Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
Crackdown on COVID violations a sad necessity
Hearst Connecticut Media Editorial Board
The frustration with month after month of COVID-related restrictions is understandable. Everyone is tired of them, and what’s most disheartening is that there is no end in sight. In fact, matters are due to get worse.
Accompanying a rise in coronavirus cases in Connecticut and around the country is the onset of colder, darker days. Daylight saving time ends this week, meaning months of 5 p.m. or earlier sunsets. A cold front is moving in this week with a chance of snow in parts of New England, which will further curtail outdoor activities. Whatever worked in the summer to keep people active and sociable while maintaining a safe distance from each other will become much harder as winter approaches.
And the rise in virus cases is real, and alarming. Though Connecticut maintained low numbers for months following the springtime peak that saw the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, those numbers are creeping up again. The danger is real, and though doctors are getting better at treatment and learning more every day about how to keep people who have the virus alive, there is no question the danger is heightened.
Still, what has been reported around the state in recent days is a letting down of the guard. It needs to stop.
Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday posted a video purportedly taken in a Bridgeport establishment over the weekend that showed a crowd of people acting as though there was no pandemic to worry about. Two recent incidents at bars near college campuses in the state have been further cited as evidence that people are growing more lax with restrictions as the months drag on. Plenty of people could list more anecdotal examples of people not socially distancing in businesses or homes, potentially putting people at risk of infection.
This is all happening as the state saw a surge of new cases over the weekend, along with a dozen new deaths, bringing Connecticut’s death toll to 4,589. The seven-day positive rate stands at 2.4 percent, according to the governor’s office, leading to word that Connecticut officials may start taking a stricter stance on enforcing COVID-19 rules.
The governor, though, said he does not anticipate a rolling back of the staggered reopenings that have been allowed statewide over the past few months. Instead, Lamont said he favored a localized approach. “I think we’ve learned over the last eight months that we really can target our response, so it gives us a lot more flexibility than we had back in the spring,” Lamont said.
If that’s going to be the approach, there needs to follow-through. Local authorities need to step up enforcement and see that problems are found and dealt with. But more than that, people need to make smart choices. Stay out of indoor spaces where people aren’t wearing masks. Maintain appropriate distances whenever possible.
Even after everything that has happened, the hardest days of the pandemic are likely ahead. A vaccine will arrive, but it will not be a fast process. Everyone needs to gird themselves for difficult times to come.
Baker’s chief justice pick is a ‘first’ and a start
The Boston Globe
Governor Charlie Baker’s nomination of Kimberly Budd as chief justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court is indeed a “first.” If confirmed by the Governor’s Council, she would be the first Black woman to head the nation’s oldest continually operating appellate court — and “firsts” are always exciting.
Budd, who has already served four years as an associate justice on the court, will, as Baker noted, be a “role model for women and people of color.” Girls growing up in Massachusetts will be able to see a Black woman in a black robe — and there is undeniable value in that.
Every judge brings to the job the sum total of his or her life’s experiences, so there is also value in having as chief justice a woman who can still remember her days as a young lawyer, and what it was like to be mistaken by a court officer for the defendant’s girlfriend simply because of the color of her skin.
But Budd’s qualifications go well beyond her “firstness.”
She has spent more than 11 years on the bench, first as a superior court judge before being named by Baker to the SJC. A Harvard Law grad, she has been a litigator and an assistant US attorney, and served as director of the Community Values program at Harvard Business School.
To do the job she is being asked to do, she will have to be that rarest of combinations — a legal scholar, a tough and focused administrator, and, as Baker so rightly indicated, an advocate “for the judiciary among the other branches of government.”
It is said that shortly after the untimely death of Chief Justice Ralph Gants, his colleagues on the court met (remotely) to list and then divide among themselves some of the many jobs the chief had taken on. There were the standing committees and the budgeting, of course. But there was more than that. It was Gants, for example, who ordered up a crucial Harvard Law School study on racial disparities in the courts — a report released just days before his death.
So, to be done right, the job will require Budd’s substantial energy.
As Budd herself noted at Wednesday’s news conference, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. People in the Commonwealth are in a panic. People are hurting, and we have to make sure that the judiciary is running as well as it can, and that’s what I’m focused on now.”
Budd is certainly qualified to deal with the difficult days ahead — days of trying to restore the full functioning of the courts, including jury trials, while keeping those who enter every courthouse in the Commonwealth safe.
But she also has qualities that set her apart. “More than anything at this particular time, this court needs to be led by someone who listens,” Baker said in introducing his nominee. It was that quality and her “calm, steady hand” that judicial colleagues most often mentioned when asked about her.
The nomination of Budd, of course, now leaves the governor with two more vacancies on the SJC to fill. What Budd’s nomination does not do is absolve the governor from continuing to diversify the court’s membership. Surely there is room for another woman, another person of color, and for someone who has come up through the ranks of defense attorneys on this former-prosecutor-dominated court.
“I would hate to think that anyone would use my presence on the court to support an idea I am one of just a handful of people of color who are qualified to be a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court,” Budd said in an interview published last May in the Boston Bar Journal. “That certainly is not the case.”
