Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:
John Durham, special counsel
John Durham, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, was for many months the national Republicans’ knight in shining armor – the man who would expose the Russia hoax perpetrated against President Trump and pin it on the Democrats, from former President Barack Obama on down, who participated in the conspiracy. And he would get the job done well before Election Day 2020, ensuring a second term for President Trump.
It wasn’t to be. Mr. Durham secured one guilty plea, by FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, for falsifying an email and using it to justify surveillance of Trump aide Carter Page. No one would characterize this work product, dating back about a year, as blowing the lid off the alleged Russia conspiracy.
Barring a stunning reversal of the election results, the Trump administration will cease to exist in about seven weeks. But Mr. Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, has taken steps to ensure that the Durham investigation will continue into the Democratic administration of Joe Biden. In an October move announced Dec. 1, Mr. Barr designated Mr. Durham a special counsel. This move will make it more difficult, though not impossible, for Mr. Biden’s attorney general to fire Mr. Durham.
Why difficult? Because firing Mr. Durham would be tantamount to an admission that everything Mr. Trump, Fox News host Sean Hannity and other Trump supporters said about the Russia-collusion investigation was true. Mr. Biden therefore finds himself in the same fix Mr. Trump was in with respect to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose firing would have exposed Mr. Trump to credible accusations that he had Russian President Vladimir Putin in his corner during the ultimately successful 2016 campaign.
Instead, Mr. Trump allowed the Mueller investigation to play out to a conclusion most of the president’s detractors found deeply dissatisfying. The president was able to declare vindication. All that remained was for the COVID-19 pandemic – which slowed the Durham investigation from methodical to nearly motionless – to spoil the Trump team’s best-laid plans.
Mr. Biden most likely will let Mr. Durham complete his work, and will benefit from the inevitable complexity of the eventual findings – and the willingness of much of the news media to ignore them. Americans didn’t have sufficient attention spans to grasp the full breadth of Mr. Mueller’s findings; surely they won’t bring much more analytical muscle to the Durham report. Life will go on.
America’s best hope is that the ordeal, if not the penalties eventually imposed, will be enough to discourage bureaucrats and politicians from engaging in the sort of misbehavior being investigated by Mr. Durham.
Fitchburg a prime Amazon location
Sentinel & Enterprise
Over the last several months, Fitchburg officials have fielded many different proposals to fill the vacant Simonds Saw industrial building on Intervale Road.
Several cannabis cultivators expressed interest in occupying the 350,000-square-foot single-story building, but the city wanted to go in a different direction.
According to Mary Jo Bohart, the city’s economic development director, “We wanted to find the highest and best use (of the facility) because this one is different.”
From an economic development perspective, the building stands close to the MBTA rail in Leominster and to a freight railroad line, Bohart said, adding that it’s also only a couple of hundred feet from the Lunenburg town line. It is also in close proximity to the Municipal Airport.
And while the city had been working with the property owners to find a suitable tenant for the building, an unexpected early Christmas present fell into its lap.
Unsolicited, e-commerce giant Amazon contacted the city about a suitable location for a regional distribution center.
Such a facility has the potential of creating 300, good-paying jobs.
“When they (Amazon) approached us, it was all-hands-on-deck and we said we would pull out all the stops to encourage them,” Mayor Stephen DiNatale told the newspaper.
This major economic development project still a few hurdles to overcome.
The city’s Planning Board is holding a public hearing on Dec. 8 on the proposed site plan, while the Conservation Commission must also sign off on the project.
If the move receives a favorable reception, the mayor said Amazon can determine its build-out plans with an expected opening sometime in 2021.
Since it already has seven loading docks for tractor-trailers and commercial-size trucks, Amazon’s plans certainly would exact this building’s highest and best use, as well as generating several hundred employment opportunities.
We can’t see any reason why this proposal shouldn’t pass with flying colors, and look forward to welcoming Amazon as the city’s most recognizable business partner.
Dunlap’s openness has been hallmark of his term
Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel/CentralMaine.com
In his last days on the job, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is getting accolades for his many accomplishments, including his management of a smooth election in the rockiest of times.
A record number of Mainers were able to cast ballots in 2020, while coronavirus infections were spiking and confidence in the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver absentee ballots on time appeared to collapse. Considering the circumstances, Dunlap’s last election was a triumph.
But you can’t expect a 14-year career in a high-profile job to be all triumphs. Dunlap might be best remembered for the things that went right during his tenure, but we will not forget how he responded when things went wrong.
This summer, after his office released the results of the July 14 primary, the staff discovered that about 11,000 hand-counted ballots had not been included in the ranked-choice voting tabulations. Ranked-choice voting is controversial enough in Maine, but this year, when voter fraud conspiracy theories have run rampant, even an innocent mistake could challenge the credibility of the whole election.
