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Democrats Chris Harte,
Mike Fiori set to run

By LEE BURNETT
Staff Writer

Chris Harte, a newspaper heir and former president of the Portland newspapers, is considering a challenge to Sen. Susan Collins next year. He's the first Democrat to publicly declare his interest in the race.

And Michael Fiori, the former owner of Downeast Pharmacies, is considering running for governor, a race that's likely to be a bit more crowded.

Both Harte and Fiori are businessmen with plenty of money and Democratic party credentials.

Harte, 53, of Portland looks more organized at this stage. He's lined up a pollster and issues consultant and is getting help from Jim Mitchell and Sharon Sudbay. Harte's family started the Harte-Hanks newspaper chain based in San Antonio, Tex. and sold out in 1997. He was president of the Portland Newspapers for two years in the early 1990s.

"Basically, I think Susan [Collins] has shown, while she's adept at portraying herself as a moderate, she really votes with Trent Lott and against the interests of the families and people of Maine," he said. "I think it's time Maine elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. We haven't elected a Democrat since 1988 and we've lost nine out of 10 elections. I will fight for a range of issues - education, environment, health care - that Susan is not ever going to be a champion of."

Harte has lived in Maine nine years. He grew up in Texas and has a passing acquaintance with George W. Bush, who was a year ahead of him at Andover prep school. He doesn't have any good stories about the president except that he remembers him as a jester and Big Man on Campus who organized pickup baseball games.

Harte has worked on numerous Democratic campaigns across the country, including Edmund Muskie's 1972 presidential campaign. He's been a fund-raiser for Rep. Tom Allen and Dick Spencer, an unsuccesful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress.

Harte is married to Katherine Stoddard Pope, an anesthesiologist. They have three children. They live in Portland and plan to move to Cumberland.

Fiori, 49, of Brunswick, is a long-time Democratic activist who built Downeast Pharmacies into a 17-store chain before selling out a few years ago. He started the EYE Foundation to support initiatives for the elderly, youth and environment.

Fiori says he is "evaluating the market" for a candidacy, but he's already produced an hour-long documentary that could serve as a campaign video. It's an exploration of Maine's traditional way of life with a strong anti-corporation message. It has been shown on Maine Public Broadcasting and at a film festival in Waterville.

"It leaves viewers with a lot of questions. Is the tremendous corporate growth good for the state?" he asks. "We have a heritage economy, farms, fields, the coast. They need more than their share of protection, they need extra help or else they'll go by the wayside."

Fiori says he has the means to finance his own campaign, but says he might seek public financing under the state's Clean Elections Law, as a statement of his criticism of the role of special-interest money in the electoral process.

Fiori is married to Dora Mills, the director of Maine's Bureau of Health. They have two children.

Other potential candidates for governor include Rep. John Baldacci; Chellie Pingree, former Democratic leader in the Maine Senate; David Flanagan, former president of Central Maine Power Co; Jane Amero, former Republican leader in the Maine Senate; Phil Harriman, former Republican state senator from Yarmouth; and Rick Bennett, president pro tem of the Maine Senate.

 

Lee Burnett can be reached at:
lburnett@mainetimes.com


 

Maine librarians resist federal
Internet "filtering" law

By MEG HASKELL
Staff Writer

School and public libraries in Maine stand to lose Internet access funding unless they comply with a new federal law requiring them to "filter" the information patrons may access. The Maine Library Association is the first plaintiff in a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the law's constitutionality on the grounds that it violates First Amendment rights. The American Library Association is preparing to file a separate suit.

The new Child Internet Protection Act requires all school and public libraries using funds made available through the federal universal access program (sometimes called the federal e-rate) to implement a filtering technology and establish a policy that specifies which materials will be unavailable through their computers. Libraries that refuse to do so will be ineligible for public funding. Essentially every school and public library in Maine relies on this public funding - or soon will - and will be affected by the change in law.

The filtering law is part of a sweeping appropriations bill signed in the last days of the Clinton administration, sponsored by Sen. John McCain [R-Arizona]. A December press release from McCain's office quotes the senator: "While schools and libraries across the country increasingly use the Internet as a learning tool, we need to ensure that pervasive obscene and violent material is screened out and that our children are protected. Parents can protect their children from Internet smut at home, but have no control over computers at school. This legislation allows local communities to decide what technology they want to use and what to filter out so that our children's minds aren't polluted. Parents have the right to know that their children are safe from computer smut when they are at school, or the public library." All four members of Maine's congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill package.

