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Political Brew: Paid family leave, DeSantis presidential bid, and student loans

NEWS CENTER Maine's political analysts Ethan Strimling and Ray Richardson weigh in on the major political issues of the week.

PORTLAND, Maine — NEWS CENTER Maine political analysts, Republican Ray Richardson and Democrat Ethan Strimling, shared their takes on the major political issues in Maine and the country in the last week from paid family leave to Ron DeSantis officially launching his bid for the White House. 

Milton Champion Tweet Controversy

The man who leads the department tasked with implementing sports gambling in Maine, Milton Champion, was placed on administrative leave this week. It comes after tweets were discovered that were misogynistic and racist. 

ZACH: Ray, I want to start with you. Some lawmakers say they support this decision to put him on leave because those values aren't reflective of the state. What are your thoughts?

RAY: I didn't see the racist comments. I only saw the comment about ladies, I'm old school. I'm not politically correct. I always refer to a woman as a lady until she gives me a reason not to. But then he turned around and upped the ante and used the B-word. So maybe it's an overreaction. I think he has 61 Twitter followers. I think maybe we're a little too sensitive to put him on administrative paid leave. But if this is what they want to do, this is the world we live in today. Everybody's got to be careful. I say to everybody, if you're in public life in any way, shape, or form, "If you don't think there's a camera or a microphone or Twitter or something around you that you need to be careful with, you're not paying attention."

ETHAN: It doesn't matter if you're in public life or in private life. You shouldn't use misogynist language. You shouldn't use sexist language. You didn't see the racist tweet, but he basically minimized a white supremacist march, and that's just not appropriate, certainly not appropriate for a public official. I would hope that any private employer would also look at that and say to themselves, "This is not who we want representing us." If you are a person of color, if you are a woman that has to interact with him, obviously that puts you in a very unfortunate situation. So administrative leave is the minimum they should do. Obviously, there's going to be a deeper investigation when this kind of stuff comes out in such a public way. Oftentimes there's more behind it. If there is more, he should be relieved of his duties immediately.

Paid Family Leave

Democrats in Augusta put forward a plan this week to bring paid family leave to the state. Maine is the only state in New England that does not have some sort of paid family leave program. Business leaders, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, are against the proposal.

ZACH: Ethan, Governor Mills is proposing some changes to make this more business-friendly, but is that really enough to get support from Republicans for something like this?

ETHAN: No, I don't think Republicans are going to be supporting it. It's very unfortunate that the business community is coming out so strongly against Maine families, people being able to take care of each other. Remember, this is if your parent gets sick, being able to get the time to take care of them, if you need maternity leave. You know, you go to other countries, just our neighbor, Canada, they have 35 weeks of paid parental leave, 15 weeks for maternity leave. So this is an essential bill that we finally have to get through. The business community once again, incredibly shortsighted, not putting their workers first. This is a very minimal cost. We got to make sure it's not that hard to administer. I've run a business before. It's not that hard to administer. You don't need a big H.R. department.

RAY: So I'm certainly sensitive to the caregivers and the fact that they may have to leave a job. My wife, fortunately, when my mom was here and very sick for nine months, she wasn't working outside of the home, was able to care for her. So I'm very sensitive that I think the government once again is going about it the wrong way. They're mandating it. They're imposing another tax. I propose an alternative. The government is what decides what disability is. They could redefine the word disability and then have insurance companies sell short-term disability insurance plans approved by the commissioner of insurance, and businesses could participate in it that way. If the state wanted to be involved, they could incentivize it by providing tax credits to businesses that provide this short-term disability to their employees.

Assault Weapons Ban

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers. The Portland Press Herald editorial board put out an article, saying, "Our view: fudging assault weapons ban is what's appalling. Of the four members of Maine's congressional delegation, only Representative Chellie Pingree supports a ban on guns capable of inflicting unthinkable damage on our communities. Her counterparts aren't prepared to say much about why they don't."

ZACH: Ray, I want to start with you. I know you're a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but why can't even a Democrat like Jared Golden or an Independent like Senator King take a stronger stance on this? 

RAY: Well, I think once again, we're not dealing with this as a holistic issue. Sane people don't go out and murder people in a mass way. We have a mental health crisis in this country and we refuse to deal with it. Any time someone does something like this, we don't even talk about that perspective. All we talk about is the gun as though the gun pulled the trigger itself. We need to deal with the mental health crisis in this country. That's a much more expansive thing. When we had the assault weapons ban, so-called assault weapons ban, previously, we still had mass shootings. Columbine is a good example of that.

