Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
Seeking the truth
The administration at Stonington High School just wanted it to go away, quietly.
Over many years, the school administration had received complaints that a teacher and coach, Timothy Chokas, acted in a fashion that female students found uncomfortable and inappropriate. There were comments about their looks, questions about their boyfriends, and physical contact.
In fact, Chokas had been warned by his supervisors, instructed to come up with his own game plan for curbing his behavior. But students, who talked among themselves, were kept in the dark. From what they saw, the higher ups apparently didn’t care, because Chokas just kept on teaching.
But, in 2019, yet another student complaint was a final straw. A deal was cut. Chokas could walk away with his salary and benefits through the end of the school year and seek other jobs. Short of some legal obligation, school officials, if asked about Chokas, would only talk about his official record not that, well, unofficial record.
There were no announcements. Chokas just moved on. It was all hush-hush.
But Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas, the Stonington beat writer, who had heard the concerns about Chokas, wanted to know under what circumstances he had resigned. Stonewalled, he turned to the state’s Freedom of Information Act to get at the facts, to get at the truth.
It was a difficult fight, with the Stonington public schools’ administration repeatedly denying access to records that fell clearly under the act’s provisions for disclosure. Wojtas filed numerous appeals to the Freedom of Information Commission where he, unrepresented, had to confront well-compensated school attorneys fighting to keep records closed.
In time, as the FOI Commission ordered document after document unsealed, the history of misconduct, largely unacted on, became clear. The Board of Education ordered an investigation to learn more about how the situation was tolerated for so long. A second, state investigation, continues. Sexual harassment policies were updated.
This week, the New England Newspaper & Press Association presented Joe Wojtas with its First Amendment Award for his “doggedness and pursuit of the truth.”
Wojtas’ efforts demonstrate the importance of a free and independent press. It is a job he, and we, could not do without the support of our subscribers. And he did it well, indeed. Congratulations, Joe.
The best way to express gratitude this Thanksgiving is from a distance
The Boston Globe
President-elect Joe Biden said he and his family are having the same difficult conversations that all Americans face: how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving as coronavirus infection rates surge.
“Let me tell you what health experts have said to me,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., Monday. “They strongly urge that if, in fact, we’re going to have Thanksgiving with anyone, that we limit it to maximum, maximum — they suggest five people — maximum 10 people, socially distanced and wearing masks, and people who have quarantined.”
At a time when President Trump’s White House has abdicated all leadership when it comes to fighting the spread of COVID-19, Biden stepped into that role by making a plea to Americans: Follow the advice of experts, even if that means gathering in your backyards, keeping 6 feet from your masked relatives, or bringing Zoom to your tables to join together remotely.
“Now look, I just want to make sure that we are able to be together next Thanksgiving, next Christmas,” said Biden, adding that he and his wife Jill decided to limit the number of people at their own holiday celebration, and to ensure everyone has tested negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours of the event.
But even families that can afford to have everyone take COVID tests should know they are not a foolproof way to protect your Thanksgiving gathering, nor are they advised by public health experts as the sole precaution. Rapid tests only reflect when a person has been infected long enough to have a high viral load. That’s why infectious disease doctors, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are recommending that people who do gather do so only if they have no symptoms, are outdoors with masks, at a distance, in as low numbers as possible, and bring their own food or at least their own plates and utensils, while frequently sanitizing surfaces and hands.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert — who is opting not to spend Thanksgiving with his own children as a precaution against spreading the virus — said that face coverings should be mandatory at any gathering. In a “CBS This Morning” interview Monday, Fauci said, “even if it’s a very small group, to the extent possible, keep the mask on.”
It’s understandable that most Americans are craving the comfort of family and friends after enduring 10 months of a pandemic that has infected more than 11 million and killed nearly a quarter-million people in this country alone.
And because those numbers continue to rise rapidly — nearly every day the record for new infections is broken — this year must be different. Sometimes love means having to say you’re sorry, but you can’t break bread with extended family members. Americans need to have a plan in place to keep themselves and their loved ones safe — even if it means staying away from everyone outside of our immediate households.
As Biden correctly noted, this must be done “not just for your sake — for the sake of your children, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, whoever you get together at Thanksgiving.” It should also be done as a matter of public safety to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. Even small gatherings in homes have contributed to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told governors on a call last month that such small gatherings are an “increasing threat,” and that the same restrictions that are being imposed in public spaces like stores and restaurants should be in place at home.
“Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting,” Redfield said.
The CDC recommendations on home gatherings also urge anyone who is symptomatic or has been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days to skip any gatherings. Those who live with people who have a high risk of exposure should also stay home, according to CDC guidelines.
Keeping your distance from those you love most is especially hard during the holidays. That connection is precious — but the lives of these very people we are closest to are at stake, and so are those of our fellow Americans. The Globe editorial board is grateful to families who protect their communities by staying physically apart this Thanksgiving.
Rep. Talbot Ross reaches an important milestone
Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel/CentralMaine.com
For the last 200 years, the Maine Legislature has been writing laws, raising revenue and appropriating funds in ways that profoundly affect the lives of everyone who has ever lived here.
And in all those years, legislators have elected leaders from their ranks to help guide the process.
A lot has changed since 1820, but there has been one constant: A person of color has never been on a leadership team when it discussed strategy or set priorities. That is, until now.
Last week the newly elected House Democratic caucus chose Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, to serve as their assistant majority leader in the 130th Legislature, which will start work next month. Talbot Ross, who was just elected to a third term in the House, is already the first Black woman to be elected to the Legislature and will now be the first person of color to serve in a leadership position.
Talbot Ross has been a well known activist in Maine for decades, advocating action on a broad range of racial justice issues. Her father, civil rights activist Gerald Talbot, was the first Black person ever to serve in the Maine Legislature after his election to the House in 1972.
During her legislative career, Talbot Ross has focused on criminal justice reform and wrote the bill that created the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations, which advises all three branches of government about programs and policies that perpetuate racial disparities.
Every lawmaker brings their personal experiences to the work that they do. As a member of leadership, Talbot Ross will provide a key perspective that has been missing from policymaking for too long. She will be at the table when compromises are negotiated and decisions are made.
The Democratic caucus made history in more than one way last week when it nominated Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, to be the next speaker of the House. Fecteau would be the first openly gay man to have that position, and at the age of 28, he would be one of the youngest people ever to serve as speaker – an important distinction in a state that has the nation’s oldest population.
These “firsts” matter as much outside the State House as they do inside. Not only will a broader range of life experience be reflected in the new leadership team’s development of policy, but the elevation of these lawmakers also sends an important message across the state about what is possible. When children visit the State House (whenever it’s safe for that to happen again), they may see an African American woman in a position of power, and it could affect how they set the horizons of their own lives.
It’s important that people feel represented by their government. And as Maine enters its 201st year, this level of representation is welcome and overdue.
Rich State, Poor State
The Caledonian Record
The American Legislative Exchange Council released its 13th annual “Rich State, Poor State” review recently and Vermont continues to suffer one of the worst economic outlooks in the nation. It ranked 49 out of 50 for overall economic outlook. The Green Mountain state has finished last or second-to-last every year since 2008.
New Hampshire finished 17th, down one spot from last year.
“The Economic Outlook Ranking is a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 state policy variables. Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. Generally speaking, states that spend less – especially on income transfer programs, and states that tax less - particularly on productive activities such as working or investing – experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more,” the report introduction explains.
Out of the 50 states, Vermont ranks as follows: Top marginal personal income rate of 8.75 percent is 43rd; Top marginal corporate income tax rate of 8.5 percent is 39th; Personal income tax progressivity (change in tax liability per $1,000 income) of $28.94 is 49th; Property tax burden (per $1,000) of $52.10 is 49th; Sales tax burden (per $1,000 personal income) of $12.23 is 7th; Remaining tax burden (per $1,000) of $27.84 is 48th; Estate/Inheritance tax is 50th; Recent legislative tax change (2018 & 2019 per $1,000 of personal income) of $0.81 is 36th; Public employees per 10,000 of 633 is 47th; State minimum wage of $10.96/hour is 39th; Average workers’ compensation cost (per $100 of payroll) of $2.09 is 42nd; and Right to work (lack of) flexibility is 50th.
For collectivists, this is all good news. But a lot of talented, innovative job creators harbor a crazy notion that they should actually be allowed to keep some of their hard-earned wealth.
Unfortunately for Vermont, those job creators will continue taking their businesses to states that aren’t so hostile toward them. New Hampshire (which has long credited Montpelier for driving economic success in the White Mountains), continues to look like a great option.