Melora Ranney, director of the public library in Winthrop and co-chair of the intellectual freedom committee of the Maine Library Association, said the law violates the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights, which specifically upholds uncensored access.

Ranney said library patrons have differing needs and should be given respect and privacy to access the information they want. "Looking at a computer should be no different than looking at a book, without someone looking over your shoulder or blocking pages they don't think you should see," she said. Filtering affects all patrons, not only children, and "assumes guilt" on the part of everyone. Furthermore, Ranney said the bill is vague in its language defining obscenity, and filtering softwares are incapable of reliably screening pornographic sites, and some screen out unrelated sites.

"This is a bunch of excuses to control libraries," Ranney said. "These are the same people who are trying to control access to information about gay people, sex education, Harry Potter [for references to witchcraft]. They use the whole obscenity/pornography issue to try and control everything we do."

The federal involvement creates local control issues as well. "This is an affront to our communities," Ranney said. "This is the federal government telling people, 'Your library isn't good enough, your librarians aren't doing a good job, your library trustees can't be trusted to make good decisions.' "

President of the Maine Association of School Libraries Susan Nelson said, "It's pretty upsetting to be portrayed as the bad guys. I can't think of another group that cares more for children than librarians." Nelson said several elementary schools do use Internet filtering and that there is no talk that she is aware of from schools intending to withdraw from the funding program in protest. "It won't be our choice anyway," she said. "School departments are just taking this as a given and trying to decide which software to use."

Filtering software can run several thousand dollars; Nelson said less expensive tools come with strings attached, like advertising or permission to track student data. Decisions on how to provide Internet access are best made on a community by community basis, "rather than slamming the hammer down" on all libraries, she said.

In its recent statement on "Internet Access and Filters," the Maine Library Association took this position: "The Maine Library Association respects the responsibility of all parents/legal guardians to guide their own children's use of the library, its resources and services. The Association recommends that libraries teach responsible and effective use of the Internet through handouts, online guides, training sessions, and Web pages highlighting library recommended sources. In addition, the Association encourages the management of this resource in ways that protect the privacy of Internet users."

For the past six years, public and school libraries in Maine have been Internet-connected courtesy of the Maine School Library Network, with funding that grew out of a telecommunications overcharge in the early 1990s. That funding is coming to an end, and beginning in July, Maine libraries will be almost wholly dependent on federal e-rate support.

The text of the Child Internet Protection Act may be read online at: http://www.cdt.org/legislation/106th/
speech/001218cipa.pdf

 

Meg Haskell can be reached at:
mhaskell@mainetimes.com



 

Dollar bills fell like fall leaves on forest referendum campaign

By PHYLLIS AUSTIN
Senior Writer

Fighting statewide forest referenda driven by environmentalist Jonathan Carter has been expensive for the industry. The latest campaign finance report by Maine's Forest Heritage Coalition shows the "No on 2" campaign against the proposed forest restrictions cost the industry $2,392,804. Added to the two previous referenda fights, the industry has spent close to $10 million, according to Thomas Howard, treasurer for the political action committee.

International Paper, the second largest landowner with 1.2 million acres, was the leading contributor, with almost $400,000, followed by substantial donations from other international companies with Maine mills. Irving, the largest landowner with 1.5 million acres, gave through several of its companies just over $100,000. Other paper companies, trade organizations, lumber mills, land managers and logging contractors - a who's-who of the industry - gave the bulk of the other contributions.

Besides cash contributions, in-kind donations (staff salaries, office supplies, advertising, travel, meals, mailings) were considerable. The Jan. 15, 2001, coalition filing reported $1,900,264 in cash gifts and $487,084 in-kind contributions, plus $5,456 interest on the checking account. Howard said there's just over $10,000 in the bank and at least half of that will settle remaining small bills. The final PAC report will be submitted by April 10, and then the PAC will be terminated.