ETHAN: Well, mass shootings, after the assault weapons ban ended, went up exponentially. Right? They dropped dramatically during that ten-year period. While certainly we have a mental health crisis in America, a lot of countries have a mental health crisis. You know, what they don't have is the kind of gun violence that we have. The reason is the accessibility of guns. It's very disappointing that our delegation is not willing to speak out on this, particularly Senator King and also Senator Collins. Senator Collins actually voted for an assault weapons ban 20 years ago. She should be a leader on this issue. I would hope that Senator King would also come out on this, that there is no reason for anybody in America to have an assault weapon in their possession.

DeSantis Announcement

The 2024 presidential race is really starting to take shape. This week, Florida governor and Trump rival Republican Ron DeSantis officially announced his run for the White House. He did it in a livestream with Twitter CEO Elon Musk. 

ZACH: Ethan, polling puts him behind former President Donald Trump. Is he likely to take away from his supporters?

ETHAN: Supporters know he's going to lose. There's no doubt about it. But, you know, and it was a monumentally flawed rollout. It was a terrible rollout. Tons of technical problems. The messaging was off. But, you know, how bad the rollout was doesn't really matter. What matters is how bad his policies is. This is a guy who's banning books in Florida, banning the teaching of African-American history in schools. You can't even say the word "gay" in the classroom down there. He banned abortion from after six weeks. He's killing jobs down there as he fights with Disney over the social you know—He's basically trying to get into American lives in a way that we haven't seen in decades, unfortunately. So while he did a terrible rollout, I want to be very clear: What's really bad about this guy is his policies. The fact that Donald Trump and he are the top two Republican nominees, boy, that's kind of scary. That tells you all you need to know about the GOP these days.

RAY: Well, I like Ron DeSantis. I like the fact that he stands up for what he believes. And I think the people of Florida have spoken very loudly about those ideas. They reelected him with a million-and-a-half vote margin. Most of my family, my wife's family, are still there. The economy is really doing great. I think people like the strong stand against age-inappropriate material in school. We certainly have seen these battles going on in Maine. We don't have the same kind of governor here who speaks out against it, but he did, and I like that.

Student Loan Forgiveness Block

This week, the House passed a bill to block President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness plan. Maine's representatives were split on that vote. Congressman Jared Golden was one of just two Democrats to vote for the Republican legislation. Rep. Chellie Pingree voted against it. 

ZACH: Ethan, obviously this is still all tied up in the courts. Why does someone like Golden make this kind of move right now?

ETHAN: Yeah, really bad move on his part. Look, people are struggling, especially in Maine. A lot of people have to get student loans in order to be able to afford school. I had to get student loans to be able to afford school. It's just those costs are out of control and it's creating this debt on a whole generation of Americans that's holding them back from being able to achieve their potential and from being able to contribute to America in a way that we need them to. So the Biden administration was very smart to put this plan in place. He's never going to allow them. He will veto anything that comes out that deals with this program. So this, like before, this was pure politics on the part of Republicans. It's very disappointing that Representative Golden would have fallen into that trap and voted with them, but it's not going anywhere, thankfully.

RAY: Right. Well, I totally disagree. I think first of all, I think the courts are going to strike it down. But secondly, and I've said this forever, all this does is take away the focus on why education costs so much. These people freely entered into these agreements. I was lucky. My parents paid for my education, but they freely entered into this agreement. What about somebody with cancer? Why don't we get rid of their debt? They didn't want cancer. Or somebody that has some sort of medical issue? But this is the cause du jour of the moment, because it's pure politics on the Biden administration. It's keeping us from talking about why we're paying professors $400,000 and it costs 100 grand to go to school.

Winners & Losers

RAY: Well, I don't have any losers, but I do have winners. The winners of the American people because we live in a country that is so wonderful that brave men and women are willing to lay down their life and die for our freedom and keep us strong and safe and free. So we are the winners.

ETHAN: It's a nice tribute to Memorial Day. Thank you for doing that. Yeah, my winners this week actually are one of your media partners. The Portland Press Herald. They've been running a series about immigrants and about the impact that immigrants have in Maine. There's so much xenophobia out there right now, the struggles that they go through, and I'm so proud that the Press Herald is really trying to tell those stories. So thank them for that. The loser of the week, as we heard from them earlier, the Chamber of Commerce coming out against workers, being able to take care of their parents, workers being able to take care of their kids when they just have a baby. So for me, the loser of the week, the business community coming out against paid family leave.

You can catch Political Brew every week Sunday morning on NEWS CENTER Maine's Weekend Morning Report.

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