Category Archives: Maine politics

As Mainers endorse expanding MaineCare, feds back LePage methods to shrink it | Bangor Daily News

On Tuesday, as thousands of Mainers supportedexpanding health care to an estimated 70,000 residents through Medicaid, the federal government signaled support for conservative measures that would likely constrict that access and give states greater control over the program.

The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, or CMS, now aims to make it easier for states to customize their Medicaid plans, including changes such as monthly premiums and work requirements that some analysts say could drive down enrollments. Coming against a backdrop of conservative opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the provision that supports and funds the Medicaid expansion, the CMS announcement lends further uncertainty to the future of the voter-approved expansion in Maine.

In a speech Tuesday morning to state Medicaid directors gathered in Arlington, Virginia, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced the agency’s commitment to working closely with states that seek to require more from “working-age, able-bodied Medicaid enrollees.” The change comes in response to the program’s growth in recent years, she said, and the need to “reset the federal-state relationship.”

Medicaid, known in Maine as MaineCare, is jointly run and funded by the state and the federal governments, providing health insurance to low-income residents.

Verma also said CMS would streamline the processing of state waiver applications designed to give states more flexibility in designing their Medicaid programs.

That’s good news for the LePage administration, which in August submitted its application proposing a monthly MaineCare premium of up to $40, $10 copays for some medical services, a 20-hour-per-week work requirement, and other measures. The application now awaits approval from CMS.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that it was “encouraged” by Verma’s announcement.

“Through this waiver, it was the department’s intention to prioritize our limited resources for the Mainers who need them most, while promoting responsibility for one’s individual health and the cost of healthcare,” the statement read, in part. “We look forward to working with the administration to fulfill our shared objective of creating a sustainable Medicaid program through the promotion of individual accountability.”

But Mitchell Stein, an independent health policy consultant who advocates for policies expanding access to health care, said Wednesday that efforts to encumber MaineCare enrollees with work requirements, monthly premiums and other disincentives are intended to discourage enrollment and limit the provision of health services to vulnerable, low-income people.

“Most people on Medicaid who are able to work are already working,” he said. Nationwide, only 13 percent of adults included in the expansion population are able-bodied and not working, in school, or seeking work, Stein said, and of those, three-quarters are either actively looking for work or caring for family members.

“So, the idea that all these people are just sitting around not working is simply not true,” he said.

Read the rest of the story.

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Maine congressional delegation unites in opposing potential tripling of Acadia entry fee | Portland Press Herald

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have come out in opposition to a proposal by the Department of the Interior that would raise the entrance fee at 17 popular national parks, including Acadia.

Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, sent a joint letter Thursday asking the Department of the Interior to reconsider the idea because of its potential economic impact.

They wrote that “365 days a year, Acadia National Park – one of the crown jewels of the National Park System – serves as a tremendous resource for the people of Maine and the visitors who come here.

“From May through October, it sustains a vibrant economy in the region, bringing millions of visitors across the country and the world to the coast of Maine.”

The fee increase proposal, announced this week, is meant to help address a maintenance backlogin the park system. As drafted, it would nearly triple the cost of vehicle passes at Acadia, from $25 to $70. In addition to per-vehicle costs, entrance fees for individuals would rise from $12 to $30, while the fee for motorcyclists would jump from $20 to $50 during the peak season.

Read the rest of this story.

Susan Collins says Trump’s move to end Obamacare subsidies hurts ‘vulnerable people’ | Bangor Daily News

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday that she is “very concerned” about President Donald Trump’s decision to stop payments to health insurers used to hold down insurance costs for low- and middle-income Americans.

“What the president is doing is affecting the ability of vulnerable people to receive health care right now,” Collins, the senior senator from Maine, said during a Sunday morning appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Trump announced Friday that he would “immediately” halt payments to insurers, known as “ cost sharing reductions,” under the Affordable Care Act, a move hailed by many conservative groups but criticized by health care and consumer groups.

Before his Friday announcement, Trump took to Twitter to blast the paymentsas “subsidies” to insurers: “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!”

Collins challenged the president’s characterization of the payments as a “windfall” to insurers.

Read the rest of this story.

About 70,000 low-income Mainers await crucial state vote on expanding Medicaid | Portland Press Herald

By Joe Lawlor

LEWISTON — Donna Wall sprinted into the night, newspaper in hand and pointy elbows flapping at right angles from her sides. She made her way to the back porch of one of the 160 customers on her delivery route.

It was 2 a.m. on a weekday in October, but it could be any day of the year, as Wall’s only day off is Christmas.

