Weekly Round-Up # 6: Get Your Wonk On


As noted in the last “round-up” post, the students in Maine Government are now fully focused on analytical research papers on a Maine policy issue of their choice. Thus, many of the posts for this week and subsequent weeks will be delving into the minutiae of policy issue and specific plans and proposals for how to address challenges facing the state of the Maine. In short, the students will be getting a little “wonky.”

For a long time, “policy wonk” had a negative connotation. The term conjured up images of egg-head researchers speaking about mind-numbingly complex issues, marshaling data, statistics, and the ubiquitous pie chart to offer up conclusions seemingly only of interest to the wonk and their fellow wonks. But this has changed, due largely to the presence of a cadre of data-driven political and economic commentators who have managed to appeal to a new generation of wonk-minded political junkies: Leavitt and Dubner’s “Freakonomics,” Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, and a host of others. Politico had a great piece written by Felix Salmon recently which asked the question “Is there a Wonk Bubble?”–a question answered with an enthusiastic yes.

Frankly, a “wonk bubble” sounds a lot more appealing than the “screaming talking heads bubble” that Crossfire and other cable news shows helped to propagate in the past 10-15 years.

So please pardon (or celebrate) our wonkishness, as we delve into the nitty-gritty details of an variety of topics: alternative energy surcharges (Ben Algeo), retail wages (John Chase), student debt (Liam Nee–in a follow up to his recent piece in the Bangor Daily News), plans for youth retention (Dean Soltys), organic farming (Trey Stewart), out-of-state EBT card use (Jaymi Thibault), and last but not least, wood pellets (Spencer Warmuth).

We’ll be back a little later this week with more great and wonky work on Maine politics.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Round-Up # 5: From Blogging to Analytical Research


Our Maine Government class blog has been dormant for a few weeks, but with good reason. First, the students went on Spring Break. Here at the University of Maine, we have a two week “Spring Break” (hazard quotes because as anyone knows, March in Maine is not exactly “spring”). Theories abound as to why this is. Since I came here three years ago, I have heard about a dozen different explanations as to why we have this longer break. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that after three months of Maine winter, we all just need a bit of time off.

Upon returning, the students began work on their “blog audits.” The students were assessing their past posts and utilizing the work they’d been doing around their broad policy issue to think about a focused research topic and question, on which they can write a longer paper. I stole this idea from the wonderful blog ProfHacker, and you can read more about it here. The bottom line is that last week’s posts were likely helpful to the students in terms of narrowing down their research question and thinking systematically about a topic for an analytical policy analysis, but probably not the most enthralling reading for someone looking to learn more about Maine politics. Thus, there was no “round up” post for that week.

But this week, we’re back! From now until the rest of the semester, the students will be working diligently on their paper topics and so many of the posts may reflect that–shorter, more narrowly-focused analyses that will end up being integrated into their larger paper. This week is no exception.

First and foremost, another one of our bloggers was featured in the Bangor Daily News this week. Liam Nee, whose blog Emigrationland focus on Maine’s “age gap” and demographic issues in the state, had an op-ed published in Wednesday’s print edition (and online about 24 hours prior). In it, he reflects on his own experience as a 20-something, soon-to-be-graduate and the choice that he and many young people will soon be facing: whether to stay in Maine or to go elsewhere to seek out more job opportunities and likely higher wages. He expresses his desire to stay but also expresses frustration at state-level economic development strategies that focus on how to attract investment, perhaps at the expense of what might entice individuals to stay in Maine. He also offers suggestions on what the state might to achieve this policy goal.

We have a number of other great blogposts: John Chase continues his focus on the ways that large corporations that pay low-wages can drive up entitlement spending with a particular focus on McDonalds. Jaymi Thibault continues her semester-long focus on poverty by examining Governor Paul Lepage’s recent proposal to target “electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card misuse.” Trey Stewart continues his focus on the intersection between health and food, examining organic foods and a program by the organization Food AND Medicine designed to incentivize healthy food consumption among low-income individuals in the greater Bangor area. And Spencer Warmuth examines the impasse between Governor Paul LePage and the State Legislature over a proposal to raise a cap on hydropower.

