

Published in the American Journal

Over 300 middle school students and teachers gathered at Gorham Middle School on Saturday to explore ways schools can take better advantage of the state’s laptop computer initiative and to get a glimpse of the future.

A conference for the middle school students, who are on “iTeams” - groups of computer-savvy kids who help students and teachers alike with day-to-day classroom computing problems - the event taught kids not only how to do their in-school “jobs” better, but also how they can learn more through technology than would otherwise be possible.

Among the attendees were students from Westbrook, Gorham, Windham, Cape Elizabeth and SAD 6. The Cape and Gorham kids gave presentations on how their iTeams work, illustrating different ways they could meet similar needs.

Cape’s iTeam members are numerous enough that as students rotate with their normal class schedules, at least one iTeam member ends up in each classroom almost all the time. The students said they are available during class to help their fellow students and even teachers, who have problems with the laptops.

The team is also open to anyone interested in joining. “If they’re joining the iTeam, it’s because they want to know more,” said one student after the presentation.

By contrast, Gorham’s “tech team” members have hall passes and can be called out of their own classes to solve problems in other rooms. The team members talked about how they became members, often by application, or by being handpicked by teacher Tia Lord.

They have regular meetings and test out new software before other students are allowed to use it.

Members of the group dressed in their school colors and were available on a rotating basis throughout the conference, helping presenters and attendees use the school’s wireless computer network.

Students’ reactions
Students from local schools said they got a lot out of the conference. From Bonny Eagle Middle School, one student said she had learned a number of new troubleshooting skills. At lunch time, two other girls were looking forward to an upcoming session called “Let’s Chat,” helping students and teachers understand how to use Internet “chat” programs to enhance education, while keeping in mind Internet safety guidelines.

From Wescott Junior High School, student Brielle Merrifield said she had learned new stretches and important information about ergonomics while using the laptops, to avoid repetitive stress injuries. Student Spencer Graham said, “Coming here is probably going to help us and help other kids.”

From Cape Elizabeth, students said they saw important differences between the policies governing their use of the laptops, and the policies of other schools.

“I like how we get to take our laptops home,” said one student. Many other schools don’t allow students to leave school with the laptops.

Another student wanted administrative privileges for his laptop, to enable him to learn more about the computer system.

A third student not only learned practical skills – “how you can use a camcorder to make animations that are pretty smooth” – but also attended a presentation by Jen Gagne, a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

There, he learned that MIT students are being issued laptops too, though only one computer for every three students, and use some of the same software Maine’s middle-schoolers are using.

MIT students also submit homework assignments electronically, just like many of the state’s seventh- and eighth-graders. “These skills are essential,” Gagne said.

Technology projects
Other presentations explored the possibilities of laptop-enabled learning. Scarborough teacher Jim Doane showed other teachers how to plan an iMovie project, from organizing information before filming, through to filming and on-computer video editing. He used his own class work as examples, showcasing student-made videos on health issues.

After doing research projects on health subjects, students worked in groups to create public service announcement-style television ads about the issues. One on suicide had a particularly stark image: a coffee table covered in pill bottles and pills, with a hand slipping away, down to the floor.

The Maine Historical Society showed its Maine Memory project, which is looking to partner local historical societies with middle school students to digitize old photos and documents. Having them available on-line expands people’s access to them and helps reduce wear by researchers, who now must handle the artifacts. The two-year-old project has 130 organizations working together, and they have digitized 4,500 documents.

Other projects include tracking lobsters from where they are trapped to where they are finally purchased and consumed, linking Maine lobstermen to diners across the country, some of whom have begun corresponding regularly, according to a presenter from the Island Institute.

Future of program
How much learning can actually take place using the laptops depends on how far the project goes.

It is in the second of a four-year contract, in which the hardware now in use by seventh- and eighth-graders will be reused for two more years by students in those grades.

The big question is what happens to this year’s eighth-graders, when they get to high school and are forced to return to working with papers and pencils, rather than electronic documents.

“We actually will be making a bigger divide than we started with,” said Bette Manchester, who supervises the laptop project for the state Department of Education. Some state money may become available to help poorer districts afford laptops for their high schools, but many districts are already exploring buying their own machines.

Apple Computer has put together a package by which every Maine family with a child in public school can get a discount on purchasing their own Apple computer, according to Shaun Meredith, Apple’s manager of the laptop project.

School districts also qualify for a four-year lease at $1 per computer per day, if they want to buy their own computers.

One district many are looking to for insight about the future of laptops is Guilford. A small town north of Augusta, it got a private grant in 1999 to begin installing laptops in its middle school. When those students left the middle school, “they went to the high school and lost their machines,” said Crystal Priest, the schools’ technology coordinator. “It just killed them.”

