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History > 2012 > USA > Politics > States (I)




Gun Makers

Use Home Leverage in Connecticut


December 23, 2012
The New York Times


Gun owners packed a hearing room in the Connecticut capital, vowing to oppose a bill that would require new markers on guns so that they are easier to trace.

One after another, they testified that the technology, called microstamping, was flawed and would increase the cost of guns.

But the witness who commanded the most attention in Hartford that day in 2009 was a representative of one of Connecticut’s major employers: the Colt Manufacturing Company, the gun maker.

The Colt executive, Carlton S. Chen, said the company would seriously consider leaving the state if the bill became law. “You would think that the Connecticut government would be in support of our industry,” Mr. Chen said.

Soon, Connecticut lawmakers shelved the bill; they have declined to take it up since. Now, in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, the lawmakers are formulating new gun-control measures, saying the state must serve as a national model.

But the failed effort to enact the microstamping measure shows how difficult the climate has been for gun control in state capitals. The firearm companies have played an important role in defeating these measures by repeatedly warning that they will close factories and move jobs if new state regulations are approved.

The companies have issued such threats in several states, especially in the Northeast, where gun control is more popular. But their views have particular resonance in Connecticut, a cradle of the American gun industry.

Like manufacturing in Connecticut over all, the state’s gun industry is not as robust as it once was. Still, Connecticut remains the seventh-largest producer of firearms in the country, according to federal data.

Colt, based in Connecticut since the 1800s, employs roughly 900 people in the state. Two other major gun companies, Sturm, Ruger & Company and Mossberg & Sons, are also based in the state. In all, the industry employs about 2,000 people in Connecticut, company officials said.

Gun-control advocates have long viewed Hartford, the capital, as hospitable terrain, because Connecticut is a relatively liberal state and already has more gun restrictions than most. Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

Yet lawmakers in Hartford did more than shelve the microstamping bill in 2009. They also declined to push a bill last year that would have banned high-capacity ammunition magazines — the very accessory used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

In several states, the gun companies have enlisted unions that represent gun workers, mindful that Democratic lawmakers who might otherwise back gun control also have close ties to labor.

In Connecticut, the United Automobile Workers, which represents Colt workers, has testified against restrictions. The union’s arguments were bolstered last year when Marlin Firearms, a leading manufacturer of rifles, closed a factory in Connecticut that employed more than 200 people. Marlin cited economic pressures, not gun regulation, for the decision, but representatives of the gun industry have said the combination of the two factors could spur others to move.

State law significantly restricts the ability of corporations to make political donations in Connecticut. Employees of Connecticut gun companies have contributed several thousand dollars in total in recent years to state candidates, mostly Republicans, according to an analysis of state records.

Financially, the gun companies and their employees in Connecticut have exerted influence by donating to national groups, especially the National Rifle Association, which have in turn helped Connecticut gun rights groups, according to interviews and financial records.

But it appears that in Hartford, the companies are relying largely on economic arguments.

Their strategy has been led by the industry’s trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which happens to have its national headquarters in Newtown, a few miles from the site of the shootings.

When Connecticut lawmakers held a hearing in 2011 on the measure to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, the director of government regulations for the foundation, Jake McGuigan, opened his testimony with some statistics.

Mr. McGuigan told lawmakers that the state’s gun companies contributed $1.3 billion to the Connecticut economy, through their own operations and those of their suppliers.

“Each year, they get courted by other firearm-friendly states, like Idaho, Virginia, North Carolina,” Mr. McGuigan said. He later added, “It’s not an idle threat.”

The federation and Colt have declined to comment on gun-control legislation since the school killings.

“Our hearts go out to our fellow Connecticut residents who have suffered such unimaginable loss,” Colt said in a statement. “We do not believe it is appropriate to make further public statements at this very emotional time.”

Gun-control advocates in Hartford said the gun companies’ strategy was shrewd because it allowed Democratic lawmakers to oppose new regulations while proclaiming that they had not bowed to the National Rifle Association.

“There are people who want to vote right, but are worried about jobs,” said Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group. “And there are people who don’t want to vote right and use it as an excuse so they don’t have to say, ‘I’m scared of the N.R.A.’ ”

Some lawmakers in Hartford suggested that after the school killings, gun companies would be unable to gain as much traction with an argument about jobs.

“I don’t think it should be a difficult choice at all,” said one of the leaders of the State Senate, Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat who represents several towns in eastern Connecticut. “There’s no reason that we can’t help companies thrive in ways that do not threaten our children, our schools, movie theaters, the things we take for granted in terms of safety and security in our communities.”

Still, the gun companies have allied themselves with Connecticut advocacy groups representing hunters and other gun owners, which have become increasingly assertive in Hartford.

The groups have in recent years sought to defeat gun regulations by evoking notorious crimes like the 2007 murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters in Cheshire, Conn. They were killed by two career criminals in a home invasion.

The gun owners said the Petit case demonstrated that people needed powerful weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to protect themselves and their families against crime in their homes.

State Representative Pamela Z. Sawyer, a Republican who is an ally of gun-rights groups, acknowledged that public pressure arising from the Newtown killings would make it more difficult for gun companies and gun-rights groups to maintain influence in Hartford.

But she said the proper place for the debate was in Washington, not at the state level, signaling a strategy that Connecticut gun-rights groups may now deploy more aggressively.

Ms. Sawyer said her constituents cared deeply about gun rights, and noted that she had four gun clubs within a few miles of her hometown, Bolton, which is east of Hartford. She comes from a family of hunters and owns a rifle and handgun.

She emphasized that traditions embodied by companies like Colt inevitably colored debates over gun control in Connecticut.

The state “has a long, long history in manufacturing weapons, and so for many people, there’s a pride in that,” Ms. Sawyer said.


Michael Moss and Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

    Gun Makers Use Home Leverage in Connecticut, NYT, 23.12.2012,






Obama Asking Congress for $60.4 Billion

to Help States Recover From Storm


December 7, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama proposed a $60.4 billion emergency spending bill on Friday to finance recovery efforts in areas pummeled by Hurricane Sandy, a sum that White House officials called a “robust” investment in the region but that was far less than what the states had requested.

The spending plan would pay for most, but not all, of the $82 billion in damage identified by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, helping homeowners and small-business owners rebuild, repairing subway and other transit systems, replenishing eroded beaches and reimbursing governments for the cost of police, fire and other services.

The president’s plan would not cover several big-ticket items sought by state governments. It would not pay for damage already covered by private insurance and would extend aid only to primary residences. While small businesses would be eligible for help, larger private firms like Consolidated Edison would not.

The plan also assumes that states will have to pay about 10 percent of the cost of any repair and mitigation projects that are approved, even though they asked the federal government to cover 100 percent.

The proposal now goes to Congress, where it is likely to become the focus of a fight between fiscal conservatives seeking to limit federal spending and lawmakers from storm-battered areas bent on obtaining even more than what Mr. Obama proposed. Mr. Obama proposed no spending cuts elsewhere to pay the cost, arguing that such emergencies typically do not require offsetting measures.

Leaders from New York, New Jersey and other hard-hit states generally welcomed the proposal, even though it fell short of what they were seeking to clean up storm damage and prepare for future storms. The White House increased the overall spending request from the $45 billion to $55 billion estimated earlier in the week, attributing the change to more information received about the extent of the damage.

Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo, Democrat of New York, and Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey, spent much of Friday negotiating the final package with the White House. In a joint statement, they praised the proposal, saying “it enables our states to recover, repair and rebuild better and stronger than before.”

Two New York lawmakers leading a hurricane recovery task force — Representatives Peter T. King, a Long Island Republican, and Nita M. Lowey, a Democrat from Westchester County — expressed support for the White House proposal but left open the possibility that additional financing might be sought.

“While more may be needed in the long term,” they said, “this robust package is a major first step that we will work to pass as quickly as possible in Congress to help devastated communities, families and businesses.”

In a joint statement, Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York and Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey echoed the sentiment. The senators, all Democrats, described the White House proposal as “a very good start” but noted that more aid may be “necessary as our states’ needs become more clear.”

Mr. Obama’s proposal seeks to finance an assortment of projects and programs reflecting the daunting array of storm-related needs. They include these items:

¶ $17 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Community Development Block Grant program to provide help to homeowners.

¶ $11.5 billion for the federal disaster relief fund that provides checks to individuals, reimbursement for government services and assistance to rebuild public facilities.

¶ $9 billion to repair and upgrade transit systems.

¶ $4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be in charge of various projects including beach replenishment.

¶ $9 billion for flood insurance.

¶ $2 billion to repair federal facilities.

¶ $1 billion for the Small Business Administration’s aid program.

The proposal comes at a politically inopportune time, as Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders in both parties try to reach an agreement intended to avert a so-called fiscal cliff next month, when broad tax cuts are set to expire and automatic spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect.

As the White House finds itself locked in a showdown with Congressional Republicans over these broader budget concerns, it was seeking to present the storm spending request as a separate issue that does not affect the long-term health of the Treasury.

But it appears likely that the emergency spending measure will become entangled in the larger spending struggle between the White House and Republicans, who would like to maintain the upper hand on the deficit.

Some key Republicans have suggested that the aid requests should be taken up in phases, with emergency needs addressed in the current Congressional session and longer-term requests left for the new Congress that convenes next year.

But regional leaders want Congress to approve as much aid as possible before it adjourns in the coming weeks, partly because they fear there will be less urgency to act as the months pass.

    Obama Asking Congress for $60.4 Billion to Help States Recover From Storm, NYT, 7.12.2012,






States Cut Antismoking Outlays

Despite Record Tobacco Revenue


December 6, 2012
The New York Times


Faced with tight budgets, states have spent less on tobacco prevention over the past two years than in any period since the national tobacco settlement in 1998, despite record high revenues from the settlement and tobacco taxes, according to a report to be released on Thursday.

States are on track to collect a record $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and settlement money in the current fiscal year, but they are set to spend less than 2 percent of that on prevention, according to the report, by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which compiles the revenue data annually. The figures come from state appropriations for the fiscal year ending in June.

The settlement awarded states an estimated $246 billion over its first 25 years. It gave states complete discretion over the money, and many use it for programs unrelated to tobacco or to plug budget holes. Public health experts say it lacks a mechanism for ensuring that some portion of the money is set aside for tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

“There weren’t even gums, let alone teeth,” Timothy McAfee, the director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, referring to the allocation of funds for tobacco prevention and cessation in the terms of the settlement.

Spending on tobacco prevention peaked in 2002 at $749 million, 63 percent above the level this year. After six years of declines, spending ticked up again in 2008, only to fall by 36 percent during the recession, the report said.

Tobacco use is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans every year, according to the C.D.C.

The report did not count federal money for smoking prevention, which Vince Willmore, the vice president for communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, estimated to be about $522 million for the past four fiscal years. The sum — about $130 million a year — was not enough to bring spending back to earlier levels.

The $500 million a year that states spend on tobacco prevention is a tiny fraction of the $8 billion a year that tobacco companies spend to market their products, according to a Federal Trade Commission report in September.

Nationally, 19 percent of adults smoke, down from over 40 percent in 1965. But rates remain high for less-educated Americans. Twenty-seven percent of Americans with only a high school diploma smoke, compared with just 8 percent of those with a college degree or higher, according to C.D.C. data from 2010. The highest rate — 34 percent — was among black men who did not graduate from high school.

“Smoking used to be the rich man’s habit,” said Danny McGoldrick, the vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “and now it’s decidedly a poor person’s behavior.”

Aggressive antismoking programs are the main tools that cities and states have to reach the demographic groups in which smoking rates are the highest, making money to finance them even more critical, Mr. McGoldrick said.