She’s right on that score as well. Baker’s role in moving the state’s highest court into a new era is welcome, and should not end with Budd’s nomination.
Calm down before stupidity turns into something much worse
Bangor Daily News
A Bangor man was arrested Wednesday for allegedly brandishing weapons during a Trump campaign event on Hogan Road that featured Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. The visiting governor was “never in physical danger,” according to a spokesperson. But that should not diminish the very real and very avoidable conflict this man seems to have initiated.
Peter Beitzell, 57, told the BDN that he is a Democrat opposed to President Donald Trump and that he gave the crowd at Wednesday’s event two middle fingers from afar. Then, he says, a man walked menacingly toward him from the event and asked him to leave. Beitzell said the man identified himself as a police officer and said he had a gun, without showing a badge. Beitzell then went and got a wooden baton and a large fixed-blade knife from his car. Local police were called, and Beitzell was arrested and charged with criminal threatening with a deadly weapon.
Beitzell said the incident was “stupid on both our parts.” Where he sees stupidity in his actions, we also see danger. As election day approaches and America feels increasingly divided, political disagreement should not — must not — devolve into violence or threats of violence.
Things are tense enough right now in the middle of a global pandemic and toward the end of a relentlessly nasty election; let’s all try to take it down a couple of notches. As this incident demonstrates, stupid and dangerous often go hand in hand.
This may very well be the most consequential election in our country’s history, as we hear frequently. People feel their livelihoods and their lives are on the line, and for different reasons. But let’s leave our middle fingers and weapons out of it, and let’s settle this the old fashioned way: with our votes.
Some conflict experts, troublingly, see comparisons between the U.S. today and other nations that have seen significant internal divisions.
Tim Phillips, the founder and CEO of the boston-based nonprofit Beyond Conflict, told NPR this week that he never imagined the U.S. would see challenges similar to other places he has worked like South Africa and Northern Ireland.
“We thought we were immune to it,” Phillips said. “When we looked at our own problems, we thought: ‘Of course we have some big issues, but we’re in a sense immune from an us-versus-them mindset, a sectarian mindset, where there could be real conflict.’”
We see an us-versus-them mindset on display in other news this week. A University of Maine student allegedly committed voter fraud by sending in a former roommate’s absentee ballot, apparently as part of a disagreement between the two and not in an effort to influence the outcome of the election. Based on reporting from the Portland Press Herald, it seems the 19-year-old woman accused of voter fraud (which importantly was caught by town election officials) may be a Trump supporter and the former roommate whose ballot was used is a Joe Biden supporter. According to that second roommate, the two did not get along and argued over various issues, not just politics.
It really should go without saying, but don’t let personal disagreements spiral into voter fraud or political differences escalate into weapons being brandished. These are extreme examples, but we live in extreme times. Each of us has an important choice to make in how we view and treat people who think differently than we do.
“We have become intolerant, we have started dehumanizing the other side,” Hrair Balian, the director of the Carter Center’s conflict resolution program, told NPR. “We are at the edge of an abyss, and we better see this and try to step back before it is too late.”
Picture Of Civil Discourse
The Caledonian Record
We would like to thank candidates Rep. Scott Campbell and Frank Empsall for their paid commentary exchange over the last several weeks. Their positions and platforms are now clearly articulated for St. Johnsbury voters.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, we think the race between Campbell and Empsall is a picture of civil discourse and could serve as a model for an angry country that desperately needs one to emulate.
But not everyone agrees with us. We’ve read a number of letters, and a paid commentary from Rep. Campbell, accusing Empsall of running a negative campaign. We’re reading everything from both candidates and have to admit, we don’t really see it.
Rep. Campbell is willing to spend additional state dollars on a plethora of programs and services, and increase taxes to pay for it. His “investment” priorities include: “build out broadband; increase the availability and affordability of childcare; step up funding for all campuses of the Vermont State College system; build more affordable and market-rate housing; improve access to health care; support and integrate the arts and recreation economies; and transition to a low-carbon economy — to name a few…”
His public voting record on taxes and programming is clear.
Candidate Empsall believes Vermont should reduce the tax burden on Vermonters and focus on growing the Green Mountain economy. His platform is simple and straightforward: “Sustainable economic policies; Job Creation; Tax Relief For Individuals and Businesses; School Choice.”
Both are legitimate candidate positions, although we certainly are more supportive of Empsall’s approach.
On the last one - school choice - Empsall penned a commentary to highlight Campbell’s acceptance of a maximum campaign contribution from the VTNEA, which strongly opposes school choice. On taxes, Empsall has repeatedly pointed to Campbell’s voting record.
We think campaign finance sources and roll calls are certainly fair and appropriate for public servants. Meanwhile, we’re watching negative campaigns and ad hominem attacks play out across the region and nation and this, thankfully, isn’t one.
We congratulate both candidates on hard-fought but civil, dignified and above-board efforts. We think they’ve provided a true public service for which they each can be proud.
Our vote will go to Scott Beck and Frank Empsall to represent St. Johnsbury in Montpelier. Whomever you choose (if you haven’t already), please be sure to vote on November 3.