Parents were in an uproar as well, because the laptops had improved student attendance, discipline and academic performance, even in a district with historically low per-pupil spending, Priest said. “It just opens up resources you wouldn’t believe.”

Last year, the schools got a grant to give each high school student a laptop. “The teachers were overwhelmed when we first started,” with only three days of training in the summer to prepare them.

Now, in the second year of the high school effort, “we couldn’t go back to teaching without them.”

In addition to curriculum-expanding work, like a planned collaboration with a school in Thailand, “the kids that normally struggle” are doing better in all their classes, discipline referrals are down 50 percent at the high school and attendance is up. A manufacturing technology teacher instructs students on how to repair hardware.

“It’s just been incredible,” Priest said.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Enjoying wildlife in a winter wonderland

Published in the American Journal

There’s plenty to do outdoors during the winter, even if you’re not a downhill skier or a snowmobiler.

Taking it slow – walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing – can be a great way to explore Maine’s winter and learn more about the wildlife all around us.

If you’re into birding, “the Scarborough Marsh is a good place to go,” said Phil Bozenhard, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

There are plenty of birds to be seen, including waterfowl. “Occasionally you’ll see a hawk or an owl flying around,” Bozenhard said.

Naturalist Margi Huber at Maine Audubon notes that Casco Bay is also a wonderful place to see all kinds of birds. “I think we forget what a jewel we have out there.”

You can take walks along Portland’s East End Beach, which has a flat walking path, often packed down for skiing or plowed. “You’ll see a lot of birds in half an hour,” Huber said.

If you’re lucky, you may spot a peregrine falcon that roosts on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Portland and is often spotted near the B&M Baked Beans plant.

Another great place is Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, where “sometimes you can see owls and hawks” in the back area of the park or watch seabirds from the cliffs, which are kept clear of snow by the wind.

At Pine Point Beach, you can see eiders and even loons in winter plumage. “The loons winter on the coast of Maine,” Huber said.

On the Westbrook-Portland line is the Fore River Sanctuary, along Outer Congress Street, which includes trails for snowshoeing and skiing and plenty of trees and water for spotting all kinds of bird life.

Up in the Lakes Region are some other excellent spots for checking out freshwater birds. Behind the fire station on Route 202 in South Windham, “there’s an opening in the Presumpscot River” where a hooded merganser often hangs out.

“What you want to look for is open water,” Huber said.

Near the Gambo Dam, also on the Presumpscot, an eagle has been wintering there for a few seasons.

You may see other birdwatchers while you’re out on these trips, so feel free to ask them about other good spots. If you’re looking for a particular bird, check out Maine Audubon’s Web site at www.maineaudubon.org. It has a “bird alert” list that’s regularly updated with bird sightings throughout Maine.

Mammals
Birds may be easier to spot in the sky and because trees have lost their foliage, but some mammals are also very active in winter.

Many of them can be found along the sides of rivers and lakes throughout Southern Maine, as well as in wooded areas.

While the animals themselves may be elusive, winter is great for checking out tracks.

“A day or two after a new snow is probably the best time,” Bozenhard said. If the snow is too powdery, though, “they all look the same,” because loose snow fills the small parts that allow the tracks to be differentiated.

“It’s more interesting when you’re out there and you can identify the tracks,” he said. “It gives you a little bit of satisfaction in knowing what you’re looking at.”

Animals you may see tracks from include big ones like moose and deer, through coyote, fox, fisher and mink to small animals like squirrels, rabbits and snowshoe hares.

Some good spots to follow tracks include the Steep Falls Wildlife Management Area in Standish and Morgan Meadow Wildlife Management Area in Raymond, Bozenhard said. They have hundreds of acres to explore, including snow-covered roads and trails.

Guided adventures
If you’re looking for an expert to help you navigate and understand the winter wildlands, Maine Audubon is running several programs that may interest you. All require advance reservations, so call 781-2330 ext. 215 for times and fees.

On Saturday, Jan. 10, a family nature walk called “Surviving Winter” will teach adults and kids about how animals make it through the cold season.

On the same day, you can take a guided ferry cruise on Casco Bay to look at water birds, including possibly a glimpse of a bald eagle.

The following Saturday, Jan. 17, Maine Audubon is holding a workshop for outdoor artists, teaching not only basic landscape drawing techniques, but also how to adapt outdoor artwork to winter’s cold.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, a tracking program will teach everyone in the family
how to identify tracks and other signs left behind by animals. Children can make a plaster-of-paris mold of a track as part of the workshop. It also includes an outdoor nature walk to practice identifying tracks.