The forest heritage PAC attacked the referendum as a threat to the survival of small landowners. But the PAC actually representing the non-industrial owners - the Coalition to Save Small Woodlands - spent much less than the big corporations. The last report showed they raised $31,134 in cash and $8,374 in-kind and had a zero balance when the PAC terminated after the Nov. 7 vote. Most of the contributions were in the $100 to $500 range.

The Forests for the Future Campaign PAC, the entity supporting passage of the referendum issue, collected $80,277 cash and $7,065 in-kind. The largest contributor was the Sierra Club, $20,000, followed by the Forest Ecology Network, $13,000. George and Laura Appell of Phillips each gave $10,000, and Jonathan Carter and Pat LaMarche contributed $5,000 each. That PAC also has ceased.

The referendum question asked voters whether they favored requiring landowners to obtain a permit for all clearcuts and defined cutting levels for lands subject to the state's Tree Growth Tax. Carter's Forest Ecology Network aimed to ban cutting trees faster than they grow on land in the tree-growth program, which taxes landowners at the value of the wood, a far lower amount than the development value. The opposing side claimed small woodlot owners would be devastated by passage; voters killed it by a wide margin.

The 12 largest cash and in-kind contributions from paper companies and large landowners were: International Paper, $331,673 cash, $61,315 in-kind; S. D. Warren Services, $231,000; Georgia Pacific, $225,252 cash, $537 in-kind; Champion International, $141,880 cash, $6,116 in-kind; Ft. James Corp., $125,673, $5,848 in-kind; Mead Paper, $125,485 in-kind; Irving Woodlands, $81,250; J. D. Irving Ltd., $20,000; Irving Oil, $500; Great Northern Paper, $70,000 cash, $46,344 in-kind; Fraser Papers Inc., $60,520, $14,610 in-kind; Madison Paper Industries, $45,600 cash, $1,775 in-kind; and Plum Creek Marketing Inc. $36,730 cash, $5,431 in-kind; Seven Islands Land Co., $35,200 cash, $3,813 in-kind.
Other notable contributions from companies with Maine mills and/or land were: Prentiss & Carlisle Land Management Inc., $31,990; Wagner Forest Management Inc., $30,000; H. C. Haynes, Inc., $25,750; J. Paul Levesque & Sons Inc., $17,340 cash; J. M. Huber Co., $13,557 cash; Lincoln Pulp and Paper, $10,000 cash; and Robbins Lumber Inc., $3,690 cash, $9,112 in-kind.

Forest operations in Québec that rely on wood supplies from Maine and own land here also anted up more than $35,000. Among the out-of-state paper companies and trade groups that gave were: Louisiana-Pacific Corp., $7,560; Weyerhauser Corp., $5,000; Boise Cascade Corp., $5,000; Willamette Industries Inc., $2,500, Jefferson Smurfit Corp, $1,000; American Forest & Paper Association, $50,000; Northeastern Lumber Manufacturing Association, $10,000; Wood Products Manufacturers Association, $10,000; and Northeastern Retail Lumber Association, $5,000.

Most of the money was spent on marketing, consulting, advertising, legal advice and poll-taking. The PAC also spent $3,109 on speaker training, $2,259 for a reception at the Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland and $4,544 for a victory party at the Sheraton Four Points in Bangor.

 

Phyllis Austin can be reached at:
trout1@gwi.net

 


Camp water tower flaunts wilderness rules, BPL says

By PHYLLIS AUSTIN
Senior Writer

Management problems in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway seem unending, and the latest hot spot is Jalbert Camps on Round Pond, one of two remaining sporting camps in the state-protected corridor. The Land Use Regulation Commission is preparing to cite owner Phyllis Jalbert for violating the rule against pressurized water, according to enforcement chief Bill Gailbraith. Jalbert's lease requires that water to the cabins and lodge must be hand-carried or hand-pumped, in keeping with the primitive character of the waterway.

The operation of Jalbert Camps is overseen by the Bureau of Parks and Lands, whose management of the 92-mile waterway has been challenged recently in a lawsuit by environmentalists. Letters and memos in BPL's files attest to numerous unauthorized activities at Jalbert's over the years, such as the building of a bathhouse, an outhouse and a hot tub without required permits, using chainsaws without permission from the bureau and having more guests than allowed by the lease.