She slipped back into her red Nissan Versa – Sly and the Family Stone playing on the car radio – and laughed ruefully. She wore a blue and white football jersey that said “Meet Me in the Tropics.” Did she get her shirt on a cruise?

“Ha! I wish,” Wall said as she put her car in park, grabbed another Sun Journal and ran into an apartment complex.

Wall is one of about 70,000 Mainers who stand to benefit from Medicaid expansion, which is on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Conservatives like Republican Gov. Paul LePage are steadfastly against Medicaid expansion, while liberals and all major health care groups, such as groups representing hospitals, doctors and nurses, are arguing in favor of expansion.

The vote matters personally for people in Wall’s circumstances.

Wall, 60, is uninsured, and she worries about how long she can keep doing what she’s doing before she falls ill.

“I work nonstop. That’s all I do. I don’t have a life. I don’t hardly even have adult conversations,” said Wall, who lives nearby in a modest apartment.

Read the rest of this story.

Collins says Trump is keeping vulnerable Americans from getting health care | Portland Press Herald

Fresh from her announcement Friday that she intends to stay in the Senate and forgo a run for governor, Sen. Collins went on national television Sunday morning to continue to push her moderate stance on health care reform and advise President Trump to mind his words.

Collins made apperances on CNN’s “State of the Nation” news show  with host Jake Tapper and ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos.

Seeming to take new relish in her role as the voice of the Republican moderate, Collins used her appearances to advise President Trump to be careful with his language and lend support for Trump’s decision not to re-certify the Iran nuclear agreement while tip toeing around other questions.

The CNN show focused on Trump’s attempts last week to undo two cornerstone policies of the Obama years, the Affordable Care Act and the Iran nuclear deal. She followed an appearance by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who defended Trump’s decision not to certify the Iran agreement over nuclear arms development and throw the issue to Congress.

Read the rest of this story.

Stop LePage from ripping up Maine’s job training system | Bangor Daily News

By The Bangor Daily News Editorial Board

On Friday, Sept. 8, Joanna Russell’s cell phone rang while she was on vacation in New York. It was a courtesy call from the Maine Department of Labor that the state would no longer be participating in an approximately $9-million-per-year program that helps people get the skills they need for work that’s available in their area.

As the executive director of the board in Bangor that convenes all the different organizations and businesses necessary to make workforce development actually work in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock, Aroostook and Washington counties, the word that Russell kept returning to was “crisis.”

If Maine withdrew from the program, which is entirely funded with federal money, it would have an immediate effect. Unemployed people would have to stop their job training programs in the coming weeks, as money for tuition ran out. A couple thousand low-income adults, laid-off workers and struggling youth each year would no longer receive free, personalized help with learning a marketable skill. Education providers would lose funding and students. The infrastructure supporting the programs would collapse.

Rob Moreau, 33, is one of the hundreds of people currently receiving services who would lose them. He is attending college to become an X-ray technician after he was laid off from Home Depot. The workforce program pays for his tuition and child care for his 1-year-old daughter. If the funding goes away, he and his wife, Shelby, who works full time, will be left scrambling to find ways to pay for Moreau’s training, while also paying their many other bills.

“This is a crisis. It’s a crisis for our job seekers and businesses in the state right now,” Russell said soon after receiving the news that Gov. Paul LePage had alerted the federal government that Maine was willing to lose millions of dollars that flow through the Maine Department of Labor to three regional workforce development boards, which are led by local businesses.

It is also an unnecessary crisis. LePage has tried twice in his tenure to eliminate the regional boards in favor of one statewide board. When the federal government denied his most recent request — based on the reason that he didn’t have the local boards’ support — he responded with this scheme to simply not fund them.

Read the rest of the story.

 

 

LePage said 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy. It was maybe 30. | Bangor Daily News’ State and Capitol blog

By Michael Shepherd

Calling himself “a history buff,” Gov. Paul LePage revised Civil War history as we know it in a Tuesday radio interview when discussing the racially charged violence in Virginia and saying “7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy.”

There is just a kernel of truth: Maine State Archivist David Cheever said that approximately 30 people are confirmed to have gone from Maine to the Confederacy, including students who left Bowdoin College in Brunswick and what is now Colby College in Waterville to fight, but they could have been from other parts of the country.

Maine’s history as one of the proudest Union states is well-documented. It sent about 73,000 people to war — a higher proportion than any other state — and more than 9,000 died, though there were some pockets of Southern sympathizers.

A few men with Maine ties became Confederate generals, including the Leeds-born Danville Leadbetterthe Avon-born Zebulon York and Josiah Gorgas, who controlled the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta from 1856 to 1858.

Read the rest of this story.