Also that day, a birding expedition will visit local “hot spots,” including
Back Cove, Willard Beach, Portland Head Light, Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove, to look for a wide range of water birds.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, you can take a nature walk around Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm sanctuary in Falmouth to look at how plants handle the winter, and how to identify them in their winter disguises.

Flu fears pack emergency room

Published in the American Journal

Fears of coming down with the flu have sent patients to Maine Medical Center’s emergency room in large numbers over the past two weeks. Many of them do not actually have the flu, though, and the hospital is suggesting people who are worried should call their regular doctors before visiting the ER.

Maine Med has seen “a tremendous number of adults and children coming in with flu-like symptoms,” said Dr. Michael Gibbs, the hospital’s head of emergency medicine.

Traffic has been up about 20 percent over the normal number of visits.

The hospital has been sending doctors and nurses from other departments to help at the ER.

“We’re going to be dealing with this for a couple of months,” said hospital spokeswoman Abby Greenfield.

Most of the patients do not have influenza itself. “There are a lot of other viruses that can cause flu-like symptoms,” Gibbs said.

“Any viral infection can be serious,” he said. “But (it) also depends on who has the infection.”

“Some people need to be concerned even if it’s not” technically the flu, including young children, the elderly and people with existing medical conditions.

Gibbs suggests calling your family doctor before coming to the emergency room. You may be able to stay home, or get some medication prescribed or recommended over the phone.

He also noted the risk of getting sick in the emergency room: If you’re there with a lot of sick people, you could catch something from them. Patients at Maine Med’s ER are wearing masks now, to reduce that risk.

If your doctor recommends you go to the ER, he or she will be able to call ahead to let emergency room staff know you’re coming, and to give them your full medical history, which can help them treat you faster and better.

People who are more likely to have their doctors suggest a visit to the hospital are those with “significant severe respiratory symptoms,” such as shortness of breath, or with persistent vomiting or a fever that won’t go away, Gibbs said.

Also, very small children, adults over age 65, or people with pre-existing medical conditions that may weaken their ability to fight disease should be prepared go to the hospital.

To prevent getting infected, doctors recommend you wash your hands. Contact with others’ hands, or things they have touched, can transmit the flu and other diseases.

Drink fluids. Staying hydrated helps your immune system stay strong. And stay rested.

Highways to be renumbered

Published in the American Journal

Get set to revamp the directions you give to friends from out of town.

Starting this week and finishing in the middle of May, the state’s interstate highway system will be renumbered, with highways and exits changing their names and numbers.

The state’s main interstate highway, running from Kittery through Westbrook, Lewiston and Augusta to Houlton, will be known as Interstate 95. The toll portion of this highway, called the Maine Turnpike, will end in Augusta as it does now. There will no longer be a road called Interstate 495.

A secondary highway, starting in Scarborough and running through South Portland, along the coast to Brunswick and meeting up with I-95 in Gardiner, will be known as Interstate 295 along its whole length. At present, the southern end of this road is called I-295, but changes its name to I-95 between Falmouth and Freeport.

All of those signs will be changed over as of Jan. 10, at which point a project will begin to renumber all of the exits on both highways.

The new exit numbers will correspond to the nearest mile marker. At present, exit numbers increase by 1 each successive exit, leading to complications when adding new exits (as with Exit 7B in Westbrook, between Exits 7A and 8).

It can be confusing to realize that in the six miles between mile marker 42 and 48 on I-95 are six exits (numbered 6, 6A, 7, 7A, 7B and 8), but the next exit, number 9, is four miles away, at mile marker 52. Now those exits will be numbered 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 52.

The new numbers “will give travelers a better sense of where they are and how far they need to travel,” according to a Maine Department of Transportation brochure detailing the renumbering.

The exit renumbering will be complete by May 15, and the total project is expected to cost the state between $260,000 and $280,000.

Signs showing the former exit numbers will be displayed at the bottom of at least two advance signs at each interchange; these signs will have black text on a yellow background. The “formerly” signs will remain in place until after Labor Day 2004.

Downs asks Augusta for help

Published in the American Journal

Scarborough Downs, following referendum defeats in Saco and Westbrook Dec. 30, will now ask the Legislature to remove the time limit to find a community that will accept a racino and for permission to look up to 75 miles away from the track’s existing site.

The Downs will also ask lawmakersto require slot income from the Bangor racino be shared with them, to increase purses at the track, even if they can’t find a home that will allow slots.

Downs owner Sharon Terry said she will hold members of the harness racing industry – including Bangor Historic Track owner Shawn Scott – to a pre-Nov. 4 agreement to seek and support the changes.