The decline in spending comes amid growing certainty among public health officials that antismoking programs, like help lines and counseling, actually work. California went from having a smoking rate above the national average 20 years ago to having the second-lowest rate in the country after modest but consistent spending on programs that help people quit and prevent children from starting, Dr. McAfee said.

An analysis by Washington State, cited in the report, found that it saved $5 in tobacco-related hospitalization costs for every $1 spent during the first 10 years of its program.

Budget cuts have eviscerated some of the most effective tobacco prevention programs, the report said. This year, state financing for North Carolina’s program has been eliminated. Washington State’s program has been cut by about 90 percent in recent years, and for the third year in a row, Ohio has not allocated any state money for what was once a successful program, the report said.

    States Cut Antismoking Outlays Despite Record Tobacco Revenue, NYT, 5.12.2012,






With Stickers,

a Petition and Even a Middle Name,

Secession Fever Hits Texas


November 23, 2012
The New York Times


HOUSTON — In the weeks since President Obama’s re-election, Republicans around the country have been wondering how to proceed. Some conservatives in Texas have been asking a far more pointed question: how to secede.

Secession fever has struck parts of Texas, which Mitt Romney won by nearly 1.3 million votes.

Sales of bumper stickers reading “Secede” — one for $2, or three for $5 — have increased at TexasSecede.com. In East Texas, a Republican official sent out an e-mail newsletter saying it was time for Texas and Vermont to each “go her own way in peace” and sign a free-trade agreement among the states.

A petition calling for secession that was filed by a Texas man on a White House Web site has received tens of thousands of signatures, and the Obama administration must now issue a response. And Larry Scott Kilgore, a perennial Republican candidate from Arlington, a Dallas suburb, announced that he was running for governor in 2014 and would legally change his name to Larry Secede Kilgore, with Secede in capital letters. As his Web page, secedekilgore.com, puts it: “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.”

In Texas, talk of secession in recent years has steadily shifted to the center from the fringe right. It has emerged as an echo of the state Republican leadership’s anti-Washington, pro-Texas-sovereignty mantra on a variety of issues, including health care and environmental regulations. For some Texans, the renewed interest in the subject serves simply as comic relief after a crushing election defeat.

But for other proponents of secession and its sister ideology, Texas nationalism — a focus of the Texas Nationalist Movement and other groups that want the state to become an independent nation, as it was in the 1830s and 1840s — it is a far more serious matter.

The official in East Texas, Peter Morrison, the treasurer of the Hardin County Republican Party, said in a statement that he had received overwhelming support from conservative Texans and overwhelming opposition from liberals outside the state in response to his comments in his newsletter. He said that it may take time for “people to appreciate that the fundamental cultural differences between Texas and other parts of the United States may be best addressed by an amicable divorce, a peaceful separation.”

The online petitions — created on the We the People platform at petitions.whitehouse.gov — are required to receive 25,000 signatures in 30 days for the White House to respond. The Texas petition, created Nov. 9 by a man identified as Micah H. of Arlington, had received more than 116,000 signatures by Friday. It asks the Obama administration to “peacefully grant” the withdrawal of Texas, and describes doing so as “practically feasible,” given the state’s large economy.

Residents in other states, including Alabama, Florida, Colorado, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have submitted similar petitions, though none have received as many signatures as the one from Texas.

A White House official said every petition that crossed the signature threshold would be reviewed and would receive a response, though it was unclear precisely when Micah H. would receive his answer.

Gov. Rick Perry, who twice made public remarks in 2009 suggesting that he was sympathetic to the secessionist cause, will not be signing the petition. “Governor Perry believes in the greatness of our union, and nothing should be done to change it,” a spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said in a statement. “But he also shares the frustrations many Americans have with our federal government.”

The secession movement in Texas is divergent, with differences in goals and tactics. One group, the Republic of Texas, says that secession is unnecessary because, it claims, Texas is an independent nation that was illegally annexed by the United States in 1845. (The group’s leader and other followers waged a weeklong standoff with the Texas Rangers in 1997 that left one of its members dead.) Mr. Kilgore, the candidate who is changing his middle name, said he had not signed the White House petition because he did not believe that Texans needed to ask Washington for permission to leave.

“Our economy is about 30 percent larger than that of Australia,” said Mr. Kilgore, 48, a telecommunications contractor. “Australia can survive on their own, and I don’t think we’ll have any problem at all surviving on our own in Texas.”

Few of the public calls for secession have addressed the messy details, like what would happen to the state’s many federal courthouses, prisons, military bases and parklands. No one has said what would become of Kevin Patteson, the director of the state’s Office of State-Federal Relations, and no one has asked the Texas residents who received tens of millions of dollars in federal aid after destructive wildfires last year for their thoughts on the subject.

But all the secession talk has intrigued liberals as well. Caleb M. of Austin started his own petition on the White House Web site. He asked the federal government to allow Austin to withdraw from Texas and remain part of the United States, “in the event that Texas is successful in the current bid to secede.” It had more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday.

    With Stickers, a Petition and Even a Middle Name, Secession Fever Hits Texas, NYT, 23.11.2012,






In Virginia,

Romney Scours Coal Country for Edge Over Obama


October 26, 2012
The New York Times


When Jay Swiney emerges from the night shift in the coal mines to assume his duties as mayor of Appalachia, Va., it is hard for him to miss the partisan forces rocking the heavily unionized Democratic hamlets in the mountains along the Tennessee border.

Billboards proclaim “America or Obama — You Can’t Have Them Both!” and “Yes, Coal; No-bama.” Out-of-work miners are sporting baseball caps that say “Coal=Jobs” and T-shirts with the sarcastic message: “Make Coal Legal.” Yard signs and TV ads for Mitt Romney are everywhere.

Mr. Romney’s campaign is aggressively tapping into anger at President Obama’s environmental policies throughout the Appalachian counties where the state’s coal miners live, hoping that huge margins there will offset Mr. Obama’s equally aggressive campaign to woo female voters in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, just outside Washington.

The battle playing out in Virginia has echoes across the battleground states, where the final days of the presidential campaign have become a test of geographical strategies and an all-important focus on motivation, intensity and turnout. Republicans are pushing hard in suburban Denver and central Florida to appeal to Hispanic small business owners. Mr. Obama’s campaign is probing for white male voters around Toledo, where there are major auto plants that benefited from the auto bailout.

In Virginia, Republicans hope to keep the race razor-close in other parts of the state. If they do, aides believe Mr. Romney’s appeal in the sparsely populated coal country could tip Virginia’s 13 electoral votes into his column, a victory vital to his White House bid. With just 10 days left, few self-described hillbillies in southwest Virginia are undecided.

“I definitely will vote for Romney this time,” Mr. Swiney, 43, who considered backing Mr. Obama four years ago before deciding on Senator John McCain, said in a telephone interview this week. “Not just because of the devastation that’s going on with coal now. I’m a firm believer in giving somebody a chance. We’ve given Obama a chance for the last four years.”

The mayor, whose post is nonpartisan, points to the men in the coal camps on the outskirts of the 2,800-person town, some of whom are losing their jobs as tougher environmental regulations make coal more expensive to mine. Plummeting natural gas prices are discouraging the use of coal to generate electricity. The region feels under siege and at war, he says, a sentiment that is also common in coal-mining regions of Ohio, another battleground.

“I personally blame him for it,” Mr. Swiney said of the president.

Mr. Obama argues that he has been supportive of coal by pumping government money into clean-coal technologies. He regularly mocks Mr. Romney for presenting himself as a champion of the coal industry while conveniently forgetting his criticism of coal mines when he was governor of Massachusetts.

“If you say that you’re a champion of the coal industry when, while you were governor, you stood in front of a coal plant and said, this plant will kill you, that’s some Romnesia,” Mr. Obama said at a rally in Fairfax, Va.

But the president, who lost much of that part of the state in 2008, seems at risk this time of losing by even larger margins. State Senator Phillip Puckett, the longtime Democrat from the region, says he will not support Mr. Obama’s re-election because, telling a local television station last year, “It’s very clear to me that the administration does not support the coal industry.”

Strategists for Mr. Obama say coal miners and their families — many of whom are elderly — should be attracted to the president’s position on Social Security and Medicare. The president’s campaign is running ads in the region accusing Mr. Romney of wanting to turn Medicare into a voucher system. And surrogates are pressing the case.

“Romney is a political chameleon,” says Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and a former head of the United Mine Workers. “He will say anything that he thinks people want to hear. For him to say he’s a friend of coal is absolutely ridiculous.”

But even longtime Democrats in the state concede that Mr. Romney is making a forceful push for votes in the Ninth Congressional District, which encompasses the state’s half-dozen coal counties. One of Mr. Romney’s ads, appearing frequently on television, begins with a coal miner saying, “Obama is ruining the coal industry.” Mr. Romney held a rally in Abingdon, Va., this month. His son Matt spoke to 7,500 people last week in Grundy, a town of just 996 people.

Dave Saunders, a veteran Democratic strategist who lives in the region, said: “Three things are sacred in Southwest Virginia — the Holy Bible, moonshine and coal. That’s all I got to say. They will get big numbers in the Ninth. No question at all.”

The Republican effort to gather votes for Mr. Romney has been supplemented by an aggressive and mostly negative campaign by third-party groups backed by conservatives and energy interests. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has a television ad blasting “heavy-handed E.P.A. regulations.” A radio ad by the American Energy Alliance says the “president and his Washington cronies have declared war on affordable energy.” A TV ad by the same group urges miners to “Vote no on Obama’s failing energy policy.”

The president has cited reports that the coal miners in Mr. Romney’s ad were coerced by their employers to be there, an accusation that some of the miners have denied. But even if some of the outrage at Mr. Obama is being exaggerated by outside groups, locals say that much of it is a genuine expression of the frustration at seeing jobs die in the region.

In September, several hundred coal miners were furloughed for at least two months because of rising costs and shrinking demand. The company, Consol, announced on Wednesday that some workers will remain idled even after mining resumes the first week of November.

Other plants have shut down for good, citing in part foreign competition. Larry Lambert, 61, is one of the unlucky miners who spent a day this week at a résumé-writing seminar, which was a requirement for picking up his unemployment check.

“The E.P.A. has put so many strangleholds on the power companies they can’t burn the coal we are mining,” Mr. Lambert said. He added that Mr. Obama seemed appealing four years ago, but has betrayed coal miners.

And yet, it is not clear that there are enough voters like Mr. Lambert to offset the president’s strength in Northern Virginia. About 750,000 people live in southwest Virginia, less than a third of the number in the suburban counties near Washington.

Democratic strategists working on Mr. Obama’s behalf said Mr. Romney would probably win 60 percent of the vote in the region. But they say the shift in the state’s population means that the huge margins will not be worth as much for Mr. Romney’s campaign.

“In the 12 years I’ve been in elected office, we continue to see pretty dramatic population shift,” said Mark Warner, one of the state’s two Democratic senators. “The numbers just aren’t there.”

    In Virginia, Romney Scours Coal Country for Edge Over Obama, NYT, 26.10.2012,






Washington State

Makes It Harder to Opt Out of Immunizations


September 19, 2012
The New York Times


Washington State is home to Bill and Melinda Gates, champions of childhood vaccines across the globe. Its university boasts cutting-edge vaccine research. But when it comes to getting children immunized, until recently, the state was dead last.

“You think we’re a cut above the rest,” said Dr. Maxine Hayes, state health officer for Washington’s Department of Health, “but there’s something in this culture out West. It’s a sort of defiance. A distrust of the government.”

The share of kindergartners whose parents opted out of state immunization requirements more than doubled in the decade that ended in 2008, peaking at 7.6 percent in the 2008-9 school year, according to the state’s Health Department, raising alarm among public health experts. But last year, the Legislature adopted a law that makes it harder for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated, by requiring them to get a doctor’s signature if they wish to do so. Since then, the opt-out rate has fallen fast, by a quarter, setting an example for other states with easy policies.