The U.S. was formed around ideals, not a race or religion | Bangor Daily News

By George Mitchell

The statements by President Donald Trump regarding the events in Charlottesville were unwise and unfortunate, and represented a failure of leadership.

Most of the world’s nations were formed around homogeneous groups of people, in race or religion. The United States was formed around ideals. Set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they’re not easy to summarize. But surely they include:

The sovereignty of the people; the primacy of individual liberty; an independent judicial system under the rule of law; opportunity for every member of society; and equal rights and equal justice for all.

It is our commitment to these ideals that make us Americans, not our race, our religion, or our heritage.

When the United States was established, it had a small population clinging to the Atlantic coast. For most of our history we have received people from around the world to fill a vast continent where we created a new and free system of governance. Obviously we cannot now return to the days of open immigration. But we should and must respect all of our people, whatever their race, their religion, their background.

The angry, violent and supremacist views of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists must be categorically and unequivocally rejected by all Americans.

Read the rest of this commentary.

LePage: Removing Confederate statues is like taking down 9/11 memorial | The Hill

[Note: LePage has been nearly as big an embarrassment as Trump. This proves it … again.]

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) on Thursday defended President Trump’s claim that “both sides” were responsible for the violence that erupted at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, comparing Confederate memorials to those put up to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

In an interview on WGAN radio in Portland, LePage accused counterdemonstrators of “trying to erase history” by calling for the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“I think what they are standing for is equally as bad. They are trying to erase history,” said LePage, a Republican and staunch Trump ally who has garnered a reputation for making controversial and inflammatory statements. “How can future generations learn if we’re going to erase history? That’s disgusting.

“Listen, whether we like it or not, this is what our history is,” he added. “And to me, it’s just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11. It will come to that.”

Read the rest of this story.

Our View: LePage’s remarks on Charlottesville are too little, too late | Portland Press Herald

Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, isn’t known for holding his tongue. It’s deeply troubling, then, that while other elected officials made a point of speaking up, it took LePage nearly three days to make a mealy-mouthed comment on the racist violence that killed a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend.

The violence erupted Saturday afternoon when alt-righter James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of people gathered as a counterprotest to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others injured in the attack; Fields has been charged with homicide and is being held without bail.

The condemnation from most of the nation’s governors was timely and bipartisan. By Monday afternoon, 39 governors – including every governor in New England – had commented on the tragedy, according to Maine Public Radio.

But Maine’s chief executive didn’t say anything until Tuesday morning, when he told Bangor-based WVOM: “My heart goes out to the families of the injured. I feel it’s a horrific act. It’s an issue that happened in Virginia and I think Virginia authorities should be dealing with it. I just hope it never happens in Maine again because it happened here in 1922.”

We appreciate the nod to Maine’s shameful history (the Ku Klux Klan was a political and cultural force here in the 1920s and helped elected a governor in 1924), but for LePage to say that Saturday’s attack is of limited concern outside Virginia is highly shortsighted. While Maine hasn’t seen deadly violence of the kind that unfolded in Charlottesville, vile, racially charged remarks of the kind that embolden violent people are a regular occurrence here. One of the chief offenders: Gov. LePage.

Read the rest of this editorial.

Maine press must demand answers from LePage | Bangor Daily News

By Lance Dutson

It used to be a given that politicians sought to be on the right side of the press. As the old adage went, “you shouldn’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

But in Maine, in the era of Paul LePage, that ink has become virtually worthless.

Enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, a free and robust press is a pillar of our democracy. As much as the three branches of government hold the power to check and balance each other, a free press serves as the Fourth Estate, a watchdog over all of them.

At least this is how it’s supposed to be.

In our state, the system has broken down. Our press no longer functions as an effective check on power, and more and more serves as a vessel for the dissemination of false information.

The crux of this breakdown is the governor’s declared policy that he will not answer questions from reporters. In a free society, this is unconscionable. But what’s worse is the fact that the Maine press generally accepts it.

LePage has set up a network of friendly platforms to broadcast his message to the people of Maine, including talk radio and right-wing websites. By shutting down direct objective press access, he’s eliminated the need to justify any of his statements, and can instead lapse into hyperbole and outright falsehoods with no fear of being held accountable.

Read the rest of this commentary.

How Maine people moved Sen. Collins and stopped Trumpcare | Bangor Daily News

By Amy Fried

The stories we tell about politics have consequences, shaping how people and groups act in the future. Tales of courageous politicians, however uplifting, can overlook how citizens influenced them.

After the dramatic failure of the health care vote in the Senate, attention flowed to the three Republicans who broke with their party — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — each a protagonist in this drama.

What actually happened shows how much citizens mattered in the health care fight and provides lessons for democracy in the Trump era.