In addition to expanding the five-mile radius to 75, which is the closest state law says racetracks can be to one another, Terry will ask for an extension and “possibly a deletion” of the time limit imposed by the Nov. 4 statewide referendum.

“We’re asking for an expansion of our business,” she said.

The track needs to “take our time and make sure that we educate” people about racinos. “They might be able to see the benefits that go along with it,” she said. “It takes a period of time to be able to talk about it
logically” and get past negative advertising like what appeared before the Dec. 30 local elections in Westbrook and Saco.

“I still have confidence that we will be able to find” a new home for the track, Terry said. She said she has heard support from legislators, but does not have a new town in mind. “We’re going to have to take a look at an extension” before looking at specific towns.

Terry supports Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed changes to the racino law, including a gambling oversight commission and increased state police control over slot machines and the money that passes through them.

She said harness racing will die if slots are not allowed to expand in Maine. “If we can’t find a city, then we can’t find a city,” she said.

Citing Scott’s authorship and strong backing of the original racino referendum, Terry objected to following “a law put in there by someone who wants a monopoly.”

Local versus ‘from away’
Her complaint strikes a chord with Sen. Karl Turner, R-Windham and Raymond. He doesn’t like seeing a Maine-based business run down by someone “from away.”

“I’m not interested in seeing the expansion of racinos on the one hand. On the other hand,” the racino referendum was written by Shawn Scott and designed to hurt the Downs, he said.

“Scarborough (Downs) should be given some additional opportunity” to make up for it. At the same time, he does not believe towns would welcome a racino. “My guess is you’d be hard-pressed to find a community that would want to take on the problems associated with a racino.”

As a result, he is prepared to support a portion of the Downs’ request: that some revenue from Bangor’s slot machines be sent to the Downs, as well as to the agricultural fairs. Currently racetrack revenue supports Maine’s fairs.

“That makes it less important that we have a second one,” Turner said.

Rep. Harold Clough, R-Scarborough, Gorham, opposes the Downs’ requests, saying the money is the real issue and objecting to sending Mainers’ money to an out-of-state corporation. The slots at Scarborough Downs would be operated by Pennsylvania-based Penn National, which owns racinos and casinos across the country.

Though Mainers favored racinos at the statewide referendum, they know more now, he said. “People have finally learned what this is all about,” he said. And with that information, Scarborough, Westbrook and Saco have all said no.

Clough believes other towns will vote similarly.

“I just don’t see any reason to keep beating a dead horse, so to speak,” he said.

Deal-making
Politically speaking, making laws in the January session of the Legislature is harder than in the fall. Because the session is technically an “emergency” session, two-thirds of the members of each
house must vote in favor of a proposal for it to take effect.

Some legislators wondered whether the Downs’ requests might be linked to Baldacci’s, as proponents try to gather enough support to win a vote.

Clough stands firm, saying he would not change the governor’s proposals for regulations to allow the Downs more leeway.

Rep. Chris Barstow, D-Gorham, is also “against any amendments to the proposed law,” except those requested by the governor. He would oppose any bill in which the governor’s changes were linked to the Downs’ requests.

Rep. Gary Moore, R-Standish, will be among the first to handle the requests from both the Downs and Baldacci. He is the ranking minority member of the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees gambling.

“I’m very much opposed to tinkering with legislation that the citizens have passed,” he said. “In a sense you’re saying people didn’t know what they were doing.”

Still, he admits he would have to be “stupid not to want a strongly regulated” gambling environment in Maine. (He does question whether all of Baldacci’s proposals are necessary.)

And he believes that if the Downs doesn’t get slots, it will fail and harness racing will “perish.”

A longtime harness racing industry member – his family owned horses “for generations” but does no longer because the industry is not a money-maker anymore – he doesn’t want to see that happen.

“I’m inclined to view (the Downs’) suggestions favorably,” Moore said.

Counting votes
Rep. Ron Usher, D-Westbrook, and Rep. Joseph Bruno, R-Raymond and Windham, were leaning toward letting the Downs have their way, though both wondered if any town would welcome a racino.

Sen. Carolyn Gilman, R-Westbrook, Gorham and Standish, opposes the racino and is working “to get slots out of Maine entirely.”

Janet McLaughlin, D-Cape Elizabeth, opposes the Downs’ requests, saying they have “had their chance” with the statewide referendum and should have voiced any objections then.

If the Downs gets its way, Terry is not saying where she’ll look.

Moore, the Standish Republican, said, “I think that there is a town” that would accept a racino. “I don’t know which one.”

Pointing to Gorham’s tradition of harness racing, he wondered if it might go for the redevelopment of the track on Route 202.