This week, we’re diving headlong into the policy history leading up to the current debates over Mainecare expansion (a discussion that couldn’t be more timely). Stay tuned for more informative and thoughtful analysis next week.

Posted in Round-Up | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Round-Up # 4: Plans, plans, plans

ImageIt’s the last week before Spring Break and we’re all looking forward to a rest. However, there are no shortage of great posts and analysis on Maine political and policy issues this week. It’s a diverse group of posts this week, but if there is one thread tiring many of these posts together, it is “plans.” Last week saw the release of Gubernatorial Candidate (and US Representative) Mike Michaud’s “Maine Made” plan, an outline of what he would do to revitalize the Maine economy, should he be elected in November. Also, at the beginning of the month, Bangor City Councilman Ben Sprague put forth a plan listing 38 ideas designed to attract and retain young people in the city. Many of the posts this week examine dimensions of these two plans. 

Turning first to Michaud’s plan, Ben Algeo zeroes in his proposals with regard to energy policy. Spencer Warmuth has a great post looking broadly at the economic dimensions of the plan and whether he believes they would prove fruitful. In particular, he devotes attention to Michaud’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, as well as his much-discussed proposal to offer a tuition-free sophomore year to students within the UMaine system. Liam Nee opts for a comparative analysis looking at Eliot Cutler (who visited his class on Chinese Economics this week) alongside Michaud. In particular, Liam focuses (as he has all semester) on the issue of demographics and whose plan is more likely to keep young people in the state of Maine. 

Speaking of demographics, there were also a number of posts that dealt with Ben Sprague’s suggestions for Bangor. (Incidentally, Ben will be visiting the course later this semester as we talk about local and municipal governments). Cam Marcotte offers a largely positive assessment of some of Sprague’s key suggestions–zeroing in on incentives for small business owners and new homeowners, as well as the proposals designed to deal with student debt. Dean Soltys, whose blog also deals with demographics, offers a thumbs up as well.  Although he perceptively notes that many of these proposals will involve short-term sacrifices (in terms of revenue) for the local governments and the state government. He leaves open the question of whether officials already facing budgetary strain will be able to make the short-term sacrifices necessary in order to deal with the longer term structural issues facing the state. 

As always, this is only a sampling of the great work the students have been doing thus far. Head over to the blogroll to see some of the other work which the students have been doing. And if you have not yet had the chance check out Trey Stewart’s piece on diet and health care that appeared in the Bangor Daily News this week (a blogpost composed for this class which he revised to submit as an op/ed). Also, check out this Bangor Daily News article on Michaud’s sophomore tuition proposal that features Maine Government student Liam Nee. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Maine Government Students Featured in the BDN

Two of the students in POS 362-Maine Government have been featured in the Bangor Daily News commenting on issues relevant to Maine politics.

Liam Nee is featured extensively in this article on Gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud’s plan to offer Maine students a tuition-free sophomore at any college or university in the University of Maine System. He states that the program is a promising way to help alleviate student debt, and emphasizes what a significant problem this is for students in the UMaine system.

In addition, Trey Stewart has had an op-ed published in the Bangor Daily News examining the intersection between diet and health policy. Trey argues that programs which promote and incentivize a healthy diet for low-income individuals could end up paying enormous later rewards. He highlights an incentive program for low-income individuals at local farmer’s markets initiated by the group Food AND Medicine as a promising first step.

Trey’s piece started out as a blogpost for his Maine Government course blog, Health Care and ME. 

Congrats, Liam and Trey!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Round-Up # 3: It’s Legislation Time!