On health care, Collins did not start where she ended and she shifted after considerable grassroots action.

Moreover, confronting Collins meant challenging the most popular elected official in the state, who was used to highly laudatory press.

Using guidelines from the Indivisibles Guide, a document developed by former congressional staff that sparked people to form local chapters, Maine people repeatedly asked Collins to hold a town hall. She never did.

Constituents found her anyway, and spoke to her and her staff in Maine and Washington, D.C. All sides benefited from a Maine political culture that prizes civility. While confrontations could be intense, they were also courteous.

And so, coming out of a Bangor radio station one snowy February day, Collins faced something virtually unprecedented for her — public pressure. After one womanpolitely told her, “I would like to request a public access town hall, please,” the senator walked to her car.

Read the rest of this commentary.

Listening to real people trumps threats in ACA repeal battle | Bangor Daily News

There are many reasons that Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and to replace it with inferior plans that would have also gutted Medicaid, failed in Congress. One of the biggest reasons is that Republican leadership, especially in the Senate, tried to pass proposals that were hastily written, had no clear policy goals, and had no objective expert analysis. As a result, those proposals would have harmed millions of American people.

So, it is disheartening, but not surprising, that President Donald Trump is now trying to undermine the ACA through backdoor executive actions, which could have dire consequences for millions of Americans, rather than a bipartisan effort to fix what is really wrong with the health insurance law.

After the last attempt to repeal portions of the ACA, known as “skinny repeal,” failed last Friday morning, done in by “no” votes from Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain, Trump said he’d let the insurance program fail, to make lawmakers more eager to reach a deal. “As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch,” he posted on Twitter.

Trump has suggested that his administration will end payments to insurance companies that encourage them to take on lower-income subscribers by lowering their out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles. Without the cost-sharing reduction payments, many insurers would likely increase premium costs and some would drop out of the ACA market.

The administration may also stop enforcing the individual mandate, a much maligned portion of the law, but one that is necessary to bring younger, healthier people into the market.

Congress must quickly step in to stop such disastrous moves. The Senate Health Care Committee announced Tuesday that it will begin holding hearings early next month on how best to stabilize the individual health insurance market. Congress must also appropriate the funds to continue the cost-sharing reduction payments, which are necessary to keep health insurance affordable for many lower-income Americans.

Read the rest of this editorial.

George Mitchell blasts LePage for attacks on Susan Collins, Angus King | Bangor Daily News

Former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell defended Maine’s current U.S. senators Thursday for their votes regarding the Affordable Care Act in response to Gov. Paul LePage’s prolonged criticism of their positions.

LePage has used his public speaking engagements in recent days to lambaste Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King for their votes against repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Since Saturday, LePage has rallied supporters at a Somerset County GOP eventagainst Collins, ripped her and King in two radio interviews, penned a scathing commentary against them in the Wall Street Journal and targeted them in this week’s radio address.

“U.S. senators like Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are enjoying Cadillac health insurance plans while they are mandating Americans ride a moped,” said LePage in the latter. “They are so busy seeking the national limelight, they are ignoring the people in their own state.”

Members of Congress and their staffs can purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, with the bulk of their premiums covered by the government. King’s and Collins’ staffs did not immediately respond to Bangor Daily News questions about their specific health care plans and whether they had contacted LePage or his staff to ask him to correct his assertion that they have “Cadillac plans.”

In a statement to reporters on Thursday, Mitchell took umbrage with LePage’s assertions.

“I respectfully but strongly disagree,” he said. “Sens. Collins and King did in fact represent the best interests of the vast majority of Maine people.”

Read the rest of this story.

Collins, King offer alternative to executive-level lunacy | Bangor Daily News blog

By Lance Dutson

The contrast couldn’t be more striking.

On one hand, there is the imagery of Anthony Scaramucci, President Donald Trump’s short time communications director, hair slicked back, reaching into a female reporter’s personal space over and over as he desperately attempted to bully a series of lies into reality.

On the other, there is Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, unassumingly returning home to the Bangor airport Friday morning where a small crowd of Mainers erupted into spontaneous applause, earnestly thankful for the battle she had just waged on their behalf.

This contrast — between pettiness and earnestness, between the honorable and the base — has been a cornerstone of Maine’s sense of political self for decades.

