Editorials from around New England:
Gov. Lamont’s dubious claims
First of two parts.
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut’s perpetually shaky finances are even shakier. Gov. Ned Lamont has said there is little chance unionized state employees will forfeit the raises they are scheduled to receive when fiscal year 2020-21 starts July 1, the Republican-American reported June 10. “Lamont told reporters that negotiations with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) have faltered, and he has no legal authority to delay the general 3.5% pay increase,” reporter Paul Hughes wrote.
This is a troubling development.
The pandemic prompted the shutdowns of many Connecticut businesses, slowing the flow of revenues to state government’s coffers. Mr. Hughes’ reporting indicated Connecticut will contend with a $2.3 billion hole in its $22.1 billion FY 2020-21 budget. In recent weeks, state Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo, Gov. Lamont’s Office of Policy and Management, and the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis have reported the $21.3 billion 2019-20 budget is in the red to the tune of approximately $600 million. The governor has said the 2019-20 deficit will be dealt with via a transfer from the $2.5 billion rainy day fund.
Most unionized state employees are scheduled to receive the 3.5% pay raises, plus 2% step increases. The increases were called for by a 2017 pact negotiated by SEBAC and then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, and later ratified by all but one of the legislature’s Democratic members. As the Hartford-based Yankee Institute for Public Policy has noted, when these increases are taken with the identical 2019-20 ones authorized by the 2017 SEBAC deal, the annual bill exceeds $350 million.
In late April, Gov. Lamont said the 2020-21 raises issue is a sensitive one for “people who are losing their jobs (and are) taking pay cuts.” This provided grounds for optimism that the raises would be suspended. Furthermore, the governor had argued that he, having been strongly backed by organized labor during the 2018 campaign, was uniquely suited to secure meaningful concessions. This week’s developments raise questions about how hard Gov. Lamont tried. After all, while the raises will go forward, the state will not get anything in return. Yes, Gov. Lamont was in a weak negotiating position – Mr. Malloy and the legislature granted SEBAC a four-year no-layoff guarantee – but the lack of a benefit to the state is glaring in light of the governor’s contention about his ability to lock in concessions.
We also are skeptical of Gov. Lamont’s claim that he has no legal means to suspend the raises. In April, Yankee reported that amid the pandemic, the governor has the authority to “issue an emergency executive order suspending collective-bargaining provisions. Such an order would last only six months or until the public-health crisis is over.” Gov. Lamont should explain the process by which he and his advisers reached their “no authority” conclusion.
In our May 6 editorial, we asserted, “How (Gov. Lamont) handles labor costs will demonstrate whether he is a leader or a politician.” It looks like the governor is a politician. For that, most Connecticut taxpayers will pay a price – literally.
County joins nation in Black Lives Matter protests
From the Greenfield Common to the police station on High Street, thousands of area residents peacefully took to the streets last weekend to stand in solidarity against systemic racism spurred by recent acts of police brutality — raising their voices in unison with countless others who demonstrated in similar fashion around the globe.
While the gatherings were diverse, the message was the same.
“We are here today, not for revenge, but for equality,” said Brieanna Arsenault, who organized the Greenfield event with Autumn Upham. “We are here for justice.”
It’s a message this newspaper’s editorial board supports.
For those who aren’t directly impacted by discrimination, it’s easy to dismiss racism as being a bane of the past. The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others have once again put the issue in the public spotlight.
Like a cockroach that will not die, systemic racism continues to pervade our society. It never left.
To move forward once and for all, America as a nation must actively confront its dark past — from the genocide of the Middle Passage and Native people to the horror of slavery, to the Tulsa race massacre, to the thousands of Americans murdered by lynching during the Jim Crow era and the countless other incidents of hate that have played out across our nation since its inception.
Plagued by this terrible history, we must also root out racial prejudice in the present day. It is naive to say that racism was put to bed once and for all during the Civil Rights era by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was himself murdered because of the color of his skin.
Confronting the sins of our nation’s past and thoughtfully considering our own cultural biases is a difficult endeavor that requires humility. It’s also necessary. There is no place for any kind of discrimination in a society that claims liberty for all.
One way to influence change is through activism, such as that which was exhibited in Greenfield, Ashfield, Shelburne Falls and Northfield. Public protests are as American as the Constitution. In this case, it’s pushing a difficult dialogue to the forefront of public discourse — discrimination within our criminal justice system.
Law enforcement plays an important role in a healthy community. It’s the arm of government that directly interfaces with the public. Because of that, it’s absolutely vital that constituents feel they can trust their local police department.
From coast to coast, this isn’t currently the case.
Notably, the Greenfield Police Department treats constituents with dignity and met activists at this weekend’s protest in a way that respected their Constitutional rights. Even so, we call on the department to work with those residents who are seeking reform and to review its policing practices with transparency in order to unify the region and solidify public trust.
Racism is a disease that threatens our democracy. Addressing discrimination within law enforcement is a start.
At this weekend’s Greenfield protest, Noel Certain, of Dix Hills, New York, summed up the sentiment that so many people are feeling right now: “Black people have been doing this for years, but it’s so good to see America is starting to wise up,” he said. “Never forget, if you’re white: you’re just as free as the most oppressed.”
Hopefully, we’ll see a day when it’s no longer necessary for protesters to take to the streets in order to make their voices heard.
Congratulations, and some advice, to the Class of 2020
Bangor Daily News
Members of the Class of 2020 have made it through an unusual — and sometimes stressful — end of their time in high school and college.
To slow the spread of coronavirus, classes were quickly transitioned online in March. Traditions — such as sports seasons, proms, even graduations — were canceled or held in new, socially distant formats. For college seniors, offers of jobs and internships may have evaporated.