Barstow of Gorham disputed that. “I don’t think Gorham would be a feasible option,” he said. “I think Westbrook and Saco are a good reflection as to how these communities in Southern Maine view this entity."

Enjoying wildlife in a winter wonderland

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

There’s plenty to do outdoors during the winter, even if you’re not a downhill skier or a snowmobiler. Taking it slow – walking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing – can be a great way to explore Maine’s winter and learn more about the wildlife all around us.

If you’re into birding, “the Scarborough Marsh is a good place to go,” said Phil Bozenhard, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

There are plenty of birds to be seen, including waterfowl. “Occasionally you’ll see a hawk or an owl flying around,” Bozenhard said.

Naturalist Margi Huber at Maine Audubon notes that Casco Bay is also a wonderful place to see all kinds of birds. “I think we forget what a jewel we have out there.” You can take walks along Portland’s East End Beach, which has a flat walking path, often packed down for skiing or plowed. “You’ll see a lot of birds in half an hour,” Huber said.

If you’re lucky, you may spot a peregrine falcon that roosts on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Portland and is often spotted near the B&M Baked Beans plant.

Another great place is Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth, where “sometimes you can see owls and hawks” in the back area of the park or watch seabirds from the cliffs, which are kept clear of snow by the wind.

At Pine Point Beach, you can see eiders and even loons in winter plumage. “The loons winter on the coast of Maine,” Huber said.

On the Westbrook-Portland line is the Fore River Sanctuary, along Outer Congress Street, which includes trails for snowshoeing and skiing and plenty of trees and water for spotting all kinds of bird life.

Up in the Lakes Region are some other excellent spots for checking out freshwater birds. Behind the fire station on Route 202 in South Windham, “there’s an opening in the Presumpscot River” where a hooded merganser often hangs out. “What you want to look for is open water,” Huber said.

Near the Gambo Dam, also on the Presumpscot, an eagle has been wintering there for a few seasons. You may see other birdwatchers while you’re out on these trips, so feel free to ask them about other good spots. If you’re looking for a particular bird, check out Maine Audubon’s Web site at www.maineaudubon.org. It has a “bird alert” list that’s regularly updated with bird sightings throughout Maine.

Mammals
Birds may be easier to spot in the sky and because trees have lost their foliage, but some mammals are also very active in winter. Many of them can be found along the sides of rivers and lakes throughout Southern Maine, as well as in wooded areas.

While the animals themselves may be elusive, winter is great for checking out tracks.

“A day or two after a new snow is probably the best time,” Bozenhard said. If the snow is too powdery, though, “they all look the same,” because loose snow fills the small parts that allow the tracks to be differentiated.

“It’s more interesting when you’re out there and you can identify the tracks,” he said. “It gives you a little bit of satisfaction in knowing what you’re looking at.”

Animals you may see tracks from include big ones like moose and deer, through coyote, fox, fisher and mink to small animals like squirrels, rabbits and snowshoe hares.

Some good spots to follow tracks include the Steep Falls Wildlife Management Area in Standish and Morgan Meadow Wildlife Management Area in Raymond, Bozenhard said. They have hundreds of acres to explore, including snow-covered roads and trails.

Guided adventures
If you’re looking for an expert to help you navigate and understand the winter wildlands, Maine Audubon is running several programs that may interest you. All require advance reservations, so call 781-2330 ext. 215 for times and fees.

On Saturday, Jan. 10, a family nature walk called “Surviving Winter” will teach adults and kids about how animals make it through the cold season.

On the same day, you can take a guided ferry cruise on Casco Bay to look at water birds, including possibly a glimpse of a bald eagle.

The following Saturday, Jan. 17, Maine Audubon is holding a workshop for outdoor artists, teaching not only basic landscape drawing techniques, but also how to adapt outdoor artwork to winter’s cold.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, a tracking program will teach everyone in the family how to identify tracks and other signs left behind by animals. Children
can make a plaster-of-paris mold of a track as part of the workshop. It also includes an outdoor nature walk to practice identifying tracks.

Also that day, a birding expedition will visit local “hot spots,” including Back Cove, Willard Beach, Portland Head Light, Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove, to look for a wide range of water birds.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, you can take a nature walk around Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm sanctuary in Falmouth to look at how plants handle the winter, and how to identify them in their winter disguises.

Highways to be renumbered

Published in the Current, the American Journal, and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly

Get set to revamp the directions you give to friends from out of town. Starting this week and finishing in the middle of May, the state’s interstate highway system will be renumbered, with highways and exits changing their names and numbers.

The state’s main interstate highway, running from Kittery through Westbrook, Lewiston and Augusta to Houlton, will be known as Interstate 95. The toll portion of this highway, called the Maine Turnpike, will end in Augusta as it does now. There will no longer be a road called Interstate 495.

