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Thursday, March 18, 2015: Raw milk, legislative pay raise and Sen. Willette’s comments

LD 229 forward

At the public hearing to restore the legality of direct-to-consumer fresh milk sales last week, dairies with hundreds, and one even with thousands of cows, showed up to protest the existence of homesteads and micro-dairies with less than a dozen animals. They cited an old fear-based argument against allowing direct sales (without state oversight) to continue.

They used a tired claim presented with no data or evidence. It goes something like this: “All it takes is one of them (small farmers) to make someone sick and it will spoil the whole industry. You’re not just selling to your neighbor — you’re dealing with the whole dairy industry.” That was abundantly clear and has been every session whenever supportive legislators have tried to rectify the bureaucratic bungle that reclassified small farms as “milk distributors,” making on-farm sales direct to customers illegal. While no evidence was presented to support this claim, this fear has proven effective in the past.

There is, however, evidence to the contrary. In 2006, a study was done by Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, comparing both the production and sales of conventional, pasteurized milk following alleged raw-milk illness outbreaks in Washington, California, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. In each of these states, there was no pattern of reduced sales or production in conventional milk at the time of or after the alleged outbreaks. None.

The time is ripe to restore the legitimacy of our community-based micro-dairies selling directly to their customers. LD 229 provides a way forward.

Heather Retberg


Editorial disservice

The BDN’s March 17 editorial praising changes to the way Maine evaluates teachers in order to avoid losing our No Child Left Behind waiver failed to properly frame the issue. The BDN said the change allows Maine to avoid “a bureaucratically nightmarish and ineffective federal school improvement regime.” That’s only partially true. It should have been made clear that the U.S. Department of Education’s threat to revoke the waiver really just forced Maine to choose between two destructive options. Yes, losing the waiver would have forced schools to adopt a series of ineffective policies. Unfortunately, maintaining the waiver simply requires schools to adopt a different set of bad policies.

One is the use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Research shows using test scores to evaluate teachers leads to a narrowing of the curriculum to focus only on the content and lower-level skills that appear on the tests, discourages collaboration among teachers, lowers teacher morale and discourages teachers from working with students with the most needs. Furthermore, using test scores to evaluate teachers can be extremely inconsistent and unreliable. The error rate can be as high as 36 percent with just a year of data, and it can take 10 years to get an error rate of 12 percent.

This editorial did a disservice to the BDN’s readers by suggesting that adopting a policy that will subject students and educators to these negative consequences is a victory for education in Maine.

Tom Walsh


Legislative raises!

We have never felt so compelled to express our opinion on the recent news of state Rep. John Martin’s bill for “legislative raises” of $10,000 per legislator and a $50,000 raise for the governor. Both extremely absurd. Yes, the governor should be paid more than any superintendent of schools. But how do you justify an increase like that? Do you realize, Martin, this amounts to a 75 percent raise? Now add up the raise per legislator. The great state of Maine has many, many people struggling just trying to make ends meet. Please, explain this to your constituents. Readers, we encourage you to send letters to the editor with your approval or disapproval of such a bill.

Ed and Sherri Langlais


Glory of Easter

Each time the sun rises, another new day is promised. The glory of Easter is because of the Blessed “Son” rise of the one born to die so that salvation might be imparted to us.

May this Easter “Son” rise bring the hope of a more glorious life for all.


Sharon I. Rideout


Ban PACs

The BDN’s March 16 editorial about leadership PACs got it only half right.

The paper calls upon the Legislature to stop the problem of hypocrisy when Clean Election candidates, who are barred from raising private donations, start leadership PACs. Since Maine has no limits on what can be raised for PACs, these candidates are free to raise money from any source into the PAC.

That’s a problem because Maine people want to reduce the influence of big money in politics. As long as PACs provide the avenue for unlimited special interest donations, we’re going be concerned about its influence.

The paper’s proposal falls short for the simple reason that it allows all other candidates — the ones who do not opt into the Clean Election system — to continue to raise unlimited funds from moneyed special interests. These candidates are subject to a contribution limit in their own campaigns, but there is no similar limit for the PAC. It’s equally hypocritical that these candidates go to maxed-out campaign donors for money to their PACs, making a mockery of the contribution limit.

For this Maine voter, a total ban on leadership PACs is the only ban that will make a difference. There is no point in pushing would-be legislative leaders into the private money system for their campaigns just so they could tap wealthy donors again and again. That will only concentrate the influence of big money in leadership, totally defeating the purpose of the exercise.

Susan Hill


Willette resignation

State Sen. Michael Willette, R-Presque Isle, should not have to resign. He should be allowed to remain in his elected office, but he should have to volunteer several hundred hours of community service, working for a civil rights organization, like the NAACP.

If he resigns, all that happens is that he takes his hatred, racism and bigotry with him, and will likely continue to spread it around, probably with greater intensity than ever. Let him keep his position, but let him learn something from his actions.

I’m thinking of the two students who were just expelled from the University of Oklahoma for their racist behavior. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep them there, educate them in how wrong they were, rather than sending them away, without understanding the meaning of their actions?

Paul Schlein



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