The Class of 2020 has our respect and sympathy. You’ve adapted to new ways of learning and graciously given up cherished rites of passage.
To recognize your accomplishments and your transitions to new, uncertain chapters of life, here are some words of wisdom and encouragement from people who said it better than we can.
“I know this was not the senior year you dreamed of throughout your high school career. … But the Class of 2020 will always remember this experience, a bond that will be shared with graduates around the globe,” Gov. Janet Mills wrote in a letter to the Class of 2020. “The skills, friendships, and memories of the last four years will give you courage and confidence as you further your education, embark on a new career, travel, seek new experiences, and raise a family.”
“My own life has been anything but a straight line,” she added. “I have taken some interesting turns and risks and encountered unplanned detours and distractions. But those curves and detours made my life all the richer. Each new direction brought anxiety and self-doubt, the inevitable companions of change, but each experience has contributed to who I am and has made me a better person.”
Houlton High School Principal Tim Tweedie reached out to more than 100 well-known people asking if they’d send video greetings to the school’s 88 graduates. He received 23 responses, including from Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, tennis star Billie Jean King and Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. The result is an uplifting, humorous and inspiring video.
“I know you’re not going to be able to hold your typical Houlton High School gymnasium, sweaty, June pomp and circumstance, in-person graduation ceremony, like everybody else since the beginning of time, but don’t let that reality diminish the fact that you have done something really amazing, really incredible, and really long-lasting for your lives,” said Lewis Cleale, a Houlton High alum who is appearing in “Book of Mormon” on Broadway.
Many in the video spoke of what this spring’s graduates had given up, but encouraged them to stay focused and positive.
“Enjoy this time as much as you can and remember going forward, always chase your dreams. Don’t let any of them go past,” said Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy.
“Please hang in there,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, often the public face of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. “We need you to be smart, strong and resilient. With displicine and empathy, we will all get through this together.”
In an online celebration he produced and organized last month, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James reminded graduates of their responsibility to serve their communities.
“Every teacher, every coach, and every pastor. They, along with your friends and family, got you to this moment. And now, it is time to go to a new place. It is time to chase every dream. Accept every challenge. Strive for greatness. Honor every promise. And recommit to your community,” he said before the country erupted in protests over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“Building your community is how you change the world,” he said. “Unfortunately, the system does not solve the real problem — education, violence, racism. They must be solved in the street.”
Like generations before them, the Class of 2020 heads into a world full of challenges, opportunities, and the promise of building a better future. There is much hard work to be done. But now is a time of celebration. Congratulations!
The work is just beginning
The Nashua Telegraph
Prosecutors in Minnesota Wednesday made the right move by broadening the reach of their efforts in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Now the three officers who stood by and watched Derek Chauvin press his knee into Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing have been charged with aiding and abetting a murder – and Chauvin’s charge has been upgraded to second-degree murder.
In discussing the new charges, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called the protests after Floyd’s death “dramatic and necessary,” and said Floyd “should be here and he is not. His life had value and we will seek justice.”
Good. Culpability for Floyd’s death should not end at Chauvin.
But authorities across the country must not stop there.
The work is just beginning. Law enforcement agencies at all levels – filled with good men and women who take seriously their job to serve and protect – must do some self-examination and house-cleaning.
Is there de-escalation and sensitivity training on which they need to catch up? Is there a culture of turning a blind eye toward “minor” insensitivies that could encourage behavior that leads to a tragedy?
Pope Francis had it exactly right when he said this week “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
One might add, “or claim to uphold the law.”
Small Town, High Minds
The Caledonian Record
Last week a protest for social justice in St. Johnsbury got a little rowdy.
About an hour into the otherwise peaceful gathering, police detained a person who allegedly wouldn’t clear Main Street for traffic. Other protesters attempted to impede that arrest and were also taken into custody. In the resulting fracas, Carmen Turnbaugh tumbled down the stairway in front of the police station as St. Johnsbury Police Lt. Mark Bickford cleared a path to the entrance.
In video captured by Jeremy Baldauf, we see Turnbaugh clearly interfering with law enforcement. And then we see what happens when a rugged, strong police officer has to move a much smaller person.
It was an unfortunate moment that detracted from an otherwise uplifting series of events.
We watched our local police come out of the station, calmly engage with protesters and take a knee in solidarity with them. We saw the same thing the day before in Littleton and Lyndon, and those moments struck us as a dramatic contrast to the violent exchanges we’ve watched in other parts of the country.
Baldauf’s video generated a lot of impassioned commentary. On one side you had critics calling for Bickford’s head over clear evidence of police brutality - at a protest against police brutality of all things!!! The other side pointed out that Turnbaugh was breaking the law and what would you have police do when surrounded and under attack?!!
As the intelligentsia took to Facebook to work through that dilemma, Turnbaugh and Bickford took it upon themselves to refocus everyone’s attention on what really matters. The pair met on Saturday at the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center; apologized to each other for their roles in the incident; and agreed that the message of the protest should not be lost in conflict. They said they each “stand together with mutual respect.”
Town Manager Chad Whitehead commended Turnbaugh for her courage and conviction, and Bickford for his understanding and dedication to the community.
And the Governor took notice.
“I thought that was just a great moment for us and a teaching moment for us. I think we can all learn something from it,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I believe that law enforcement, again, did what they could under the circumstance and the individual, the young woman, as well stepped up and saw that there was a broader good that could be developed in the aftermath. I thought it was a great moment, a great teaching moment.”
We’re struggling to see eye-to-eye with the Governor on much these days but we couldn’t agree more with him and Chad on this one. We sincerely applaud Bickford and Turnbaugh for taking the high road, and modeling big lessons in humility, dignity, respect, community and understanding from our tiny corner of the world.