A secondary highway, starting in Scarborough and running through South Portland, along the coast to Brunswick and meeting up with I-95 in Gardiner, will be known as Interstate 295 along its whole length. At present, the southern end of this road is called I-295, but changes its name to I-95 between Falmouth and Freeport.

All of those signs will be changed over as of Jan. 10, at which point a project will begin to renumber all of the exits on both highways. The new exit numbers will correspond to the nearest mile marker. At present, exit numbers increase by 1 each successive exit, leading to complications when adding new exits (as with Exit 7B in Westbrook, between Exits 7A and 8).

It can be confusing to realize that in the six miles between mile marker 42 and 48 on I-95 are six exits (numbered 6, 6A, 7, 7A, 7B and 8), but the next exit, number 9, is four miles away, at mile marker 52. Now those exits will be numbered 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 52.

The new numbers “will give travelers a better sense of where they are and how far they need to travel,” according to a Maine Department of Transportation brochure detailing the renumbering.

The exit renumbering will be complete by May 15, and the total project is expected to cost the state between $260,000 and $280,000.

Signs showing the former exit numbers will be displayed at the bottom of at least two advance signs at each interchange; these signs will have black text on a yellow background. The “formerly” signs will remain in place until after Labor Day 2004.

Downs asks Augusta for help

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Scarborough Downs, following referendum defeats in Saco and Westbrook Dec. 30, will now ask the Legislature to remove the time limit to find a community that will accept a racino and for permission to look up to 75 miles away from the track’s existing site.

The Downs will also ask lawmakers to require slot income from the Bangor racino be shared with them, to increase purses at the track, even if they can’t find a home that will allow slots.

Downs owner Sharon Terry said she will hold members of the harness racing industry – including Bangor Historic Track owner Shawn Scott – to a pre-Nov. 4 agreement to seek and support the changes.

In addition to expanding the five-mile radius to 75, which is the closest state law says racetracks can be to one another, Terry will ask for an extension and “possibly a deletion” of the time limit imposed by the Nov. 4 statewide referendum.

“We’re asking for an expansion of our business,” she said. The track needs to “take our time and make sure that we educate” people about racinos.

“They might be able to see the benefits that go along with it,” she said. “It takes a period of time to be able to talk about it logically” and get past negative advertising like what appeared before the Dec. 30 local elections in Westbrook and Saco.

“I still have confidence that we will be able to find” a new home for the track, Terry said. She said she has heard support from legislators, but does not have a new town in mind. “We’re going to have to take a look at an extension” before looking at specific towns.

Terry supports Gov. John Baldacci’s proposed changes to the racino law, including a gambling oversight commission and increased state police control over slot machines and the money that passes through them.

She said harness racing will die if slots are not allowed to expand in Maine. “If we can’t find a city, then we can’t find a city,” she said.

Citing Scott’s authorship and strong backing of the original racino referendum, Terry objected to following “a law put in there by someone who wants a monopoly.”

Local versus ‘from away’
Her complaint strikes a chord with Sen. Karl Turner, R-Windham and Raymond. He doesn’t like seeing a Maine-based business run down by someone “from away.”

“I’m not interested in seeing the expansion of racinos on the one hand. On the other hand,” the racino referendum was written by Shawn Scott and designed to hurt the Downs, he said.

“Scarborough (Downs) should be given some additional opportunity” to make up for it. At the same time, he does not believe towns would welcome a racino. “My guess is you’d be hard-pressed to find a community that would want to take on the problems associated with a racino.”

As a result, he is prepared to support a portion of the Downs’ request: that some revenue from Bangor’s slot machines be sent to the Downs, as well as to the agricultural fairs. Currently racetrack revenue supports Maine’s fairs.

“That makes it less important that we have a second one,” Turner said.

Rep. Harold Clough, R-Scarborough, Gorham, opposes the Downs’ requests, saying the money is the real issue and objecting to sending Mainers’ money to an out-of-state corporation. The slots at Scarborough Downs would be operated by Pennsylvania-based Penn National, which owns racinos and casinos across the country.

Though Mainers favored racinos at the statewide referendum, they know more now, he said. “People have finally learned what this is all about,” he said. And with that information, Scarborough, Westbrook and Saco have all said no.

Clough believes other towns will vote similarly.

“I just don’t see any reason to keep beating a dead horse, so to speak,” he said.

Deal-making
Politically speaking, making laws in the January session of the Legislature is harder than in the fall. Because the session is technically an “emergency” session, two-thirds of the members of each house must vote in favor of a proposal for it to take effect.