Dunlap didn’t let that happen. He announced the error with a news release and scheduled a retabulation in his office, with live video broadcast on the Facebook page of the Secretary of State’s Office. The ballots were included in the ranked-choice runoff process. Even though none of the outcomes was changed, the integrity of the election was intact.
“People will forgive an honest mistake,” Dunlap said later. But “they never forget anything that has a sulfuric smell of duplicity.”
Dunlap’s enthusiasm for keeping the public involved in even the intricate aspects of running an election is an important part of his legacy. As the Maine Legislature chooses a successor to Dunlap, who can’t run again because of term limits, a commitment to transparency should be considered a vital requirement for the job. The secretary of state can be a behind-the-scenes job, where the public can see little of what is being done on its behalf. But Dunlap’s experience shows that much is to be gained when our public officials take their relationship with the public seriously.
If they study Dunlap’s career, they can see how it’s possible to maintain public confidence in a system even during a time of extreme polarization. When it comes to elections, Dunlap’s agenda is not partisan: He has been committed to making sure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot, and as we saw this year, high participation does not favor any party.
Dunlap’s credibility made it possible for him to expose the dishonesty behind President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, which ignored real attempts to interfere with the 2016 election while chasing the fantasy of widespread voter fraud.
And Dunlap’s participation in the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped bring public attention to decades of institutional racism behind the routine removal of Native children from supportive communities.
Dunlap deserves the praise he’s getting. The task for his successor will be keeping the public involved in the important work of the office.
State Wasn’t Invited To Thanksgiving
The Caledonian Record
Last week Governor Phil Scott announced various state bans on holiday gatherings. In addition to his travel ban, he said Vermonters were not allowed to congregate with anyone from other households.
As a clever enforcement mechanism, he directed schools to question students upon their return and to forbid entry to kids whose parents disobeyed the state. We were instantly reminded of Lenin’s Young Pioneer program and were saddened by the speed and enthusiasm by which our local schools embraced the tactic.
A little further from home, we read that some states are abandoning contact tracing efforts. First, there aren’t enough people to keep pace with the number of infections. More notably, though, is that people are saying “fine, you want us to stay home for 14 days… who is going to feed my family during that time?” And sure enough, there aren’t a lot of satisfactory answers forthcoming.
In Vermont, we have enough contact tracing manpower. But the effort is only good if people respond honestly and comply with the prescriptions. That’s no given.
Last week we published a wire report about a cluster of cases in Orange County. Orange Southwest School District Superintendent Layne Millington told the AP that about a third of the families that were contacted by the state discounted concerns about possible exposure or exposing others to the virus.
“Didn’t care, is probably a good expression for a lot of them,” Millington said. “And then, we had at least one family that had positive cases that said they were going to be noncompliant with the quarantine.”
We don’t think it’s hyperbole to say, if you get enough of those people, it’s game over.
We aren’t as recalcitrant as our aforementioned neighbors in Orange County. But it brings us back to the story of the Governor who muscled his way into Thanksgiving.
To date, Governor Scott has gotten high marks for effective management of the crisis. As a direct consequence, most Vermonters have thus far followed his lead willingly. That’s no small thing when you’re talking about dramatic policies that affect every facet of our lives - most notably our ability to make a living.
Nor is it a given that Vermonters will blindly follow, into perpetuity.
These are high stakes gambits, and the margin of error is small. With the exception of his ratline in April, and an attack on a Rutland gym trying to eke out an existence in May, we’d say the Governor has operated admiringly within these margins.
But we would urge him to slow his roll the next time he’s thinking about entering our homes to announce we can’t be trusted with common sense. That’s an overreach in any circumstance. More so when the policy is based on questionable data and science, as we’re led to believe by a New York Times analysis that followed Scott’s directive.
Apoorva Mandavilli wrote last week that while social gatherings have become a convenient scapegoat, “there is little evidence to suggest that household gatherings were the source of the majority of infections since the summer.”
She writes policies like Governor Scott’s lead to “draconian policies that don’t square with science.”
Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Toronto, goes a step further, telling Mandavilli… “These recommendations are unscientific and ‘bizarre.’”
She rightly points out “people are going to recognize that and push back.
“Dissonant policies also run the risk of fueling mistrust and resentment in a public already beset with fatigue from the pandemic and politics,” Dr. Tuite warns.
In response to the New York Times piece, the Scott administration insisted that data drives policy. But when pressed, the Health Department and Governor only provided anecdote. When devising rules that insert the state squarely into our homes, that flimsy approach isn’t gonna cut it for long.