The current trouble over pressurized water from an old water tower is one that has lingered for years, indicative of the bureau's difficulty in resolving issues in its only designated wilderness area about 280 miles from headquarters. Tom Morrison, BPL's executive director, said, "We're waiting to receive [information from LURC on the violation], and when things open back up this spring, we will get things in order. When problems have been brought to Phyllis Jalbert, she has been receptive to hearing about them."

In a letter to Jalbert dated Oct. 23, 1998, Morrison told her "how important it is for you and others who use the camps with your permission to adhere scrupulously to the terms and condition of your lease. Our administration of the waterway is increasingly scrutinized, and failure to abide by the terms of the lease will oblige us to take remedial action."

That letter brought to Jalbert's attention two specific unauthorized activities - the cutting of dead trees with a chainsaw and the replacement of a bridge over Burntland Brook in the state-owned 500-foot restricted zone along the waterway. (Jalbert's includes two outlying camps on Burntland Brook and one near Whittaker Brook.) "It appears that the bridge was specifically designed for ATV use but is not on the access trail from the road," Morrison wrote, stating that ATV use at the Burnt Land camp site is limited to September and October and "only for the purpose of transporting supplies" between the camp and the road.

LURC's Gailbraith said one of his field staff had investigated the water supply situation at Jalbert's prior to 2000 and told the operators that "there could be no pressurized water for the camps." Last fall, LURC found the water line from the tower was still hooked up to a number of cabins "and a little shower was set up," he said.

Phyllis Jalbert, whose father, Willard, built the camps, lives in New York City in the winter and could not be reached. Her camp manager, Dana Shaw in Presque Isle, also was unavailable. Shaw set up the pressurized water system, according to BPL documents.

Jalbert's and Nugent's camps, on Chamberlain Lake, were both carved out of the wilderness about the same time more than 60 years ago. After the state acquired the waterway corridor in 1966, numerous buildings were razed, but the two traditional sporting camps were allowed to remain in operation under lease. The late Lee Hoar, who was the first supervisor of the waterway, sent a memo to then-chief planner Tom Cielinski Feb. 1, 1996, saying that the original intent of waterway creators was that the two Jalbert camps would be removed when the owners retired.

"Neither [Willard nor Sam Jalbert's camps] was a viable business at the time," Hoar said. "Sam's camps are long gone, and I question if the Round Pond camps actually represent a viable business, or are they a camp for those with connections." Sen. John Martin [D-Eagle Lake], the former House Speaker, has been a long-time visitor at Jalbert's and was agent for Phyllis Jalbert in 1990 when he wrote a letter of support for a hot tub. He also was behind a bill that prohibits BPL from changing the existing type of use of Jalbert's or Nugent's. The bill also prohibits BPL from destroying or abandoning either without legislative approval.

BPL officials do not know when the water tower at Jalbert's was built, but a water tank was moved from beside the guide's bedroom to the water tower in the late 1960s or '70s, according to a Sept. 7, 1990, memo from BPL staffer Steve Curtis to then-parks director Herb Hartman. Back then LURC's Cote said he couldn't find any documentation for approval of the water tower.

Jalbert's lease is up for renewal this year. The original 10-year lease provided for two five-year extensions, he said. The first extension ends in May. Phyllis Jalbert could sign on until 2006 but has not informed BPL of her intention.

 

Phyllis Austin can be reached at:
trout1@gwi.net


Expert says hospitals faring better than they'd like you to think

By LEE BURNETT
Staff Writer

Maine hospitals have more cash than their counterparts in the rest of the country, particularly urban New England, according to a new analysis of Medicare records.

On average, Maine hospitals took in 8 percent more money than their expenses, said Stuart Altman, a Brandeis University health economist who spoke at a health care forum in South Portland last week. The national average is 4.9 percent, while Massachusetts hospitals realized just a 0.5 percent margin and Connecticut hospitals just 2.3 percent.

Maine hospitals are "not making big bucks but they're financially secure," Altman, a professor of national health policy, said in a telephone interview. His research is based on data from MedPAC, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, where he used to work.

Altman's findings differ from what hospitals have been saying about their bottom lines. The findings also raise questions about the degree to which Maine's 39 hospitals contribute to rising premiums, which are the fourth highest in the nation and are galloping along with double-digit increases every year.

Even though Maine hospitals are non-profit institutions, their margins matter because they account for the largest share of overall health care costs in Maine. With 34 cents of every dollar spent on health care in Maine going to hospitals, they far outstrip physicians and pharmaceuticals for top billing, according to the Year 2000 Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care. That's true even though substantial cost savings have been achieved shifting from bedside service to walk-in clinics.

For years, Maine hospitals have complained about low reimbursements from Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly. That's only part of the story, says Altman.

"Maine hospitals do suffer in terms of what they're being paid by Medicare, which is substantially lower than their costs. [Their reimbursement rate] is one of the lowest in the country. But the shortfall from Medicare is more than made up by private payers."

In fact, private insurance companies overpay Maine hospitals by about 39 percent, while Medicare underpays by about 12.4 percent, he said. Altman spoke at a forum organized by the Muskie School of Government at the University of Southern Maine and Maine Health Management Coalition.

Not surprisingly, hospitals take issue with Altman's findings. Margins may be healthy today, but that's an aberration and that could easily be wiped out in the next few years, says Jim Harnar, spokesman for the Maine Hospital Association.

"Generally speaking at this point in time, hospital financial health is OK," said Harnar. "But we're extremely concerned about the immediate future." Maine hospitals are bracing for a $250 million reduction in Medicare payments in the next few years as a result of the Balance Budget Amendment of 1997, he said. "That is huge," he said. "I don't want your readers to get the wrong impression that Maine hospitals are rock-solid."

Maine hospital margins tend to be larger than in other parts of the country because their responsibilities are larger, such as supporting financially draining home health and long-term care services, he said. "To some extent margins don't matter because Maine hospitals are not for profit. Any margin goes right back into the community in services or coverage of the uninsured," said Harnar. "Margins tend to be a temporary thing. Premiums, that's what's killing people, forcing them to drop insurance coverage. The real question is what drives up health care premiums."

Harnar said rising premiums are the upshot of managed care companies' mismanaged entry into Maine in the mid-1990s. Initially, they offered aggressive discounts in an attempt to win dominance. But Tufts lost millions and withdrew, and Harvard Pilgrim nearly went under. Now, insurance companies are trying to make up for lost time, he said. Harnar conceded that hospital-spending accounts for the largest chunk of the health care dollar "but also a declining piece." The cost of pharmaceuticals is creating the most pressure on premiums, he said.

Nobody knows for sure how flush hospitals are because they have not been publicly accountable since the Maine Health Care Finance Commission was abolished in 1995.

Many analysts believe hospitals in Maine cost more to run because they are small.

"There is no question but that it costs money to maintain a rural health infrastructure," said Andrew Coburn, director of the Institute for Health Policy at the Muskie School. "The low volume is more expensive than in an urban environment where hospitals can be more efficient and other costs [can] be contained. How much that contributes to higher than average costs, there's very little empirical evidence. There's a great need to look at it in an objective, unbiased way."

The corollary is that Maine's rural hospitals have more clout than their counterparts in dealing with the financial pressures of managed care companies, said Coburn. Managed care has expanded in Maine and now accounts for about 45 percent of the market, according to Maine's Bureau of Insurance.

However, managed care "has not been able to penetrate the hospital sector and get any significant discount behavior. They have not been able to obtain the same discounts as in very competitive marketplaces like Minnesota and California," said Coburn.

"When there's only one hospital in town and a panel of patients dependent on that hospital, you can't just take patients someplace else."

Managed care companies have also been constrained by patient backlash, he noted. Wide support exits in both parties for a national patient bill of rights.

"All across the country whatever magic bullets we've used - hospital regulation, competition in the marketplace and managed care - we've spent those bullets," said Coburn. "There aren't a lot of clear solutions that have emerged as alternatives."

Glenn Griswold, a health policy analyst at the Bureau of Insurance, said Maine's relatively rural hospital system presents policy makers with grim choices as they try to expand access and control costs.

"[Hospitals] don't have the admissions to support the overall cost structure," said Griswold. "But what's the alternative? If you close down hospitals, people have to travel greater distances and that's not a good option, either."

 

Lee Burnett can be reached at:
lburnett@mainetimes.com




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