Some legislators wondered whether the Downs’ requests might be linked to Baldacci’s, as proponents try to gather enough support to win a vote.

Clough stands firm, saying he would not change the governor’s proposals for regulations to allow the Downs more leeway.

Rep. Chris Barstow, D-Gorham, is also “against any amendments to the proposed law,” except those requested by the governor. He would oppose any bill in which the governor’s changes were linked to the Downs’ requests.

Rep. Gary Moore, R-Standish, will be among the first to handle the requests from both the Downs and Baldacci. He is the ranking minority member of the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees gambling.

“I’m very much opposed to tinkering with legislation that the citizens have passed,” he said. “In a sense you’re saying people didn’t know what they were doing.”

Still, he admits he would have to be “stupid not to want a strongly regulated” gambling environment in Maine. (He does question whether all of Baldacci’s proposals are necessary.)

And he believes that if the Downs doesn’t get slots, it will fail and harness racing will “perish.”

A longtime harness racing industry member – his family owned horses “for generations” but does no longer because the industry is not a money-maker anymore – he doesn’t want to see that happen.

“I’m inclined to view (the Downs’) suggestions favorably,” Moore said.

Counting votes
Rep. Ron Usher, D-Westbrook, and Rep. Joseph Bruno, R-Raymond and Windham, were leaning toward letting the Downs have their way, though both wondered if any town would welcome a racino.

Sen. Carolyn Gilman, R-Westbrook, Gorham and Standish, opposes the racino and is working “to get slots out of Maine entirely.”

Janet McLaughlin, D-Cape Elizabeth, opposes the Downs’ requests, saying they have “had their chance” with the statewide referendum and should have
voiced any objections then. If the Downs gets its way, Terry is not saying where she’ll look.

Moore, the Standish Republican, said, “I think that there is a town” that would accept a racino. “I don’t know which one.”

Pointing to Gorham’s tradition of harness racing, he wondered if it might go for the redevelopment of the track on Route 202.

Barstow of Gorham disputed that. “I don’t think Gorham would be a feasible option,” he said. “I think Westbrook and Saco are a good reflection as to how these communities in Southern Maine view this entity."

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Local pizza house hurt in tax scam

Published in the American Journal

Steven Orr, the owner of Pizza Time of Westbrook, is frustrated with the state, the IRS and his former accountant, John Baert, owner of Harmon-Baert Associates of Saco.

“I’m one of the people that he didn’t pay any taxes for,” Orr said Monday. His federal payroll taxes haven’t been paid for two or three years, leaving him with a bill “in excess of 10 grand.”

He isn’t very firm on that number, though. When he called the IRS, he learned “they can’t even give me exact figures” on what he owes. He also doesn’t know if penalties and interest will be waived because of the circumstances of the case, in which Baert allegedly failed to pay millions of dollars in payroll taxes for dozens of companies over the course of the past three years.

Baert is facing three counts of mail fraud in a Portland federal court.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has requested the IRS waive those extra fees. Nobody expects the agency to forgive the taxes that have not been paid. “In essence we’re double-paying the money,” said Orr, who has filed a civil lawsuit against Baert seeking repayment of the money Baert should have given the IRS.

Orr may have to borrow money to make good on the debt, but it won’t shut down his business. “We’re not going to close.”

It will have a negative impact, though. He had been planning to remodel and open longer hours, hoping to participate in and encourage Westbrook’s downtown revitalization.

“That’s going to have to be put on hold,” he said.

Baert also prepared Orr’s business income tax returns, but Orr paid those bills himself and mailed them in. Orr also made his own sales tax payments to the state. His state payroll taxes are also in good shape, but Orr is unhappy with the state, which was supposed to make sure payroll firms were licensed and posted bonds to secure the money they handled.

“We also feel like the state’s responsible,” he said. “If the state’s receiving money from this person, you’d think they’d check on the person.”

One of the problems Orr has figuring out how much he owes the IRS is that Baert had a lot of the company’s financial records. The IRS may have seized them in late November, when agents searched Baert’s home and business. Orr hasn’t seen them, though he hopes to get access to the records soon.

“We have to create the payroll for the last two to three years,” he said. “We just don’t have the records.”

Orr had been using the payroll firm for 15 years – like many other pizza restaurant owners around the state – when he bought his business from two men who had started dozens of pizza joints in Maine.

Those men had used Arthur Harmon, Baert’s father-in-law and founder of the business, as their accountant, so Orr stuck with the firm.

When Harmon died and Baert took over, “we just automatically assumed” everything was above-board.“He’s not the person that we thought he was,” Orr said.