For despite efforts to educate the public on the risks of forgoing immunization, more parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated, especially in states that make it easy to opt out, according to a study published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

And while the rate of children whose parents claimed exemptions remains low — slightly over 2 percent of all kindergarten students in 2011, up from just over 1 percent in 2006 — the national increase is “concerning,” said Saad Omer, an assistant professor of global health at Emory University who led the study.

Families of unvaccinated children tend to live in close proximity, increasing the risk of a hole in the immunity for an entire area. That can speed the spread of diseases such as measles, which have come back in recent years

The opt-out rate increased fastest in states like Oregon and Arizona — and Washington, before its law changed — where it was easy to get an exemption. In such states, the rate rose by an average of 13 percent a year from 2006 to 2011, according to the study. In states that made it harder to get an exemption from vaccination, such as Iowa and Alabama, the opt-out rate also rose, but more slowly, by an average of 8 percent a year. Mississippi and West Virginia allow no exemptions.

Vaccines are among the most important achievements of modern medicine. Since the first major types came into broad use in the 1940s, they have drastically reduced deaths from infectious diseases like polio and measles. But the virtual disappearance of these diseases has lulled parents into considering the vaccines against them as less necessary, public health experts say.

“Vaccines are the victims of their own success,” said Dr. Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “When they work, nothing happens.”

A distrust of the medical establishment has also fueled skepticism about vaccines. And while the Internet is a powerful source of information, it has also allowed the rapid spread of false information, such as the theory by Andrew Wakefield, a former British surgeon, that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was linked to the onset of autism.

“With the Internet, you can have one cranky corner of Kentucky ending up influencing Indonesia,” said Heidi Larson, a lecturer at the Project to Monitor Public Confidence in Immunization, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Omer’s study categorizes state exemption policies on a scale from easy to difficult. The easiest rules require parents only to fill out a standardized form, which often involves merely checking a box. More stringent policies require parents to write a letter, detailing precisely why they believe their children should be exempt. “These laws have an impact,” he said. “The idea is to nudge the balance of convenience away from getting exemptions.”

Parents who refuse vaccines tend to be more educated, and often more affluent than the average, researchers say.

Jonathan Bell, a naturopathic doctor in Washington State who encourages his patients to vaccinate their children. Those who opt out, he said, tend to distrust the public health establishment because of what they see as its unsavory connections with the pharmaceutical industry. “The argument is, ‘Oh no, I’m putting off vaccines,’ ” he said. “ ‘I’m part of a group that’s smart enough to understand the government is a pawn of big pharma.’ ”

Still, he said that only a small group is adamantly against vaccines, with many of the rest trying to stagger or individualize the schedules of inoculation for their children. Others had opted out simply because it was easy.

A stronghold of vaccine skeptics is Vashon Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, where the share of parents who have opted out of having their children vaccinated has been as high as one in four. Celina Yarkin, a resident, tries to persuade parents there to immunize their children. This school year, even with the new law, she took to the local school a large sign explaining the benefits of vaccination. She praised the parents’ concern for their children, and their determination to decide what was best for them.

“A lot of it is positive,” she said. “People just don’t just want to take their doctor’s word for it. But with vaccines, it just takes this crazy turn.”

    Washington State Makes It Harder to Opt Out of Immunizations, NYT, 19.9.2012,






The Arkansas Innovation


September 5, 2012
9:17 pm
The New York Times



MENTION medical innovation, and you might think of the biotech corridor around Boston, or the profusion of companies developing wireless medical technologies in San Diego. But one of the most important hotbeds of new approaches to medicine is ... you didn't guess it: Arkansas.

The state has a vision for changing the way Arkansans pay for health care. It is moving toward ending "fee-for-service" payments, in which each procedure a patient undergoes for a single medical condition is billed separately. Instead, the costs of all the hospitalizations, office visits, tests and treatments will be rolled into one "episode-based" or "bundled" payment. "In three to five years," John M. Selig, the head of Arkansas's Department of Human Services, told me, "we aspire to have 90 to 95 percent of all our medical expenditures off fee-for-service."

The change will encourage doctors and hospitals to work together to provide patients with the highest quality care, while at the same time lowering costs by eliminating unnecessary tests and treatments. It has been done before, in small-scale experimental pilot programs. But as the Arkansas officials make clear, this change will now be made in every corner of the state, for every hospital, and physicians in almost every specialty: surgeons, anesthesiologists, obstetricians, pediatricians, primary care physicians. For policy makers and the public, the Arkansas experiment is fascinating.

This is how it will work: Medicaid and private insurers will identify the doctor or hospital who is primarily responsible for the patient's care - the "quarterback," as Andrew Allison, the state's Medicaid director, put it. The quarterback will be reimbursed for the total cost of an episode of care - a hip or knee replacement; treatment for an upper respiratory infection or congestive heart failure; or perinatal care (the baby's delivery, as well as some care before and after).

The quarterbacks will also be responsible for the cost and quality of the services provided to their patients, and will receive quarterly reports on those metrics from the state (for Medicaid patients) or private insurers. If they have delivered good care based on agreed-upon standards, and if their billings come in lower than the agreed-upon level, they can keep a portion of the difference. If their billings come in above an acceptable level - usually because they have ordered too many unnecessary tests, office visits or inappropriate treatments - they will have to pay money back to the state or insurer.

Arkansas may seem an odd place for such a bold experiment. It has the sixth-highest poverty rate in the country, and ranks near the bottom in everything from the percentage of pregnant women getting prenatal care and the infant mortality rate to obesity, diabetes and life expectancy. It doesn't have enough doctors; all but two of the state's counties are designated as either entirely or partially medically underserved. And until recently, it was way behind on the adoption of electronic health records.

Yet Arkansas also has certain advantages. It has a governor who understands the issues very well. And it has doctors and hospitals who - faced with a State Legislature resistant to raising taxes, an imminent shortfall in state Medicaid funds and the threat of imposed managed care - agreed to support the scheme. Finally, it helps that Arkansas is a small state; when everyone knows everyone, it's easier to work out implementation problems.

Still, it will be a challenge. Bundled payments for hip and knee replacements, which have similar costs for all patients, have been previously tested. But for other conditions, not every patient's needs are the same. Some pregnant women are healthy while others have diabetes. The state and insurers will have to provide "risk adjustment" payments - in which providers are reimbursed more for treating sicker patients - and some patients with especially complicated illnesses may need to be excluded from the bundling system.

Even some low-cost conditions, like upper respiratory infections, are treated at widely varying costs, mainly because physicians prescribe different tests, numbers of office visits and medications (in 14 Arkansas counties, over 50 percent of patients with upper respiratory infections receive antibiotics, even though national guidelines say they should rarely be prescribed because most infections are viral).

But this is exactly what the new program will work to change, by providing standards for appropriate care linked to the costs of treatment and the quality of the doctor's performance compared with that of other doctors.

Maybe Arkansas's biggest challenge was getting the state's insurers to work together. On that, it has succeeded. Arkansas's two biggest private insurers, Blue Cross Blue Shield and QualChoice, are on board with Medicaid. But there is one big player missing: Medicare. To really make this innovation effective, the federal government should join in.

In the meantime, even as the state is working on implementing bundled treatments for a first round of medical conditions, it is gearing up with the second round. If Arkansas succeeds - even partly - it will show the way for the rest of the country.

    The Arkansas Innovation, NYT, 5.9.2012,






Bernard Rapoport, Deep-Pocketed Texas Liberal, Dies at 94


April 22, 2012
The New York Times


Bernard Rapoport, the founder of an insurance company who became a linchpin of the beleaguered community of Texas liberals, died on April 5 in Waco, Tex. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by his granddaughter Abby Rapoport.

A major donor to Democratic candidates, progressive causes, Israel and the University of Texas, Mr. Rapoport called himself a “capitalist with a conscience,” using the phrase in the title of a 2002 memoir.

“I have never known anyone who liked to make money as much as he did, and liked to give it away as much as he did,” said William Cunningham, a former University of Texas chancellor.

As Texas swung from a Democratic stronghold to an increasingly Republican and conservative state, Mr. Rapoport continued to support liberal Democrats and their causes, both with his money and his extensive national political connections. He was an ally of Ann W. Richards, the state’s last Democratic governor, who appointed him to the University of Texas Board of Regents in 1991.

His contributions to George S. McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign put Mr. Rapoport on one of President Richard M. Nixon’s enemies lists; contributions to the presidential campaigns of both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton helped nourish a 40-year friendship. Mr. Clinton is scheduled to deliver a eulogy at a memorial service next month in Washington.

Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, called Mr. Rapoport one of the most progressive corporate executives in the country, adding that Mr. Rapoport often expressed concern about the growth of companies so large that their failure could threaten the nation’s economy.

“I can’t tell you how many times he started a conversation with, ‘What are we going to do about bigness?’ ” Mr. Nader said.

Bernard Rapoport was born in San Antonio on July 17, 1917, the son of Russian immigrants; his father had been sent to Siberia in 1905 for taking part in a demonstration in St. Petersburg. He would say: “My father taught me Marxism and hard work. My mother taught me to love learning.”

At the University of Texas, he was inspired by left-leaning professors of economics, and his thinking would later evolve into New Deal capitalism.

After graduating, Mr. Rapoport met Audre Newman; they celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in February.

In 1951, he borrowed $25,000 and founded the American Income Life Insurance Company, which marketed itself to labor unions and their members.

He gave millions to the University of Texas for scholarships, and endowed chairs and professorships that focused on human rights and ethics. He gave to causes in Israel that sought accommodation with the Palestinians.

Mr. Rapoport also supported liberal publications like The Nation and The Texas Observer.

Ronnie Dugger, the founding editor of The Observer, recalled visiting Mr. Rapoport in Waco in 1955 to discuss his buying advertising for his insurance company. Mr. Dugger opened their conversation, he said, by stating that since life insurance is based largely on actuarial tables, there was no need for commercial competition, and “it ought to be nationalized.”

Mr. Rapoport startled him by saying, “I agree with you.” He went on to buy ads for decades.

Mr. Rapoport was just as interested in the people working at El Conquistador, his favorite restaurant in Waco, as he was in presidents and power brokers, said Ms. Rapoport, his granddaughter. “Every waitress got a lecture on why they should be in school,” she said.

One evening last year at El Conquistador, Mr. Rapoport asked a young family over to his table to chat. Before leaving, he invited Michael Aguilar, then 8, to visit his office. Michael did, showing up in his Cub Scout uniform and bearing a notepad to interview Mr. Rapoport for a scout project.

Mr. Rapoport told him that “no one’s better than him,” recalled his mother, Maria Aguilar. He also told Michael to read five books a month and report back to him, but Mr. Rapoport died before the follow-up visit could be arranged.

Mr. Rapoport provided financial support to Democratic officeholders in trouble, including Webster L. Hubbell, a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration who left under a cloud over billing irregularities at his law firm. Mr. Hubbell would later plead guilty to fraud charges and spend time in prison.

Mr. Rapoport was called to testify before a grand jury about $18,000 in payments his company had made to Mr. Hubbell. While critics of Mr. Clinton characterized such payments from Mr. Rapoport and others as hush money, Mr. Rapoport said it had been for legal and consulting services. The grand jury took no action against him.

Besides his granddaughter Abby, Mr. Rapoport is survived by his wife; his son, Ronald; and another granddaughter, Emily Rapoport.

Hundreds of people showed up for a memorial service on April 11 in Waco: business executives, politicians and educators. And Michael Aguilar, who wore his Cub Scout uniform.

