Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bits and Pieces "Part Deux"

Portland Considers “Nonresident” Voting

The AP reports a proposal is “kicking around in Portland” to let nonresidents vote in local elections. The item says such a proposal was “rejected by the Maine Legislature earlier this year.”

That’s funny; we’ve always encouraged and allowed “nonresidents” to vote in local elections here in Brunswick, and elsewhere around the state, and it’s clear we’ll continue to do so. So what’s the problem, Portland? Don’t you understand the duplicitous posturing coming from Augusta?

One of Portland’s Charter Commissioners said “it’s only fair to grant voting rights to legal residents who are paying taxes, receiving city services, and have children enrolled in public schools.” There it is – the “fair” card.

You don’t want to be unfair, do you? You don’t want to force people to qualify for the voting privilege by establishing residency according to law, do you? You don’t want them to have to show an ID at the polls, do you, you miserable nit-picker?

One wonders what authorities mean by the word “nonresident” in the AP quote above. Is a “nonresident” a non-resider in Portland? If so, why would they pay taxes and receive services? On the other hand, the Commissioner refers to “legal residents.” So we’re left to wonder what the AP means, what the legislature means, and what Portland officials mean. And whether news writers and editors have any sense of precision in the use of the English language, especially as it relates to the law and participation in our democracy. In the absence of any such coherence, the vast majority of citizens throw up their hands in futility.

My experience leads me to believe this is a non-issue. First, the discipline in registering voters is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. All sorts of “field volunteers” register voters with no accountability as to the proof of citizenship and residency provided. (Dare I say ACORN?)

Second, by law, poll workers are not permitted to ask for identification, nor can poll watchers challenge voters on the basis of residency. Such behavior is considered “voter intimidation.” Third, there is virtually no cross-checking to make sure that individuals have not registered in multiple places and voted in multiple places.

Complaining about such rampant disregard for the profound nature of the democratic process is labeled as whining by those who see manipulating the system as fair game. As is safeguarding its integrity, which is easily demagogued as discrimination.

When we have reached the point that “discriminating” between legal and illegal behavior, and demanding rigor and discipline in the voting process is characterized as mean-spirited, the cornerstone of the American republic has been demolished, just like the old High School.

Ambassadors for sale? Are you kidding?

You can file this item under “d” for “duhhh.”

The Times Record has a number of regular letter writers, of which I have been one. Creating this blog is curing me of the compulsion, if only marginally.

Some of these regular writers appear to inhabit another planet, and only occasionally return to reality when they get a jolt from mother earth. These folks tend to be the “one worlders” and devotees of similar fantasies.

Last month, one of these writers, a self described “Obama-ite,” admitted that he was “naïve enough to believe we had a new and different president.” Now that I think about it, we do. He then added “a president characterized by integrity and intelligence.”

He then expressed great surprise that his chosen president was picking ambassadors because they raised “prodigious amounts of money, not because of their foreign affairs qualifications.”

Forgive my silliness, but I’m reminded of the scene in “Father of the Bride” (the modern version) in which “Fronk” says “vell, velcome to da nineties, Mr. Bonks” after Steve Martin nearly faints when he sees the price of a wedding “cack.”

All I can say is I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. And I expect a few of you reading this are as well.

Dreams and illusions die hard. But not for long; those who believe in an idealized version of government, and heaven forbid, “public service,” always find a way to resuscitate them. Especially when an invitation to a free lunch is involved, placed under one’s pillow by the tooth fairy.

Bowdoin College Narrowly Escapes Financial Disaster

Bowdoin College is a local treasure. It is, when you come right down to it, the only thing that elevates Brunswick above the more prosaic and mundane little villages of rural America. As anyone with an ounce of awareness knows, none of the fine restaurants and other unique attractions of Brunswick would exist without the presence of Bowdoin College.

I appreciate Bowdoin because it reminds me of the Rutgers College from which I graduated a long, long time ago. Rutgers was founded nearly 30 years before Bowdoin, and the “quad” and other stately and historic features of Bowdoin are surprisingly reminiscent of the “Old Queens” campus I lived on and loved for 4 years. It was a remarkably more innocent era; Rutgers then was a men’s school, with an enrollment of 3000. Lucky us; Douglas College, the women’s school, was on the other side of town.

But I digress. I want now to focus on the economic circumstances of Bowdoin, which is qualified as a non-profit under tax law. We’ve all seen how they have to struggle because of this humble status, groveling for contributions to finance $25 million upgrades to their art museum, or to replace their once loved ice arena with a new one more appropriate to the transcendent importance of a liberal education.

This “non-profit” status is why the college, which by my estimate, owns real property that would easily double the total assessed value of Brunswick, is exempt (save a few minor levies) from property tax. (It’s not worth mentioning that we allow their students to vote as residents in town, but don’t require them to register their cars here and pay excise taxes as required by law.)

Apparently this non-profit status is the only thing that keeps them afloat financially, and we should be grateful that it does. We should be similarly pleased that, as reported by College President Mills, their recent capital campaign exceeded its goal and raised $293 million.

This sum should enable Bowdoin to scrape by for a few more years. Sure, just a few years ago, they earned nearly that much in one year on their roughly $500 million endowment. But we all know how unkind financial markets have been in the last year or two. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have to defer replacing their library and some other tragically decaying buildings for another five years or so, but hey, they’re real troopers.

Given their clear neediness, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the college will receive 400 + acres of BNAS property at no expense. There’s certainly no way they could afford to pay for it, and we have no right to expect them to pay property taxes on it either. To do so would be the height of arrogance on the part of the town, and beneath the very dignity that the college lends to our existence.

By the way, they’re starting a new capital campaign to improve the BNAS acreage they’re being given. Checks of $10,000 or more are welcome. Anything less is not worth the administrative headache, and would be an insult. So give wisely.

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