Paul Bureau of the Real Estate Store in Scarborough was also surprised at the news of Baert’s alleged wrongdoing. A customer of Harmon and Baert for 29 years, Bureau said Baert “did great. He was always terrific. I had no complaints.”

Baert did not handle Bureau’s payroll tax money, but did provide other accounting services to his firm.

“We were all shocked,” Bureau said. “It just seemed out of character.”

One big question still lurks in Orr’s mind. Saying he has seen records showing Baert had about $200,000 in liquid assets and a $200,000 home: “We don’t know what he did with the money.”

Call for more gambling regulation

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Local lawmakers agree with Gov. John Baldacci that racinos in Maine need more regulation than provided by the law voters passed Nov. 4.

Baldacci has proposed revisions to the racino law that he says will ensure the gambling enterprises are “tightly controlled to avoid the negative influences of this industry.”

When it reconvenes in January, the Legislature will take up his proposal, which includes setting up a statewide “gambling control board” with power to license gambling operators.

Lawmakers are particularly concerned about regulating gambling to avoid corruption and making sure the state gets a financial benefit. Any solution would require approval by a two-thirds majority in each house.

Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, said state officials told her that proper enforcement of racino rules would cost the state $17 million a year. She wants the enforcement money to come from the slot revenues, which is part of Baldacci’s plan.

Rep. Harold Clough, R-Scarborough and Gorham, hadn’t seen the governor’s proposal to comment on it specifically. “My hopes are we don’t have the gambling. It’s obvious that if we do, we need more regulation,” he said. In particular, he would like to “see that more money stays in Maine.”

Rep. Robert Duplessie, D-Westbrook, said the governor’s plan also addresses other problems with the law. “What was passed actually was written by one corporation,” he said.

The referendum law does not limit the number of slot machines that could be installed, prevents suspension of a racino license in the case of alleged wrongdoing and does not require a minimum “payback,” the amount a machine returns to players.

The governor’s proposal addresses these and other problems Duplessie sees with the law, including requiring what is called “on-line polling,” which allows remote supervision of the machine’s bets and payouts.

“My initial reaction is positive,” Duplessie said. “It’s definitely the right direction.” He expects the proposal to have legislative support, and said party leaders have signed on.

Baldacci and other legislators last week sent a letter to various groups involved in the racino proposals, including Penn National and Capital Seven, the two companies most involved in planning racinos in Southern Maine and Bangor, respectively.

The letter notified the companies that state officials were working on changing gaming regulations and planned to make those changes retroactive.

Duplessie expects the proposal to get the “fast track,” with hearings perhaps in mid-January. “By mid-February, we’ll have a new law,” he said.

Rep. Ron Usher, D-Westbrook, agrees, though he’s not sure how Westbrook’s vote will go. “I expect a low turnout,” said Usher, who is voting in advance, by absentee ballot. He thinks people will be on vacation or perhaps put off by bad weather, and won’t show up to the polls Dec. 30.

Usher is so supportive of a statewide gambling commission that he asked the governor’s office if he could nominate someone from Westbrook to be on the new board. “Now I’m trying to think of somebody,” he said.

Sen. Carolyn Gilman, R-Westbrook and Gorham, also wants to see regulation increased if racinos come to the state. “I’d like to see them out of Maine completely,” she said. “Sooner or later, it’s going to cost the taxpayers money.”

But, she said, if racinos are coming, she wants another statewide referendum on the issue. She has heard from voters who, she said, “want another crack at it. They feel they misunderstood what was being asked of them.” People voted for racinos “with the idea that a few slots were going to help harness racing” and not knowing what was actually being planned.

Sen. Peggy Pendleton, D-Scarborough and Saco, hadn’t seen the governor’s specific plan, but said the racino proposal “snuck in the back door” while the casino issue was distracting voters.

“I was picturing like 100 slot machines in the lobby,” she said. She wants more regulation and possibly another referendum to make sure voters are comfortable with the changes.

She wants more money for the state and for the town the racino is in. “They need to get a good cut too,” said Pendleton.

While legislators agree more needs to be done, Bromley points to a possible sticking point: “People are loath to change something that’s the people’s voice.”

Yet she admits to a certain degree of confusion about the referendum results. “I don’t think I know what the electorate really meant,” she said. They might have wanted slot machines, or to save harness racing or cheaper medicine for the elderly.

She also said a racino in Southern Maine – not just one in Bangor – is necessary if the harness racing industry is to survive.

Further, if the state is to get any projected money from the racinos, it needs the numbers of people who might come to a racino in Southern Maine, Bromley said.

She would be willing to extend the deadline for Scarborough Downs to find a host community and expand its radius beyond the current five-mile limit, but only if increased regulation was being paid for by the racino revenue.