    Bernard Rapoport, Deep-Pocketed Texas Liberal, Dies at 94, NYT, 22.4.2012,






Embarrassed by Bad Laws


April 16, 2012
The New York Times


A year ago, few people outside the world of state legislatures had heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a four-decade-old organization run by right-wing activists and financed by business leaders. The group writes prototypes of state laws to promote corporate and conservative interests and spreads them from one state capital to another.

The council, known as ALEC, has since become better known, with news organizations alerting the public to the damage it has caused: voter ID laws that marginalize minorities and the elderly, antiunion bills that hurt the middle class and the dismantling of protective environmental regulations.

Now it’s clear that ALEC, along with the National Rifle Association, also played a big role in the passage of the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws around the country. The original statute, passed in Florida in 2005, was a factor in the local police’s failure to arrest the shooter of a Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin immediately after his killing in February.

That was apparently the last straw for several prominent corporations that had been financial supporters of ALEC. In recent weeks, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Intuit, Mars, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have stopped supporting the group, responding to pressure from activists and consumers who have formed a grass-roots counterweight to corporate treasuries. That pressure is likely to continue as long as state lawmakers are more responsive to the needs of big donors than the public interest.

The N.R.A. pushed Florida’s Stand Your Ground law through the State Legislature over the objections of law enforcement groups, and it was signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. It allows people to attack a perceived assailant if they believe they are in imminent danger, without having to retreat. John Timoney, formerly the Miami police chief, recently called the law a “recipe for disaster,” and he said that he and other police chiefs had correctly predicted it would lead to more violent road-rage incidents and drug killings. Indeed, “justifiable homicides” in Florida have tripled since 2005.

Nonetheless, ALEC — which counts the N.R.A. as a longtime and generous member — quickly picked up on the Florida law and made it one of its priorities, distributing it to legislators across the country. Seven years later, 24 other states now have similar laws, thanks to ALEC’s reach, and similar bills have been introduced in several other states, including New York.

The corporations abandoning ALEC aren’t explicitly citing the Stand Your Ground statutes as the reason for their decision. But many joined the group for narrower reasons, like fighting taxes on soda or snacks, and clearly have little interest in voter ID requirements or the N.R.A.’s vision of a society where anyone can fire a concealed weapon at the slightest hint of a threat.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, ALEC bemoaned the opposition it is facing and claimed it is only interested in job creation, government accountability and pro-business policies. It makes no mention of its role in pushing a law that police departments believe is increasing gun violence and deaths. That’s probably because big business is beginning to realize the Stand Your Ground laws are indefensible.

    Embarrassed by Bad Laws, NYT, 16.4.2012,






The States Get a Poor Report Card


March 19, 2012
The New York Times


State governments have long been accused of backroom dealing, cozy relationships with moneyed lobbyists, and disconnection from ordinary citizens. A new study suggests those accusations barely scratch the surface.

The study, issued Monday by a consortium led by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, found that most states shy away from public scrutiny, fail to enact or enforce ethics laws, and allow corporations and the wealthy a dominant voice in elections and policy decisions. The study gave virtually every state a mediocre to poor grade on a wide range of government conduct, including ethics enforcement, transparency, auditing and campaign finance reform. No state got an A; five received B’s, and the rest grades of C, D or F.

For all the reform talk by many governors and state lawmakers, very little has really changed in most capitals over the decades. Budgeting is still done behind closed doors, and spending decisions are revealed to the public at the last minute. Ethics panels do not bother to meet, or never enforce the conflict-of-interest laws that are on the books. Lobbyists have free access to elected officials, plying them with gifts or big campaign contributions. Open-records acts are shot through with loopholes.

And yet all the Republican presidential candidates think it would be a good idea to hand some of Washington’s most important programs to state governments, which so often combine corruptibility with incompetence. In a speech on Monday, Mitt Romney said he would dump onto the states most federal anti-poverty programs, including Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance, because states know best what their local needs are.

States, however, generally have a poor record of taking care of their neediest citizens, and could not be relied on to maintain lifeline programs like food stamps if Washington just wrote them checks and stopped paying attention. In many states, newspapers and broadcasters have cut their statehouse coverage, reducing scrutiny of government’s effectiveness and integrity.

The new study shows that several of the states doing the best anti-corruption work had to endure years of scandal to get there. The state with the best grade (B+) was New Jersey, which may be surprising considering its reputation for cronyism and payoffs. In 2005, however, after years of embarrassing scandals, the state passed some of the toughest ethics laws in the country. Lobbyist gifts are prohibited, state contractors cannot give to campaigns, ethics training is mandatory for state employees and an ethics board has real power to enforce the laws.

New Jersey still has problems, including lax financial disclosure laws and no ban on lawmakers’ holding two public jobs, but it is doing much better than New York, which got a D. There is little enforcement in Albany of campaign finance limits, and the final budget process is done in secret. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new ethics commission is filled with many loyal to him and the Legislature and is still untested.

At the bottom of the heap was Georgia, which came in last for not enforcing what ethics laws it has on the books. The study noted that 650 state employees accepted gifts from vendors in recent years, clearly violating ethics laws, but no one was punished. Seven other states also receiving F’s were hardly better.

The report shows that most statehouses can barely be trusted to maintain the rudiments of good government. Without deep reforms, they certainly should not be asked to handle more federal programs on which millions rely.

    The States Get a Poor Report Card, NYT, 19.3.2012,






Virginia Lawmakers Backtrack on Conception Bill


February 23, 2012
The New York Times


Republican lawmakers in Virginia changed course on another piece of conservative legislation on Thursday, with the State Senate voting to suspend consideration of a bill that would define life as beginning at conception.

It was an abrupt reversal for Republicans, and came hours after a Senate committee voted to approve the legislation for consideration by the full body. There was broad speculation that Gov. Bob McDonnell was behind the move.

“This is a major disgrace for the Republican leadership,” said Don Blake, who runs the Virginia Christian Alliance, a conservative group that backed the bill. Republicans should have had the votes to pass the bill, he said, and the fact that they opted to suspend it raised suspicions of the governor’s involvement.

“Pro-life groups are concerned that the governor had a hand in this,” Mr. Blake said. A spokesman for Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who is mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The rapid-fire procedural maneuvering came one day after Mr. McDonnell ordered Republicans in the House of Delegates to soften a bill requiring a vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. The new version, which requires a noninvasive abdominal ultrasound, appeared aimed at defusing a mounting controversy over the bill that included spoofs on television shows.

The stalling of the legislation on Thursday also illustrated the divisions among Republicans over the bill. Opponents say it would confer legal status from the moment of conception and, in the process, cause huge legal uncertainties and lead to the banning of abortion. It would quickly be challenged in court, they say.

The eight members of the party on the Education and Health Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote in the morning, only to have it sent back several hours later with orders that it not be considered again this legislative season, scheduled to end in two weeks.

The measure, known as the personhood bill, could be revived in the next session, which opens early next year — timing that critics of the bill point out falls safely outside the electoral cycle.

“This takes it off the late-night shows,” said one Democratic aide who asked not to be identified by name because she was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Delegate Bob Marshall, the bill’s sponsor, said he had approached the governor about the bill once at a reception, but did not get a positive response. Still, he had fresh hopes for it, after it passed the committee Thursday. “This could not have happened without the consent of the leadership,” he said.

State Senator Richard L. Saslaw, a Democrat who made the motion to shelve the legislation, said that he did not know whether Mr. McDonnell had intervened, but that the bill was far enough to the right that the governor would probably not have relished the prospect of signing it.

“I’m shocked that it got out of the House,” he said. “The people of Mississippi had the good sense to vote that thing down. What does that say?”

    Virginia Lawmakers Backtrack on Conception Bill, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Gay Marriage Close to Legal in Maryland


February 23, 2012
The New York Times


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gay marriage is all but legalized in Maryland after the legislature gave its final OK Thursday to the law that's being sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who said he expects to sign it sometime this week.

The state Senate voted 25-22 for the law. The vote comes less than a week after the House of Delegates barely passed the measure.

Maryland will become the eighth state to allow gay marriage when O'Malley — who sponsored the bill — signs the legislation. The Democrat made the measure a priority this session after it stalled last year.

"This issue has taken a lot of energy, as well it should, and I'm very proud of the House of Delegates and also the Senate for resolving this issue on the side of human dignity, and I look forward to signing the bill," O'Malley said in a brief interview after the Senate vote.

Opponents, though, have vowed to bring the measure to referendum in November. They will need to gather at least 55,726 valid signatures of Maryland voters to put it on the ballot and can begin collecting names now that the bill has passed both chambers.

Some churches and clergy members have spoken out against the bill, saying it threatens religious freedoms and violates their tradition of defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

"The enormous public outcry that this legislation has generated — voiced by Marylanders that span political, racial, social and religious backgrounds — demonstrates a clear need to take this issue to a vote of the people," Maryland Catholic Conference spokeswoman Kathy Dempsey said in a statement. "Every time this issue has been brought to a statewide vote, the people have upheld traditional marriage."

Leaders at the Human Rights Campaign, a group that joined a coalition of organizations to advocate for the bill, said they expect opponents will gather the required number of signatures.

"There remains a lot of work to do between now and November to make marriage equality a reality in Maryland," Joe Solmonese, HRC president said in a statement released Thursday. "Along with coalition partners, we look forward to educating and engaging voters about what this bill does: It strengthens all Maryland families and protects religious liberty."

Senators rejected some amendments to the legislation Thursday. Proponents warned that amending the bill could kill it because gathering enough support for altered legislation in the House would be difficult.

Last year senators passed a similar measure by 25-21, but the bill died in the House after delegates rescinded their initial support citing concerns that it could violate religious liberties of churches and business owners who do not support same-sex unions.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, the only Senate Republican to vote in favor of the legislation, said he is proud of his decision and not concerned about political consequences down the road.

"You don't worry about politics when you're dealing with the civil rights issue of your generation," said Kittleman, R-Howard, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kittleman, who was known for civil rights advocacy.

Christy and Marie Neff, who married in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010, stood outside the Senate chamber Thursday evening as crowds surrounded O'Malley and other key supporters.

The couple, who lives in Annapolis, has lobbied lawmakers to support the bill in recent years.

"This is our victory and we're going to savor this because you can only really jump one hurdle at a time," Christy Neff said. "So we're going to savor this and then if they bring it to referendum, we'll match that effort with the same sort of effort we did today."


Associated Press Writer Brian Witte contributed to this story.

    Gay Marriage Close to Legal in Maryland, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Gay Marriage, Passed, Awaits Veto by Christie


February 16, 2012
The New York Times


TRENTON — The New Jersey Assembly approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Thursday, setting up a confrontation with Gov. Chris Christie, who promised a swift veto and defied the Legislature to put the issue before voters instead.

In two hours of passionate debate, Democrats supporting the measure urged their colleagues to make history, comparing the fight for legalization of same-sex marriage to battles for women’s suffrage and against racism.

“We can make a giant leap forward today in the fight against one of the last legalized barriers to equal rights,” said Sheila Y. Oliver, the Assembly speaker, whose voice broke at several points as she exhorted her colleagues to support the bill.

The State Senate passed a similar bill on Monday; the Assembly vote was the first time the Legislature united in endorsing same-sex marriage.

And the vote, passing 42 to 33, underscored how much opinion has shifted since two years ago, when the Senate rejected a similar bill. New York State legalized same-sex marriage last year, and this month Washington State did so. The bill passed on Thursday would make New Jersey the eighth state that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry.

But advocates for the bill in New Jersey face a new fight: trying to win enough votes to override the governor’s expected veto.

