Progressive values and well-positioned (read: politically savvy) senators placed Mainers in the middle of the health-care debate, as Congress struggled to overhaul our health-insurance system. In July, hundreds of citizens attended a health-care rally in Monument Square, many of them expressing their support for universal health care or some type of government-run public option. Meanwhile, throughout the summer and fall, Republican senator Olympia Snowe (and to a lesser extent, her colleague and fellow "moderate" Susan Collins) found herself playing a key role in congressional negotiations, as both parties searched for votes. Snowe proposed a so-called compromise that would allow for a public option in certain "trigger" scenarios; she recently expressed her desire to stretch debate until the new year (many Democratic senators hope to pass legislation before 2010). In the days before Christmas, the progressive activist organization Change That Works coordinated "Health Care-oling," a stunt in which citizens traveled to the local offices of Maine's congressional delegation "to serenade them with parodies of famous Christmas classics to emphasize that Maine supports meaningful health insurance reforms."
On November 3, in the only contested local races, Kevin Donoghue kept his seat representing Portland's District One, Ed Bryan was elected to the school committee, and Ken Levinsky became a Portland Water District trustee. The big winners and losers were in the field of ideas, however. Through Maine's citizen-initiative process, voters approved an expansion of the state's medical-marijuana law, including provisions to streamline and organize the patient-grower relationship. Pro- and anti-gay-marriage groups spent close to $10 million fighting for votes in Maine ($5.8 and $3.8 million, respectively). Those in support of gay marriage were buoyed by an exciting spring that saw an energetic public debate (culminating with an emotional hearing in Augusta), as well as legislative and gubernatorial backing But as soon as Governor John Baldacci signed the gay-marriage bill, the opposition launched a referendum campaign to repeal the law; what followed was five months of bitter back-and-forth about everything from fundraising sources to what effect gay marriage would have on schoolchildren. Ultimately, Question One passed 53-47 percent; both sides say they will continue the fight.
There was the horrifying murder of Zoe Sarnacki in May, followed by a spate of assaults downtown during the summer months. Bayside, Parkside, and downtown residents said they felt less safe on Portland's streets; "I for one, am sick of looking over my shoulder coming home from work at night, and I know I am not alone," one man told the Phoenix in July. But Portland's new police chief — former head of the Los Angeles PD homicide and gang unit James Craig, who assumed his post this spring — was wary of labeling the incidents a trend. And a look at recent crime numbers suggests that he was correct: Last year, by the end of November, there had been 268 violent crimes and 2912 property crimes in Portland; at the end of this November, the year-to-date numbers were 238 and 2827, respectively.
: This Just In
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