Below is a Maine Voices piece submitted to the Portland Press Herald on July 9 in response to a July 2 editorial written by Greg Kesich, which can be read here (http://www.pressherald.com/2014/07/02/leftist-conservative-agenda-insufficiently-summarized/)
By Thomas MacMillan
In the recent editorial ‘Portland-style conservatives have chance to shape city’s future, July 2nd’, the writer demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the words ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’. In reality, the politics put forth by the majority of Portland’s City Council are neoliberal in nature. Neoliberals believe in privatization of public goods, i.e. public parks. The Council has also handed out millions of dollars in subsidies, which many consider welfare for corporations. Those of us on the other side, believe in using government to promote the public good, which is the real meaning of a green and progressive politics. If the definition of progressive politics is the sale of downtown public parks to giant out of state corporations, I am happy to be anything but.
During the recent parks referendum, Portland’s true conservatives lined up behind Mayor Brennan and the Democratic majority on the City Council. In fact, the most conservative force in city politics, the Chamber of Commerce, worked hand in hand with Mayor Brennan and the Council majority to distort the facts, demonize local residents who use Congress Square Park and push privatization as the solution.
In his op-ed, the writer singles out the Maine Green Independent Party as one of the primary protagonists against unrestrained development. Greens have stood for development that meets the needs and values of each unique community since our founding thirty years ago. We were glad to stand side by side with fellow Portland residents of all political persuasions to protect Portland's park system, including Congress Square Park. The Green Independent Party and its members will continue to stand for the public good and to protect public assets against ever increasing corporate influence.
Since the editor asked for solutions to Portland's problems, here are a few:
* Eliminate corporate welfare. Portland's taxpayers have been saddled with millions of dollars in handouts to wealthy corporations. Look no further than City Hall’s recent decision to allow wealthy Democratic donor and husband of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Donald Sussman, not to pay the $385,000 fee for demolishing 6 units on the East End because he is a silent investor in 6 luxury condo units atop Munjoy Hill or the $9 million subsidy approved for a parking garage for the Midtown development. The list of handouts to developers continues, many of which were approved by 'progressive' Mayor Michael Brennan. Portland’s taxpayers have seen their property taxes rise because some wealthy developers are not paying their fair share of the city’s tax bill.
* Invest city funds into developing worker cooperatives, as New York City is currently doing. Worker cooperatives help improve traditionally low-wage jobs by channeling the enterprises' profits directly to their worker members. Putting money into training people to work together for personal and common benefit will keep money in the hands of local workers and improve the local economy, all without green-lighting development antithetical to Portland's longstanding values.
* Raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, as Seattle recently has. Many cities and states across the country have raised their minimum wage recently, including similarly sized Richmond, California (population 103,000). It should come as no surprise that Richmond also has a Green majority on their City Council and a Green mayor. Here in Portland, I am thankful to be working with Mayor Brennan on raising the city minimum wage and I hope we will move forth with a living wage. The Maine Greens have endorsed the $15 NOW campaign and call upon the City Council to move quickly in putting more money into the hands of the working class.
Portland’s Green and progressive communities do have the opportunity to shape our city’s future. On many issues, such as the protection of public parks, we represent the majority of Portland residents. In order to move forward, we must unite and work for development that matches the character of our community, a living wage for all and an end to welfare for corporations. We must protect our parks and make Portland a place more open to democracy. Too many city councilors have closed their ears and hearts to residents concerned about the future of our city. Democracy does not end on election day. I am excited to be part of Portland’s growing Green and progressive majority who support strong public spaces, increased democracy and economic rights for all people.
Chair, Portland Green Independent Committee
Candidate, Maine House of Representatives District 38
17 May Street, Portland, Maine