Mr. Christie is a rising star in the Republican Party, in which any politician with national ambitions must consider social conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage. After New Jersey Democrats, who control the Legislature, said they would make same-sex marriage a top priority this year, the governor proposed putting the issue to voters in a referendum in November.

On Thursday, Mr. Christie declared the Legislature’s action merely “an exercise in theater.”

“I’ve given them an alternative,” said Mr. Christie, who spent the day holding a news conference to announce that WrestleMania was coming to MetLife Stadium in 2013 and appearing at a fund-raiser for a Republican running for the United States Senate. “Put it on the ballot and let the people decide.”

Democrats have accused him of avoiding an issue that could hurt his national prospects, and said they would refuse to pass the legislation required to put a referendum on the ballot.

Mr. Christie has 45 days to veto the bill. If he does, the Democrats will have nearly two years to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override it.

“We’re going to take the time we need, assisted by a changing world,” said Steven Goldstein, the chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group. “Look at how the world has changed from two years ago.”

While the measure in the Senate found only 14 votes in 2010, this week it passed with 24. Assembly Democrats said they would have had two more votes, from Republicans, if two members had not been on vacation. Four Democrats voted against the bill on Thursday, and no Republicans voted in favor.

Mr. Goldstein said his group’s budget this year was one-tenth what it was two years ago. National advocacy groups did not put as much money into the battle, disappointed over the failure of the legislation two years ago. Instead, he said, supporters will push their case in person, reminding legislators that same-sex couples are their relatives and friends.

The governor’s refusal to support same-sex marriage could also backfire, some noted.

“The meanness question is going to come out,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora of Mercer County, one of two openly gay members of the Legislature and the bill’s chief sponsor.

An override would be easier in the Senate, where it would need 27 votes; in the Assembly, it would require 54.

The debate on Thursday, however, reflected the shifting landscape. Several legislators who are leaders in black churches that oppose same-sex marriage spoke of agonizing over the legislation but ultimately deciding to support it.

“I came to the conclusion that the people sent me here from my district, here to protect what’s right,” Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker, a Democrat from Newark, said. “To protect the rights of everyone.”

Others echoed Assemblyman Louis Greenwald of Cherry Hill, the majority leader, saying that in 50 years, people will look back and wonder, “What was all the fuss about?”

Some said that there would be economic benefits in same-sex marriage, that weddings could mean $250 million in business for the state and 800 additional jobs. If the state does not pass it, they said, it risks losing residents and their tax revenue to New York, where same-sex marriage is legal.

Polls show that a slight majority of New Jersey voters support same-sex marriage. They also show that about the same percentage supports the governor’s idea of putting it on the ballot.

Democrats argue that same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights, and that civil rights should not be subject to referendum. They note that the last time the state put a question of civil rights on the ballot, in 1915, the male voters of New Jersey declined to allow women the right to vote.

Democrats predict that a referendum would bring a flood of outside money from national groups opposed to same-sex marriage. It could also draw out conservative voters to lift the hopes of the Republican presidential nominee in a state that would otherwise be expected to tilt toward President Obama.

In speeches on Thursday, Republicans argued that the decision to change an institution as sacred as marriage was better made by voters than by the 121 members of the Legislature.

“I trust the people of New Jersey and I believe they should be allowed to voice their opinion in a vote,” said Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz of Summit.

As she spoke, a crowd, largely of Orthodox Jewish men in the balcony sprang to its feet and cheered.

The question of same-sex marriage continues to make its way through the state’s courts. In 2006, the State Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the same protections as heterosexual couples, but left it up to the Legislature to decide how to guarantee those rights. The Legislature passed a civil unions law, but seven gay couples have sued the state, arguing that the law discriminates against them in matters like obtaining a mortgage or seeing partners in the hospital.


Senator Loretta Weinberg, a sponsor of the legislation,

said, “Our legislature stood up in both houses and stood up on behalf of marriage.”

    Gay Marriage, Passed, Awaits Veto by Christie, NYT, 16.2.2012,






Gay Marriage a Tough Sell with Blacks in Maryland


February 15, 2012
The New York Times


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland hurtles toward a vote in the legislature this week, a coalition lobbying for its passage has focused much of its efforts on a group of Democrats who could potentially scuttle its success: African-Americans.

It is the most serious attempt by advocates for same-sex marriage to win over blacks, who have traditionally been skeptical, and whose support is critical for the bill’s passage in this state, where nearly a third of the population is African-American, a far higher share than in the broader population.

The campaign includes videos of well-known African-American Marylanders, including Michael Kenneth Williams, an actor from the television series “The Wire,” and Mo’nique, a Baltimore-born actress; an editorial in The Afro; and conversations in churches and union halls, where most members are black.

The Human Rights Campaign and the Service Employees International Union have sent dozens of workers and volunteers, many of them African-American, across the state to talk about the issue. Particular attention is being paid to Baltimore and Prince George’s County, organizers said, two majority-black areas where skepticism has been strong.

It is uncertain whether the effort will lead to the bill’s passage; a similar bill failed in the House last year without coming to a vote. But it has had one clear effect, that of opening a difficult conversation about homosexuality among one group that has traditionally shied away from talking about it.

“It’s a very sensitive subject in the black community,” said Ezekiel Jackson, a political organizer for the 1199 Service Employees International Union in Maryland, who has been meeting with members, mostly health care workers, to persuade them to support the bill. “The culture is different. Gay people got pushed off into their own circle. Instead of dealing with it, they just lived their lives among like minds, apart.”

Much of the hesitation, black advocates of the bill say, has its roots in the churches, whose influence is strong among many African-Americans. And while the overwhelming majority of black clergy in the state still strongly oppose same-sex marriage — they held a rally here in the state capital last month to make that point — a few young pastors have come out in support.

“This was an issue I knew I could not avoid,” said the Rev. Delman Coates, 39, one of two Baptist preachers who testified in support of the bill in a hearing last week. “Clergy leaders have been organizing against this, and I didn’t want my silence to sound like consent.”

The soul-searching in Maryland on same-sex marriage shows just how delicate the issue can be for Democrats around the country who count on strong African-American support at the polls.

It presents a tricky equation for President Obama, who cannot risk depressing turnout among blacks, as their votes will be critical in what is shaping up to be a closely fought campaign. Mr. Obama, who has in the past opposed same-sex marriage, has said his views are “evolving.” In July, he endorsed a bill to repeal the law that limits the legal definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

Among those opposing the bill in Maryland is Pastor Joel Peebles of Jericho City of Praise, a megachurch in Prince George’s County. “The black community is watching with a great deal of concern regarding how our legislators vote on this bill,” he said. “Their decision will be strongly in the mind of the voters when they go to the polls.”

Maryland’s Democrats are sharply divided by race on the issue. A Washington Post poll published on Jan. 30 found that 71 percent of white respondents supported it, while 24 percent did not. Among blacks, 41 percent were supportive, while 53 percent were opposed. African-Americans are an important constituency here: their share of the population — 29 percent — is greater than in many Southern states, including Alabama and South Carolina, according to the Brookings Institution.

In the Maryland House, the bill needs 71 votes to pass. Only two Republicans have pledged their support; the rest are expected to oppose the measure. Of the 98 Democrats in the House, as many as 30 are said to be undecided, a majority of them African-Americans.

Still, advocates are cautiously optimistic. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed the bill and has pushed it energetically, in the fashion of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

“There’s been an evolution here in our state on this issue,” he said in an interview. “The wave of opinion on this is pretty unmistakable.”

But resistance runs deep in the faith community. Last year, several traditional black churches formed the Maryland Marriage Alliance, an umbrella group opposed to the bill that includes the Maryland Catholic Conference.

“Households are going to be turned upside down because of this,” said the Rev. Ralph A. Martino, senior pastor at First Church of Christ (Holiness) USA in Washington, who attacked Mr. Coates’s position on a radio show.

Mr. Coates acknowledged that his position was unpopular, but said he was trying to give people a way to accept the bill by presenting it as a matter of rights, not religious doctrine. He said that most in his congregation — about 8,000 people in Prince George’s County — seemed to understand the distinction, and that the loudest opposition had come from other pastors.

“People in the pews are much farther along than those in the pulpit,” he said.

The Rev. Larry Brumfield, a pastor in Baltimore who has a weekly radio show on gay issues that focuses on a black audience, agreed. Still, he said that many churchgoers adopt the views of their pastors, who in traditional black churches in Maryland are still almost entirely opposed to the bill. That makes Mr. Brumfield, an African-American, “feel the need to be extra vocal.”

“It really bothers me how black people can be so insensitive to oppression,” he said. “They use the same arguments that were used against us by the segregationists in the 1950s.”

Whatever the bill’s fate, the process of talking about it has changed something for black people here, supporters say. Mr. Jackson, the union worker, said a colleague had come into his office recently and broken down in tears. Her daughter is gay, the woman said, and they had never spoken of it, choosing instead to pretend it was not there. Soon after, she called her daughter, Mr. Jackson said, and told her she accepted her.

“For the first time, many people who were not able to talk about it are seeing how important it is, and are talking,” said Tawanna P. Gaines, a Democratic lawmaker who supports the bill. “People are saying, ‘Here’s an opportunity for me to no longer have to lie about this.’ ”

    Gay Marriage a Tough Sell with Blacks in Maryland, NYT, 15.2.2012,






New Jersey Senate Votes to Legalize Gay Marriage


February 13, 2012
The New York Times


TRENTON — The New Jersey State Senate voted on Monday to legalize same-sex marriage, a significant shift in support from two years ago, when a similar measure failed.

The legislation faces a vote on Thursday in the State Assembly, but even if that chamber passes the measure, as expected, Gov. Chris Christie, who favors holding a referendum on the issue, has said he will veto it.

But advocates hailed the Senate vote as a huge advance, noting that they won 10 more votes than they did two years ago. And both supporters and opponents said they were surprised by the margin: the bill needed 21 votes to succeed and passed 24 to 16.

“The margin brought the notion of an override out of fantasyland,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights group. “Before today, I would have said the chances of an override were one in a million. Now I’d say it’s about one in two.”

Overriding the anticipated veto would require the approval of two-thirds of both houses, which in the Senate translates to 27 votes. But Democrats, who control the Legislature and have made the bill their top priority this year, argue that they have nearly two years — until the session ends on Jan. 14, 2014 — to muster just three more votes than they won on Monday.

Most significantly, supporters won the support of the Senate president, Stephen M. Sweeney, who abstained from voting two years ago. He has since called that the biggest mistake of his political life, and is the bill’s chief proponent. As the tally was flashed on a board above the Senate chamber, Senator Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County, thrust a thumbs-up in the air.

“These are human beings with feelings that love their partners and they want to be married,” he said. “So be it.”

It was the first time a chamber of the Legislature endorsed the idea of same-sex marriage.

Just one senator, Gerald Cardinale, a Republican of Bergen County, spoke against the measure, arguing that it cheapened the institution of marriage. “This bill simply panders to well-financed pressure groups and is not in the public interest,” he said.

Senator Jennifer Beck, of Monmouth County, who voted no two years ago, was one of two Republicans to vote yes this time. “Our republic was established to guarantee liberty to all people,” she said. “It is our role as elected representatives to protect all of the people that live in our state.”

Seven states and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex marriage, but it has encountered unexpected hurdles in some relatively liberal East Coast states like New Jersey. More than two years ago, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, whom Mr. Christie had recently defeated, promised to sign a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the last days of his administration. But Mr. Corzine’s fellow Democrats could not marshal the votes to get it through the Legislature.

Mr. Christie, a Republican, has said the issue should be put on the ballot in November as a constitutional amendment. Some polls have found that a slight majority of New Jersey voters support same-sex marriage. Advocates note, however, that in 31 states where same-sex marriage has been put to a referendum, it has failed.

On Monday, Mr. Sweeney said there was “not a chance in hell” that he would support the legislation required to put the question to a ballot, which he said would mean allowing “millions of dollars to come into this state to override a civil right.”

Some opponents dismissed the vote, saying the governor’s veto would make it irrelevant.

But Rabbi Noson Leiter, a spokesman for Garden State Parents for Moral Values, which opposes the measure, said he was surprised at how many legislators supported the bill — eight who voted no or did not vote two years ago supported it this time. “If they put it to a referendum, the numbers would be reversed,” Rabbi Leiter said.

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the same protections as heterosexual couples, but left it up to the Legislature to determine how to guarantee those rights. The Legislature responded with a law allowing civil unions.

Advocates of legalizing same-sex marriage say that the law has created, at best, a system of separate but equal treatment. Seven gay or lesbian couples have sued the state, arguing that civil unions still leave them at a disadvantage in decisions on health care, in retirement benefits and in access to the emotional satisfaction of a legal marriage.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 13, 2012

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized State Senator Jennifer Beck’s vote. She was one of two Republicans to vote Monday for the bill on same-sex marriage; she was not one of only two senators to vote for it.

    New Jersey Senate Votes to Legalize Gay Marriage, NYT, 13.2.2012,






Washington Governor Signs Gay Marriage Bill


February 13, 2012
The New York Times


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Chris Gregoire handed gay rights advocates a major victory Monday, signing into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, making it the seventh in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

Gregoire signed the bill surrounded by gay rights supporters. "I'm proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal," she said.

It's a historic moment for the state, but same-sex couples can't walk down the aisle just yet.

The law takes effect June 7, but opponents on multiple fronts already are preparing to fight.

Opponents filed Referendum 73 Monday afternoon. If they collect the more than 120,577 valid voter signatures by June 6, the law will be put on hold pending the outcome of a November vote. Separately, an initiative was filed at the beginning of the legislative session that opponents of gay marriage say could also lead to the new law being overturned.

Gay marriage supporters said that while they are ready for a campaign battle, they are allowing themselves to celebrate first.

"You have to relish this moment," said 31-year-old Bret Tiderman of Seattle.

The state reception room at the Capitol was packed with hundreds of gay rights supporters and at least 40 lawmakers from the House and Senate to watch Gregoire sign the bill.

Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat who is gay and has sponsored gay rights legislation for years, told the cheering crowd: "My friends, welcome to the other side of the rainbow. No matter what the future holds, nothing will take this moment in history away from us."

The House passed the bill on a 55-43 vote last Wednesday. The Senate approved the week before.

As the Democratic governor signed the legislation Monday, a man shouted, "Do not betray Christ!" However, his voice was overwhelmed by gay-marriage supporters who cheered and spoke loudly during his outburst.

Bob Struble, 68, of Bremerton, was removed from the room and said he was given a warning by security. Struble said he believes the state will halt gay marriage in a public vote.

"We'll be doing everything we can to overturn this unfortunate law," Struble said.

Audrey Daye, of Olympia, cried as she watched Gregoire sign the bill into law. Daye, who grew up with two moms, brought her 7-year-old son, Orin, with her to watch the bill signing.

"I am so proud that our state is on the right side of history," she said.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who opposes gay marriage, was in town speaking with conservative voters. Santorum also met with Republican lawmakers at the Capitol Monday afternoon.

Santorum said he encouraged gay-marriage opponents "to continue the fight."

"There are ebbs and flows in every battle, and this is not the final word," he said.

Gregoire's signature comes nearly a week after a federal appeals court declared California's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave gay marriage opponents time to appeal the 2-1 decision against Proposition 8 before ordering the state to allow same-sex weddings to resume. The judges also said the decision only applies to California, even though the court has jurisdiction in nine Western states.

Washington state has had domestic partnership laws since 2007, and in 2009 passed an "everything but marriage" expansion of that law, which was ultimately upheld by voters after a referendum challenge.

The coalition of opponents that filed Monday's referendum is called "Preserve Marriage Washington."

"I think in the end, people are going to preserve marriage," said Joe Fuiten, senior pastor at Cedar Park Church in Bothell who is involved in the referendum effort.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine, has promised to work with Preserve Marriage Washington to qualify the referendum to overturn the new law.

Christopher Plante, a regional coordinator from NOM, attended the referendum filing and said that his group will be offering technical assistance to Preserve Marriage Washington, helping them gather signatures and raise money. He said that the campaign is likely to be expensive, estimating that between $2 million and $6 million could be spent on each side of the campaign.

Separately, an anti-gay marriage initiative was filed at the beginning of the session, but the language is still being worked out so no signatures have been collected yet. An initiative alone would not pause the law.

A campaign has already formed to fight any challenge to the new law. "Washington United for Marriage," a coalition of gay marriage supporters, formed in November to lobby the Legislature to pass the measure and to run a campaign against any referendum challenging it.

Gay marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Same-sex marriage also has the backing of several prominent Pacific Northwest businesses, including Microsoft Corp., Nike Inc. and Starbucks Corp.

The New Jersey Senate advanced a gay marriage bill Monday, and a vote is expected in the New Jersey Assembly on Thursday. Gov. Chris Christie, who is pushing for a public vote on the issue, says he'll veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Legislative committees in Maryland heard testimony on gay marriage last week, and Maine could see a gay marriage proposal on the November ballot.

Proposed amendments to ban gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina in May and in Minnesota in November.


The gay marriage bill is Senate Bill 6239.


Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly . Associated Press writer Mike Baker contributed to this report.




    Washington Governor Signs Gay Marriage Bill, NYT, 13.2.2012,






Vote Moves Washington State Closer to Gay Marriage


February 8, 2012
The New York Times


SEATTLE — Washington was poised Wednesday to become the seventh state to allow same-sex couples to marry after the State House gave final passage to such a bill. Gov. Christine Gregoire promised to sign it.

The governor is expected to do just that as soon as next week, but it is not likely to take immediate effect. Under state law, if opponents gather 120,000 signatures, the measure will be put to a public referendum before it can be enacted.

The Washington vote came just a day after a court ruling in California that struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, and it precedes several other votes expected across the country that could keep the issue in the spotlight throughout this election year. Some will take place in legislative chambers, including in Maryland and New Hampshire, and some at the ballot box, including in Minnesota, North Carolina and, very likely, a referendum here in Washington on the bill the Legislature just passed by a vote of 55 to 43.

Advocates on both sides said Wednesday that, over the long term, their side would prevail, regardless of the conflicting developments that have defined the issue for several years.

Washington embodies the conflicts. It is among more than 30 states that have passed laws defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, but it has steadily expanded rights for gay couples since 2006, the year it approved a wide-ranging gay rights bill. In 2007, it approved rights for domestic partners. In 2009 it passed a so-called everything-but-marriage bill.

Full marriage rights began speeding toward approval last month, when Ms. Gregoire announced that she would file the bill to make same-sex marriage legal.

The governor, a Democrat now in her second and final term, had said that she did not believe that the state was ready for same-sex marriage and that churches should play a decisive role on the issue. Ms. Gregoire’s bill, modeled after one approved by New York in June, allows churches and religious groups to choose not to perform same-sex marriages and to deny same-sex couples access to their facilities for weddings.

Recent debate here has been relatively measured. The Senate passed the bill easily last month, 28 to 21.

“We very deliberately undertook an incremental approach,” said Representative Jamie Pedersen, the bill’s prime sponsor in the House. “We believe we’ve benefited from taking steps only when we’re likely to be successful.”

The issue may be more contentious elsewhere. In North Carolina, voters will decide in May on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Minnesota will vote on a similar measure in November. Austin R. Nimocks, a lawyer who argues against same-sex marriage for the Alliance Defense Fund, noted that while some polls showed increasing support for gay marriage, voters had never approved it at the polls. In 31 statewide votes, voters have consistently defined marriage as between a man and a woman, he said.

“I don’t see a shift in momentum,” Mr. Nimocks said. “You can use all the polls you want. You can say anything you want to about civil unions or domestic partnerships, but when it comes to marriage, the record is clear.”

Supporters of same-sex marriage say the Washington vote, including the speed with which it has moved through the Legislature this year, is evidence of growing acceptance.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said that over time, particularly in states that sanction gay unions in some form, supporters are able to show that “no one else’s relationship is harmed but that these particular families end up more secure.”

But Mr. Cole-Schwartz and others acknowledged that the number of states likely to pass same-sex marriage bills anytime soon was small. In Maryland, the Senate has approved same-sex marriage, but it faces a tougher fight in the House, including among some moderate black Democrats. Supporters are lobbying those lawmakers and enlisting help. The Rev. Al Sharpton has released a video in which he says: “If committed gay and lesbian couples want to marry, that is their business. None of us should stand in their way.”

New Jersey lawmakers could approve a bill as early as next week, but Gov. Chris Christie has said he would veto the measure.

In New Hampshire, Republicans are leading an effort to repeal gay marriage after the Legislature approved it in 2009. In Maine, a ballot measure will give voters the chance to approve same-sex marriage. It would be the first time that happened.

Washington, which would become the only state west of Iowa to allow same-sex marriages, is also expected to see the issue on the ballot this fall. In 2009, the state voted 53 to 47 to uphold its “everything but marriage” law, a vote supporters say is the only statewide vote nationwide that upheld gay unions.

Some lawmakers here have been on both sides of the issue. In 1998, Senator Jim Kastama, a moderate Democrat, voted in favor of the bill preventing same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, he planned to vote for same-sex marriage.

“I have a very good marriage of 17, 18 years,” Mr. Kastama said. “All the strength that I get from that, how can I deny someone else that?”

Mr. Kastama said he had changed his position after a “tremendous amount of introspection,” but he also cited economics. He said he believed marriage made communities financially and socially stronger, regardless of whether they were same-sex or between a man and a woman. The state has a budget deficit of about $1.5 billion.

“We have to become far more reliant on each other, and the government is not always going to be there,” Mr. Kastama said. “I think we all do better in committed relationships.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 8, 2012

A previous version of this article misstated the year Washington state

approved domestic parterships. It was 2007, not 2006.

    Vote Moves Washington State Closer to Gay Marriage, NYT, 8.2.2012,






In Fuel Oil Country, Cold That Cuts to the Heart


February 3, 2012
The New York Times



With the darkening approach of another ice-hard Saturday night in western Maine, the man on the telephone was pleading for help, again. His tank was nearly dry, and he and his disabled wife needed precious heating oil to keep warm. Could Ike help out? Again?

Ike Libby, the co-owner of a small oil company called Hometown Energy, ached for his customer, Robert Hartford. He knew what winter in Maine meant, especially for a retired couple living in a wood-frame house built in the 19th century. But he also knew that the Hartfords already owed him more than $700 for two earlier deliveries.

The oil man said he was very sorry. The customer said he understood. And each was left to grapple with a matter so mundane in Maine, and so vital: the need for heat. For the rest of the weekend, Mr. Libby agonized over his decision, while Mr. Hartford warmed his house with the heat from his electric stove’s four burners.

“You get off the phone thinking, ‘Are these people going to be found frozen?’ ” Mr. Libby said. No wonder, he said, that he is prescribed medication for stress and “happy pills” for equilibrium.

Two days later, Mr. Libby told his two office workers about his decision. Diane Carlton works the front desk while her daughter-in-law, Janis, handles accounts. But they share the job of worrying about Ike, whose heart, they say, is too big for his bantam size and, maybe, this business.

The Hartford case “ate him,” Janice Carlton recalled. “It just ate him.”

Mr. Libby drove off to make deliveries in his oil truck, a rolling receptacle of crumpled coffee cups and cigarette packs. Diane Carlton, the office’s mother hen, went home early. This meant that Janis Carlton was alone when their customer, Mr. Hartford, stepped in from the cold. He had something in his hand: the title to his 16-year-old Lincoln Town Car.

Would Hometown Energy take the title as collateral for some heating oil? Please?

Maine is in the midst of its Republican presidential caucus, the state’s wintry moment in the battle for the country’s future. But at this time of year, almost nothing matters here as much as basic heat.

While federal officials try to wean the country from messy and expensive heating oil, Maine remains addicted. The housing stock is old, most communities are rural, and many residents cannot afford to switch to a cleaner heat source. So the tankers pull into, say, the Portland port, the trucks load up, and the likes of Ike Libby sidle up to house after house to fill oil tanks.

This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.

As a result, Community Concepts, a community-action program serving western Maine, receives dozens of calls a day from people seeking warmth. But Dana Stevens, its director of energy and housing, says that he has distributed so much of the money reserved for emergencies that he fears running out. This means that sometimes the agency’s hot line purposely goes unanswered.

So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts. And they count on others. Maybe their pastor. Maybe the delivery man. Maybe, even, a total stranger.

Hometown Energy has five trucks and seven employees, and is run out of an old house next to the Ellis variety store and diner. Oil perfumes the place, thanks to the petroleum-stained truckers and mechanics clomping through. Janis Carlton, 35, tracks accounts in the back, while Diane Carlton, 64, works in the front, where, every now and then, she finds herself comforting walk-ins who fear the cold so much that they cry.

Their boss, Mr. Libby, 53, has rough hands and oil-stained dungarees. He has been delivering oil for most of his adult life — throwing the heavy hose over his shoulder, shoving the silver nozzle into the tank and listening for the whistle that blows when oil replaces air.

Eight years ago, he and another Dixfield local, Gene Ellis, who owns that variety store next door, created Hometown Energy, a company whose logo features a painting of a church-and-hillside scene from just down the road. They thought that with Ike’s oil sense and Gene’s business sense, they’d make money. But Mr. Libby says now that he’d sell the company in a heartbeat.

“You know what my dream is?” Mr. Libby asked. “To be a greeter at Walmart.”

This is because he sells heat — not lumber, or paper, or pastries — and around here, more than a few come too close to not having enough. Sure, some abuse the heating-assistance program, he says, but many others live in dire need, including people he has known all his life.

So Mr. Libby does what he can. Unlike many oil companies, he makes small deliveries and waves off most service fees. He sets up elaborate payment plans, hoping that obligations don’t melt away with the spring thaw. He accepts postdated checks. And he takes his medication.

When the customer named Robert Hartford called on the after-hours line that Saturday afternoon, asking for another delivery, Mr. Libby struggled to do what was right. He cannot bear the thought of people wanting for warmth, but his tendency to cut people a break is one reason Hometown Energy isn’t making much money, as his understanding partner keeps gently pointing out.

“I do have a heart,” Mr. Libby said. But he was already “on the hook” for the two earlier deliveries he had made to the couple’s home. What’s more, he didn’t know even know the Hartfords.

Robert and Wilma Hartford settled into the porous old house, just outside of Dixfield, a few months ago, in what was the latest of many moves in their 37-year marriage. Mr. Hartford was once a stonemason who traveled from the Pacific Northwest to New England, plying his trade.

Those wandering days are gone. Mr. Hartford, 68, has a bad shoulder, Mrs. Hartford, 71, needs a wheelchair, and the two survive on $1,200 a month (“Poverty,” Mrs. Hartford says). So far this year they have received $360 in heating assistance, he said, about a quarter of last year’s allocation.

Mr. Hartford said he used what extra money they had to repair broken pipes, install a cellar door, and seal various cracks with Styrofoam spray that he bought at Walmart. That wasn’t enough to block the cold, of course, and the two oil deliveries carried them only into early January.

There was no oil to burn, so the cold took up residence, beside the dog and the four cats, under the velvet painting of Jesus. The couple had no choice but to run up their electric bill. They turned on the Whirlpool stove’s burners and circulated the heat with a small fan. They ran the dryer’s hose back into the basement to keep pipes from freezing, even when there were no clothes to dry.

And, just about every day, Mr. Hartford drove to a gas station and filled up a five-gallon plastic container with $20 of kerosene. “It was the only way we had,” he said. Finally, seeing no other option, Mr. Hartford made the hard telephone call to Hometown Energy. Panic lurked behind his every word, and every word wounded the oil man on the other end.

“I had a hard time saying no,” Mr. Libby said. “But I had to say no.”

When Mr. Hartford heard that no, he also heard regret. “You could tell in his voice,” he said.

Two days later, Mr. Hartford drove up to Hometown Energy’s small office in his weathered gray Lincoln, walked inside, and made his desperate offer: The title to his car for some oil.

His offer stunned Janis Carlton, the only employee present. But she remembered that someone had offered, quietly, to donate 50 gallons of heating oil if an emergency case walked through the door. She called that person and explained the situation.

Her mother-in-law and office mate, Diane Carlton, answered without hesitation. Deliver the oil and I’ll pay for it, she said, which is one of the ways that Mainers make do in winter.

    In Fuel Oil Country, Cold That Cuts to the Heart, NYT, 3.2.2012,






Indiana Governor Signs a Law Creating

a ‘Right to Work’ State


February 1, 2012
The New York Times


Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who had once said that he did not wish to add a “right to work” provision to the state’s labor laws, signed a bill on Wednesday doing just that.

The legislation, which bars union contracts from requiring non-union members to pay fees for representation, makes Indiana the first state in more than a decade to enact right to work legislation and the only one in the Midwestern manufacturing belt to have such a law.

Mr. Daniels, a Republican who is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election this year, signed the measure only hours after it cleared the Republican-held State Senate — an unusually speedy journey through the Statehouse aimed, many said, at ending what had become a rancorous, partisan fight before the national spotlight of the Super Bowl arrives in Indianapolis on Sunday. The bill, which takes effect immediately, makes Indiana the 23rd state in the nation with such a law.

It remained uncertain whether final approval of the bill would prevent union protests at events related to the Super Bowl, and on Wednesday thousands of union members and supporters marched, chanting in protest, from the Statehouse to Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the football game.

“Seven years of evidence and experience ultimately demonstrated that Indiana did need a right to work law to capture jobs for which, despite our highly rated business climate, we are not currently being considered,” Mr. Daniels said in a statement that his office released after he signed the bill. For a month, the issue had loomed over Indianapolis, and hundreds of union members crowded, day after day, into the Statehouse halls. Democrats, who hold minorities in both legislative chambers, had refused at times to go to the House floor, hoping to block a vote on the matter, which they argued would weaken unions and lower pay and wages for workers at private-sector companies. Even on Wednesday, when it was clear that passage was certain, tensions were high. As senators spoke on both sides, protesters in the halls chanted loudly and a few people inside the chamber called out objections during the proceedings. In the end, senators voted 28 to 22 in favor of the measure, which was approved last week by the House.

Republican leaders defended the unusually swift passage of the measure, noting what they described as “overt threats” by union members and others about intentions to raise the right to work issue during the Super Bowl.

“We sized up early on that passage prior to the Super Bowl would be appropriate,” Brian Bosma, the speaker of the House, said Wednesday, adding that the law enforcement authorities were prepared for any efforts to disrupt the city’s first Super Bowl. “That would be extremely unfortunate,” he said, “and, I think, tremendously unpopular.”

For their part, union leaders said the Republicans had overblown the union’s intentions on the football game.

“They’re trying to make working men and women look like thugs, like we’re going to ruin an event,” said Jeff Harris, a spokesman for the Indiana A.F.L.-C.I.O., who added that their expectation for the Super Bowl was to have “a presence but an informational presence,” handing out leaflets on the issue.

    Indiana Governor Signs a Law Creating a ‘Right to Work’ State, NYT, 1.2.2012,






Indiana House Passes a Bill on Union Fees


January 25, 2012
The New York Times


The Republican-held Indiana House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday barring union contracts from requiring nonunion members to pay fees for representation, ending weeks of partisan battling and all but assuring that the state will become the first in the Midwestern manufacturing belt deemed a “right to work” state.

Even as the lawmakers in Indianapolis voted 54 to 44, mostly along partisan lines, to approve the measure, legislators and union leaders in other states said they were preparing for similar fights ahead. In some states, Republican supporters of “right to work” provisions said Indiana’s move — the first state to take such a course in more than a decade — had added a sense of urgency to their own efforts.

“I’m disappointed that they beat us to this one,” Mike Shirkey, a Republican state representative from Michigan, said of Indiana, adding that he hoped a similar measure might soon be debated in Michigan. “Now a border state is going to establish a leverage position in being attractive to businesses.”

Union organizers, who had mobilized scores of supporters to chant in protest from the halls in the Indiana Statehouse, said Indiana’s fight had left them girding for battles in other capitals.

“They’re not going to stop in Indiana,” Brian Buhle, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 135 in Indianapolis, said after the vote. “And there’s certainly going to be a national effort on behalf of all of national labor to try to stop it from spreading to other states in the Midwest.”

The legislation in Indiana, which Republican leaders said would help the state’s ability to attract businesses but Democrats argued would weaken unions and lower workers’ wages, still needs approval from the Republican-dominated State Senate and the signature of Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican. Both steps were expected in a matter of days, so leaders in Indiana were already presuming that the state would soon become the 23rd in the nation with a “right to work” law.

“I know we’re going to get looks from employers now that weren’t looking at Indiana,” Brian Bosma, the Republican speaker of Indiana’s House, said after the vote, which affects private-sector businesses.

Democrats, who hold 40 of the 100 seats in the House, had for days stayed away from meetings to prevent a quorum and a vote on the provision that protesters here called a “right to work for less” law. But, facing fines as steep as $1,000 per day, the Democrats finally appeared on the House floor on Wednesday afternoon, at one point opening doors to the chamber so that chants from the protesters flooded the room. One alluded to coming elections: “Remember November!”

“This is an embarrassment before the nation,” Representative Scott Pelath, a Democrat, said of the final vote, in which all Democrats who were present voted ‘no,’ as did five Republicans.

Leaders in other states that have considered similar legislation acknowledged that they were watching closely — both for the outcome of the vote and scale of the protests. While Indiana was seen as a place where the current political alignment made such a measure more likely to pass, more debates were expected in the coming months.

In New Hampshire, where the Legislature passed a similar law last year that was vetoed by the Democratic governor, new legislation, aimed at public workers, was being considered. And in Maine, some leaders are pushing for a similar measure. In Missouri, a bill calling for a statewide vote on a “right to work” provision has been advanced by a Senate committee.

“Their having passed right to work is an encouragement to legislators in the state of Missouri,” Senator Robert N. Mayer, a Republican there, said of Indiana. “This just shows that other states are looking.”

    Indiana House Passes a Bill on Union Fees, NYT, 25.1.2012,






List of Pardons Included Many Tied to Power


January 27, 2012
The New York Times


JACKSON, Miss. — On a Saturday night in October 1995, a blue Toyota came hurtling down the wrong side of a county road in North Mississippi and crashed head-on into a pickup truck. Scotty Plunk, the driver of the truck, was killed. The driver of the Toyota, 19-year-old Joel Vann, had been drinking so much that he did not remember the accident.

Mr. Vann pleaded guilty to “D.U.I.-death,” and in lieu of jail attended a residential treatment program. This month he was one of 198 people pardoned by Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour, as he left office.

It is unclear what persuaded the governor to pardon Mr. Vann; his clemency application contains glowing references and a case study. But the letter to the governor from Mr. Vann’s father, the brother-in-law of a former Republican state committee member and contributor to Mr. Barbour, had a familiar tone.

“All is well in Corinth, and as you may know, we have two new Republican aldermen,” the letter said. It traced Mr. Vann’s path from rehabilitation through college, marriage and fatherhood before asking for “your consideration to grant Joel a pardon at the most appropriate time.”

Amy Plunk, meanwhile, said that her family had never recovered from her brother’s death. Of the mercy shown Mr. Vann, she added: “The Vanns are real prominent in the Corinth community. That’s what I suspect.”

In the furor over Mr. Barbour’s pardons — he issued 10 times as many as his four predecessors combined — beneficiaries like Mr. Vann have been overshadowed by others with higher profiles. Among them were four murderers who worked at the Governor’s Mansion and Brett Favre’s brother, who killed a friend in a drunken-driving accident.

A close look at some of the clemency applications of the nearly 200 others who were pardoned reveals that a significant share contained appeals from members of prominent Mississippi families, major Republican donors or others from the higher social strata of Mississippi life.

The governor erased records or suspended the sentences of at least 10 felons who had been students at the University of Mississippi or Mississippi State when they were arrested, including at least three who killed people while driving drunk and several others charged with selling cocaine, ecstasy and other drugs. Another pardon went to the grandson of a couple who once lived near Mr. Barbour’s family in his hometown, Yazoo City.

One beneficiary, Burton Waldon, killed an 8-month-old boy in an alcohol-induced crash in 2001. Mr. Waldon, a high school senior at the time, pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence. He is a member of the prominent Hill Brothers Construction Company family, big-money political donors who give mostly to Republicans, including Mr. Barbour. An uncle of Mr. Waldon, Kenneth W. Hill Sr., sought and received a pardon from President George W. Bush in 2006, erasing a federal income tax conviction.

Mr. Barbour declined to comment on the pardons, but a spokeswoman said that every application had been treated alike. “If you were poor or rich, you were told to go through the parole board process,” said the spokeswoman, Laura Hipp.

Ms. Hipp said that in roughly 95 percent of the cases, the governor went along with the majority recommendation of the five-member parole board he had appointed to review the requests. In some cases, the governor granted pardons that the board unanimously opposed. Grants of clemency are solely at the governor’s discretion, and he is not obligated to give his reasoning.

Many of those pardoned appear to have no special connections. Others with political ties made persuasive cases that they had led chastened lives and earned a second chance. Applications contained letters from pastors, teachers and counselors attesting to genuine redemption.

Yet in a state with the highest poverty rate in the nation, where nearly 70 percent of convicts are black, official redemption appears to have been attained disproportionately by white people and the well connected.

In some of the appeals for clemency, personal connections to Mr. Barbour were unabashedly made. “Maggi and I wanted to begin by thanking you and Marsha for a lovely and special lunch at the Mansion last Tuesday,” began a letter to the governor by a family friend of Doug Hindman, one pardon applicant. “It was very interesting to see the historical quilt upstairs.”

Mr. Hindman, the son of a cardiologist from Jackson, was arrested in 2006 after exchanging hundreds of sexually explicit messages with an undercover officer posing as an under-age girl.

The historical inequities in Mississippi justice have been chronicled by journalists and fictionalized by novelists from Faulkner to Grisham. Even today, prison terms for the same crime can vary significantly from one part of the state to another.

Mississippi’s pardon system, like those in other states, rewards applicants who have both the financial means and the connections to seek reprieves aggressively. According to the parole board, the board reviewed slightly more than 500 pardon applications during Mr. Barbour’s two terms in office, and he granted some form of clemency more than 40 percent of the time.

Many of the applications contain the type of recommendations that a poor person could be hard-pressed to collect: character references from state legislators or local elected officials.

In impoverished Tallahatchie County, Kenneth Byars provides a case in point. He is serving 33 years in prison for growing eight pounds of marijuana. Mr. Byars has been in custody for 14 years, and his earliest possible release date is 2018.

He filed for a pardon a decade ago, but said he never received a reply. The cost — nearly $1,000 and paid by his mother — kept him from reapplying this time. “My momma doesn’t get nothing but a little Social Security check,” Mr. Byars said. “I wasn’t going to put that on her again.”

Sheriff William Brewer of Tallahatchie County, who supports Mr. Byars’s release, said that Mr. Byars lacked an advocate.

The pardon application itself is simple, according to Hiram Eastland Jr., a lawyer in Greenwood, Miss., who said that everyone had access to the system. Even so, Mr. Eastland said that it was preferable to have a lawyer.

Mr. Eastland, a cousin of James O. Eastland, the powerful Democrat who served as a United States senator for 36 years until his retirement in 1978, handled three petitions, including that of Wayne Harris, a convenience store owner from Calhoun City who said he had difficulty coming up with the money to pay Mr. Eastland’s fee, which he said was $10,000. Like Mr. Byars, Mr. Harris was sentenced on a marijuana charge. Mr. Harris received letters from both the sheriff-elect and the mayor, and his petition proved successful.

Mr. Eastland’s two other clients — both serving time on murder charges — did not receive pardons, a fact that Mr. Eastland said proved that Mr. Barbour was not playing favorites.

“I know his heart,” Mr. Eastland said. “He’s really sincere when he says people deserve second chances. He granted one and denied two, as close as we are.”

In other cases, applicants relied on someone who had the connections they lacked. The file of one man, who had participated in the gang rape of a 17-year-old in 1976 , included a reference letter from his employer, a large donor to Mr. Barbour and other Republicans.

The applicant received a pardon, as did two young men who robbed a grocery store at gunpoint in 1997. While their post-prison lives appear to be commendable — one is studying for a degree in mechanical engineering at Ole Miss — their petition was reinforced by a letter from Bob Dunlap, a major donor to the Republican Party.

“Please tell Uncle Haley that one of my few talents is my ability to judge people,” read the letter on their behalf, sent to one of Mr. Barbour’s nephews at his lobbying firm in Jackson.

The victims of the crimes are unmoved by these interventions.

“As for my family,” wrote one woman in a hand-written letter to the parole board, “we as a family say no forgiveness.”

She was referring to Eldridge Bonds, known as Bubba, who in 2003 pleaded no contest to forcible sexual battery of her 14-year-old daughter in the field house of South Panola High School, where he was a popular assistant coach.

Mr. Bonds, who said in an interview that he regretted agreeing to the plea deal, included in his clemency application dozens of letters praising his character. Some were from family friends, others from former colleagues at South Panola and one, dated 2003, from the dean of the University of Mississippi’s School of Education, who said “anybody who knows Bubba does not believe that he would have ever done what the student said he did.”

Mr. Bonds pointed out in his own letter that he was the nephew of “one of the largest cotton farmers in Mississippi,” Don Waller, who also wrote a letter on his behalf. Mr. Waller is the brother of William L. Waller, a former governor who died in November.

John Champion, the district attorney, said that knowing Mr. Bonds’s family, “I suspected all along that they were going to attempt to get him a pardon.” He added, “I know that he has political connections.”

The parole board voted unanimously against his pardon, but Mr. Bonds was granted one nonetheless. “She don’t want to talk about it,” said the father of the girl at the center of the case.

Of all the pardons issued by Mr. Barbour, the case involving Harry R. Bostick, first disclosed by a blogger in Oxford, Miss., Tom Freeland, may be the most confounding.

Mr. Bostick, a former criminal investigator for the I.R.S., was sentenced in May 2010 for his third drunken driving offense — a felony — and ordered into treatment.

Several former government lawyers and law enforcement officers who worked with him on federal tax prosecutions submitted letters on his behalf. In one, a former United States attorney, Jim Greenlee, argued that Mr. Bostick had reversed his destructive course of conduct. “He now fits the criteria and meets the human factors that make his pardon a wise decision,” Mr. Greenlee wrote.

In October, Mr. Bostick, 55, was arrested again for drunken driving, this time in an accident that left an 18-year-old waitress dead. The waitress, Charity Smith, was working at Cracker Barrel to save money for college. On a Friday night, her Buick collided with Mr. Bostick’s truck.

Mr. Bostick was charged with his fourth D.U.I. On Jan. 10, he was pardoned for his prior felony D.U.I. by Mr. Barbour.

“What Haley Barbour has done has just killed us,” said Mary Ruth Ellis, 83, a neighbor and surrogate grandmother to Ms. Smith, a painter and writer. “Why was that man on the road? This is the failure of our law enforcement, in my opinion.”


Alain Delaquérière and Lisa Schwartz contributed research.

    List of Pardons Included Many Tied to Power, NYT, 27.1.2012,






Mississippi Governor, Already Criticized on Pardons,

Rides a Wave of Them Out of Office


January 10, 2012
The New York Times


On Tuesday, his last day in office, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi granted full and unconditional pardons to 193 criminals — an unusually high number for the state, and one that is likely to inflame controversy about Mr. Barbour’s pardon practices.

The governor’s outgoing pardons had attracted an outcry when it was revealed that he had pardoned five people last week who had been convicted of murder and had worked at the governor’s mansion while in custody, performing odd jobs.

Other Mississippi governors have issued full pardons to people convicted of murder — Kirk Fordice, for example, issued two such pardons before he left office in 2000 after two terms — but none have issued so many pardons to so many criminals.

Governor Fordice issued only 13 full pardons; Gov. Ray Mabus (1988-92) issued four; and Mr. Barbour’s immediate predecessor, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (2000-4) issued only one, to a man convicted of marijuana possession. They also granted lesser degrees of clemency, like suspended sentences and commutations, but even counting all of those, they did not come close to Mr. Barbour.

Altogether, Mr. Barbour granted 203 full pardons over his two terms, including 17 to convicted murderers. He also granted 19 other criminals lesser degrees of clemency, like conditional suspensions of their sentences.

“It is really inexplicable,” said Brandon Jones, a former Democratic state representative who had tried to pass legislation that would have added some oversight to the pardoning process. “I think that in some ways he has broken the mold.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Barbour declined to comment.

Before the list became public, an outcry had grown about the pardons or other grants of clemency that were known. They numbered only 13 as of last weekend. Eight of them had been convicted of murder and had spent some time at the governor’s mansion.

Having inmates perform tasks, like waiting on tables, at the governor’s mansion is a long-held custom and not unique to Mississippi. Suzanne Singletary, director of communications for the state’s Department of Corrections, said only certain inmates are eligible to work in the governor’s mansion, and are reviewed by correctional staff as well as by the governor’s staff for security concerns. They remain in custody while living on the mansion grounds.

It is also common in Mississippi for such workers to eventually be pardoned by the governor, who is entrusted with that ability by the state’s Constitution.

In Georgia, while inmates do work at the mansion, the governor does not have the power to pardon; in Louisiana, the governor can do so only if four out of five members of the state’s pardon board agree.

Governor Barbour came under fire in 2008 for granting clemency to four convicted murderers. The news that another five had gained full pardons, and were released on Sunday, angered victims’ families, who said they were not consulted beforehand.

On Monday, they joined Democratic state officials at a news conference in Jackson, the state capital. One of the speakers was Tiffany Brewer, whose sister was killed by one of those pardoned, David Glenn Gatlin.

In 1993, Mr. Gatlin shot his wife, Tammy, while she was holding their 6-week-old baby, and then wounded her friend Randy Walker. Mr. Gatlin was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, and as recently as last month was turned down by the Mississippi Parole Board.

The day after learning that Mr. Gatlin had been turned down for parole, Tammy Gatlin’s family was told that he would be released.

“It’s awful; it really is,” said Ms. Brewer, her sister. “There’s pain, fear for our lives. Disappointment. Disgust.”


Robbie Brown and Whitney Boyd contributed reporting.

    Mississippi Governor, Already Criticized on Pardons, Rides a Wave of Them Out of Office,
    NYT, 10.1.2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/




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