Our federal government just had one of its most embarrassing weeks ever. Republican leadership tried and failed to ram a deeply flawed and unvetted healthcare overhaul bill through the U.S. Senate in the dead of night. Trump abruptly proclaimed a ban on transgendered people serving in the military through his Twitter account. The White House communications director went on an on-the-record, profanity-laced tirade to a reporter, calling Trump’s chief of staff a “f*** paranoid schizophrenic” and claiming Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was fellating himself. Threats were made via Twitter about staff members having the FBI investigate other staff members. And the president fired his own chief of staff, Reince Priebus, leaving Priebus alone in a black Suburban on the tarmac next to Air Force One, as the rest of the motorcade pulled away.

Read the rest of this commentary.

Our View: Collins’ health bill vote prevented a calamity | Portland Press Herald

The U.S. Senate – which calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” – came within a single senator’s vote on Friday of violently disrupting the health and well-being of millions of people just so some members could partially satisfy their half-baked campaign promises.

It was a very close call.

The nation is extraordinarily lucky that Maine sent two people to Washington, in Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, whose commitment to public service would not let them to take part in such a mean-spirited and reckless political gambit.

Credit is especially due to Collins, who stood up against her party’s leadership as one of only three Republican senators (along with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona) to defeat what was not just a bad bill but also a horrendous legislative process.

King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, had been consistently on the right side of this issue, but he acknowledged that what Collins did Friday took special courage.

Read the rest of this editorial.

Maine’s secretary of state says he will reject second request for voter registration data | Portland Press Herald

BY STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA –– Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said Monday that he is unlikely to release any state voter registration data to the federal voter fraud commission to which he was appointed by President Trump.

Dunlap said he will reject a second request for the data from the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who promised last week that the data would be held in confidence at the federal level.

But Dunlap said he is uncertain that the federal Freedom of Information Act would allow the data to be protected from disclosure once it is in the federal government’s hands. He said he wants the commission, to which he was appointed in May, to first set goals for what it hopes to achieve as it investigates Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.

The secretary of state also said he wants the commission to figure out how it intends to protect voters’ privacy rights before he hands over any statewide voter data.

Read the rest of this story by Scott Thistle.

LePage rallies his supporters against Susan Collins | Bangor Daily News

Gov. Paul LePage looks to be leading a Republican civil war against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ 2018 gubernatorial bid before anyone’s sure she’ll declare one and as she sits at the center of the national health care debate.

The governor railed against the moderate Republican senator at a Saturday pig roast put on by the Somerset County Republican Committee in Canaan, where an attendee said LePage repeatedly mentioned working to defeat Collins if she runs for governor next year.

It came after her Friday vote against Republicans’ latest plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. She was one of three Senate Republicans to cast key votes rejecting it, putting one of the party’s major goals in jeopardy.

President Donald Trump tweeted that opponents “let the American people down,” but Collins was pictured returning to the Bangor airport to applause in a waiting area. In a Sunday interview with CNN, she called it “heartwarming and affirming.”

Read more of this commentary by Michael Shepherd.

A strong carbon cap is good for Maine’s environment and economy | Bangor Daily News

 Ten years ago last month, Maine joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This historic, market-based initiative among nine states puts a limit on climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants. It has been a remarkable success by any measure. Now, the states are nearing the end of a periodic review of the program. Maine leaders at that table must work to strengthen the program to ensure it continues benefiting Maine’s environment, economy and energy consumers.

As two home energy improvement business owners, we care about the greenhouse gas initiative because the proceeds from it support energy efficiency initiatives through the Efficiency Maine Trust. It sets an annual cap on carbon dioxide emissions from large power plants in the North East. Power generators can buy and sell emission allowances at an annual auction under the program, and that revenue goes back to the states. Since the initiative’s inception, Maine has received $86 million from carbon auctions. A significant portion of that goes to programs helping Mainers invest in cost-effective weatherization and heating efficiency improvements for their homes.

That’s where companies like ours come in. We provide clear information to homeowners about opportunities for energy efficiency improvements and put those solutions to work in Maine homes every day.

Read more of this commentary by Matt Damon and Bo Jesperson.

Both Maine Senators Say They Will Vote ‘No’ on Latest GOP Health Care Bill | Maine Public

The latest attempt by the US Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has failed to garner support from Maine’s senators. Though the bill does eliminate some unpopular provisions from earlier versions, the changes aren’t enough to gain traction with Senators Collins and King, and Maine health providers.

Previous proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have included tax breaks for high income earners. Those tax breaks have been scaled back in the latest version of the Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. There’s also more funding included to fight the opioid epidemic: $45 billion over the next decade. But one big problem remains: cuts to Medicaid. Senator Susan Collins tweeted that’s the reason she can’t support this latest proposal. Neither can Vanessa Santarelli, CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association.

“The deep cuts to the Medicaid program could be really damaging, particularly to a state like Maine and to our community health centers,” Santarelli says.

Read and listen to the story.