By S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
UPDATED: The State House echoed with “solidarity claps” and chants of “Keep Maine Healthy, Tax the Wealthy!” on Tuesday as amateur activists with the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) descended on Augusta to lobby lawmakers.
The daylong tutorial began at 8:00 a.m. with a training session in Cross Office Building, where MPA personnel briefed rally-participants on a host of legislative initiatives, including revenue sharing with municipalities, toxic substances regulation and the expansion of MaineCare and Medicaid proposed under the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
After getting caught up to speed on MPA’s platform and agenda, the amateur lobbyists flocked throughout the capital building in search of pre-assigned lawmakers to assail.
In one instance, several MPA activists ambushed Rep. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) with a paparazzi-style flurry of photographs and chased her into the House Minority offices. Three activists followed Volk into the offices and began lecturing her with raised voices, invoking the MPA talking points that had been handed out in folders earlier that morning.
An exasperated Volk reached her wits end when she challenged one of the activist’s facts, to which the activist replied, “It’s not our job to know the facts.”
After scouring the capital for lawmakers opposed to MPA’s agenda, the roughly 75 to 100 activists headed to the Cross Office Building for lunch, courtesy of the MPA.
Activists stood in a line that stretched out the doors of Cross Café, eventually paying for their lunches with MPA-provided meal tickets.
At about 1:00PM, the activists assembled in the Hall of Flags where MPA organizers began the festivities by starting what one activist described as a “solidarity clap,” which was accompanied with boisterous chanting: “Keep Maine Healthy, Tax the Wealthy!”
“We love chanting,” said one MPA organizer.
MPA Mid-Coast Organizer Caroline Ginsberg began the afternoon presentation with a speech chastising Gov. Paul LePage for his proposed cuts to revenue sharing agreements between the State and its municipalities.
“When Governor LePage went after revenue sharing, he made a big mistake,” said Ginsberg.
“We’re here to fight back against wealthy corporations who don’t pay their far share,” she said. “The obvious solution is making the tax system fair.”
Ginsberg was followed by Hallowell Mayor Charlotte M. Warren, who decried her town’s loss of more than $500,000 in the proposed budget cuts.
“Everyone should be asked to pay their fair share,” said Warren, who also serves as Associate Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center. Warren is also a board member of Emerge Maine, a campaign training program for young Democrats.
Next up was Chris Korzen of Maine’s Majority who introduced the event’s surprise guest speaker—which turned out to be Gov. LePage vis-à-vis a 2009 recording of a Waterville town council meeting. As the footage showed the former Waterville Mayor speaking against curtailments of state funding allotted to his city, the crowd of leftist activists erupted in agreement with the governor.
The final speaker of the day was MPA Board Member Cheryl Lee of Portland, a former teacher at SAD 61 in Casco. Lee introduced “Fair Tax Towns,” an MPA initiative to push resolutions of disagreement through Maine’s towns and cities.
“The purpose of Fair Tax Towns is to oppose revenue sharing cuts, show a better way forward, and solve problems by making the tax code fair,” she said.
Lee also took advantage of the moment to recruit members of non-Fair Tax Towns to help push resolutions through their municipal governments.
“We’re going to make sure legislators hear from people all over the state,” said Lee, to which the crowd roared with approval.
Activist Jim Devine with Homeless Voices for Justice was in attendance and said his top interests are homelessness and global warming. Devine said expanding MaineCare with Obamacare funding would help improve homeless people’s access to health care.
“We’ve got to expand MaineCare with [Obamacare] and get all that federal money,” said Devine.
John Labbe of Auburn is an employee of the Pine Street Wellness and Recovery Center in Lewiston. He said today was his first experience lobbying on behalf of the MPA and that he was in Augusta to lobby against proposed cuts to Medicaid, MaineCare and Medicare.
“Old folks are having a tough time buying their meds,” said Labbe. “We need more federal money, not less,” he said.
Labbe said he provided transportation to the rally for several members of the 100 Pine Street social club where he works. “It was hard getting them to wake up early enough, but this is important,” he said. He said he considered driving members to the MPA rally “going above and beyond” his call of duty.
The social club where Labbe works, 100 Pine Street, is a project of Common Ties Mental Health Services, an assumed business title of the Area IV Mental Health Services Coalition, whose mission is improving quality of life for people with mental illness.
According to its 2011 Form 990 report, Common Ties welcomes approximately 300 members per year and brings in $1.4 million in yearly revenue, of which $1.2 million is paid out in salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits.
In 2011, according to the report, Common Ties took in $1,042,891 in MaineCare payments and an additional $293,148 in contracts with state agencies. Less than $50,000 of Common Ties’ budget came from gifts, grants, and contributions.
While the vast majority of the activists were excited to be in Augusta, none were happier than a cohort of youngsters from Auburn Middle School who had taken the day off from classes to attend MPA’s lobbyist training. The students enjoyed talking with representatives on educational issues, but regretted having to take an unexcused absence to lobby for MPA.
“They’re still going to make us do our homework,” said one disappointed MPA lobbyist-in-training.
UPDATE: Auburn Middle School Principal Jim Hand has confirmed via an e-mail to a concerned citizen that five AMS students were in attendance at the Maine People’s Alliance lobby day in Augusta. Read the e-mail below:
Dear Ms. ******,
There were 5 AMS students that attended as volunteers of the School Based Health Center student advisory group. Each student in attendance went there with parent permission. This was not a field trip through AMS. They were there to learn about how to lobby for services through the School Based Health Center that they believed should be supported.