Imagelate post this week. So my apologies, first and foremost. Normally, I try to get a round-up of last week’s blogposts together at the beginning of the week. This week, it’s coming at the end. But there are reasons! This week in the UMaine Political Science Department, we played host to Alex Hertel-Fernandez. Alex is a Research Fellow and PhD Candidate at Harvard University whose current research examines the impact of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on legislation and policymaking at the state level. Students in our Maine Government class got to hear Alex talk more about his research this week. Alex examines the way that ALEC has expanded the influence of corporate interests on the state level across the country, and on Thursday we discussed specific ALEC-sponsored legislation that has made it to Maine. See Alex’s piece in this week’s Bangor Daily News here. 

And all of the Maine Government blogsters have been busy as well. Given that we spent so much time thinking about legislation and corporate influence this week, I figured I would choose some pieces my students wrote that had to do with these two themes. Let’s start with corporations. John Chase examines the debate over using SNAP food assistance to buy unhealthy foods from the angle of corporate lobbying. He argues that it’s corporate lobbying from major food producers like Coca Cola that prevent any meaningful reform here. Trey Stewart continues his examination of health care in Maine, zeroing in on the power of the pharmaceutical industry and the impact of Medicare Part D on their bottom lines.

And what about legislation? A host of great analyses of specific pieces of legislation currently making their way through the Maine State House. Spencer Warmuth examines LD 1512, a bill which would enable capital hungry businesses and entrepreneurs access to capital from “crowd funding.” Ben Algeo has a look at two very different bills (LD 1621 and LD 1628) related to natural gas. Last but not least, Jaymi Thibault provides her thoughts on a bill to provide meals to need students even in the summer months. The bill was vetoed by Governor Paul LePage, but the veto was overridden in the Legislature.

Just a sampling of the student’s hard work in the past week. This week, we’re very excited to be hosting a Maine political dynamo, Peter Mills, on campus. He’ll be chatting with the students about his long career in Maine politics with a particular emphasis on office of Governor in the state.

AND….one of our students may have an op-ed piece published in the Bangor Daily News this week. Stay tuned!

Posted in Round-Up | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Round-up # 2: The Road to Legislation is Paved with Good Intentions


Yet another busy week in our Maine Government course. This week, we learned about the “nuts and bolts” of the Maine State Legislature and watched and reacted to the Governor’s “State of the State” Address. In addition, we were joined by two distinguished former legislators: Mary Cathcart (now a Research Associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and Co-Director of the Maine NEW Leadership Program) and Chris Rector (now the regional representative for US Senator Angus King).

We’ve been talking about the contemporary state of Maine politics quite a bit in this course (as one might expect). One of the themes that we’ve highlighted is that politics in the state of Maine has become more rancorous, more polarized, more partisan than one would typically expect in state with a “moralistic political culture.” Maine is typically known for its pragmatism, its centrism, and the tendency of voters to punish politicians who engage in partisan brinksmanship.

Yet former Legislators Cathcart and Rector left us with an important message. The thing they noted about their time in the Legislature is that even those individuals who they disagreed with vehemently on policy issues often were acting from a sincere belief that they were doing the right thing for Maine and for its people. This is an important lesson and one that I think we all hope remains true about Maine politics. Though we may disagree on the issues, we can have an intelligent debate informed by evidence, and one that affords respect to even our political adversaries (grounded in the fact that we all are truly acting in what we believe to be the best interests of Maine’s people).

Some great analysis and commentary from the from the students this week as well. Unsurprisingly, many students chose to focus on dimensions of Governor Paul LePage’s State of the State Address. Both John Chase and Jake Posik focused on the Governor’s discussion of EBT misuse–zeroing in gaps in the existing regulatory framework for how these funds are used. Jaymi Thibault also addresses the speech asking why we can’t have our cake (tax relief) and eat it too (Mainecare expansion). Lastly, Ben Algeo examines the Governor’s claims on energy, questioning some of the claims made about the benefits of natural gas and hydroelectric power from Quebec.

Many students this semester are working on the issue of demographics. Dean Soltys examines the inroads that the Maine Republican Party is making with younger voters (most recently evident in UMaine Student, and Political Science Minor, Margaret Howson’s election as Hampden Republican Committee Chair). Liam Nee writes about the other side of the “age gap”–discussing the recent Maine Summit on Aging. Cam Marcotte stresses that while we are seeing migration into the state of Maine, it’s likely not the type of migration to deal with our current demographic woes.

A few other great pieces this week that aren’t thematically linked. Spencer Warmuth has a quick take on the dust-up in Appropriations over the $40 million revenue sharing motion, voted on while Republican lawmakers were absent.nment role in the provision of health care benefits can and should open a space in which we begin to think, societally, about our diets and consumption of foods known to induce health risks. Last, but certainly not least, what would a Maine Government class be without some serious talk about lobster? Derek Williams offers his take.

Check out the blogroll for more of the students’ work. And stay tuned for more updates!

Posted in Round-Up | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Round-up # 1: The Environment, Poverty, Demographics, and Spending

The last week was a busy one here at the University of Maine, with students in POS 362-Maine Government hard at work setting up their blogs and doing the research to write their first posts. In addition, we were joined by former Maine State Attorney General (and UMaine Political Science Department Alumnus) James Tierney. In speaking to the students about contemporary Maine politics, the very first words out of his mouth were “We’re in trouble.” Tierney went on to describe the ways in which we face a variety of policy challenges in the state and will need creative and adaptive solutions to adequately deal with them. That theme, challenges, is reflected in many of the students’ posts for this week.

Many of the students chose to write about environmental challenges. Ben Algeo contributes a great analysis of a bill currently before the Maine State Legislature to support PV (photovoltaic) solar energy, an alternative energy source where Maine is lagging behind the region in production. Uriah Hallett shares his concerns about potential changes to metallic mining regulations in the state. Julia Chapin writes about the capacity of offshore wind to make Maine a leader in sustainable energy and to create a new niche industry in which our state would already have a leg up.

The challenge of poverty within the state of Maine also informed other students’ posts. Jaymi Thibault wrote about a counter-intuitive study on poverty and education that emerged from the University of Southern Maine. The study shows that poverty affects quality of education, but not in the way that we typically think. Per-pupil spending seems to have no impact on educational outcomes and even students who are wealthy will perform more poorly within an impoverished school district. She writes, “the study seems to imply that the root of the problem is not necessarily financial. Perhaps it has more to do with the students’ learning environments and communities.” Evan Smith takes up a related issue in his analysis of the potential benefits to be gained from expanding early education.

Many have chosen to write on the challenge of demographics offering an array of different solutions. Spencer Warmuth suggests encouraging immigration. Dean Soltys considers the plausibility of siting a legal marijuana growing operation in an economically depressed area such as Lincoln. Liam Nee talks about a project he is engaged in through his Communication & Journalism class called “Bangor 2020.” Students, Liam included, are working with the Bangor Daily News to think and write about the challenges facing Bangor in retaining its younger populations.

In a perpetually cash-strapped state such as Maine (and one with a troubling demographic profile), many challenges emerge in relation to government spending.  Some students chose to take up this issue in their weekly blogs. Jake Posik writes about the long-term dangers he sees in expanding Mainecare, the state’s health care program for low-income families and individuals. He argues that the expansion would leave Maine less well off as rates of federal support begin to draw down over the life of the expansion. John Chase considers economically depressed areas such as Washington County, where large proportions of individuals rely upon various forms of state assistance. He considers whether a market-driven solution of selective tax relief  might be the answer.

These are but a sampling of the students’ contributions for this week. Head over to blogroll to see more of the students’ hard work. All of these are significant policy challenges that will drive Maine’s political present, as well as its future. However, though these constitute challenges, the students posts suggest that they are not intractable or insurmountable. Stay tuned for further thoughtful suggestions of ways that we might confront such policy challenges in the weeks to come.

Posted in Round-Up | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment