Attempts to undermine referendum results are a profound insult to Maine voters
At the risk of sounding a tad alarmist, I think it’s worth pointing out that our elected officials are actively working to undermine the results of the last election. No one is contesting the results mind you, but our governor, along with most of his party and the occasional Democrat, is engineering the budget process, and in one case enjoining the supreme court, to negate the results of three of our four winning citizen initiated ballot referendums from last November.
You may remember, in 2003, we voted for a ballot initiative that required the state to pay 55% of the cost for our public schools in order to take some of the pressure off property taxes. After seeing that directive ignored for the last thirteen years, we followed that up by voting last November to insure that the 55% minimum be met by requiring the wealthiest Mainers, whose taxes have been slashed by LePage over the course of his time in office, to pay a bit more. Mainers also voted in November to increase the state’s minimum wage. And, on the same day, we voted for an electoral reform, ranked choice voting, that would ensure that our state election results reflect the will of the majority of Maine voters.
Now, in the first legislative session since the election, we are seeing the governor and his allies wielding their power to squash these three initiatives before they even come into effect. (Not to mention the ongoing effort, which continues to play out even now in 2017, to undermine our 2014 citizen approved Clean Elections initiative.)
Opponents of our ballot initiatives are implying that voters are ill-informed and don’t know what they’re voting for. Somehow it seems they are the only ones with the wisdom and foresight to understand the true and dire implications of these initiatives. To me this attitude indicates first a troubling lack of respect on the part of our elected officials for their constituents. But it also highlights a certain level of hypocrisy.
For better or worse I think it’s probably fair to say that in many cases the lack of respect goes both ways. Some of our representatives seem to have doubts about our decision-making capabilities, but many voters would probably also question whether their representatives in Augusta are all fully informed on the many sides of every issue or whether they are really able to look beyond their own narrow self-interest to the wider impacts of their decisions on our community as a whole.
I have to ask. If we can’t respect and abide by the will of the voters when it comes to ballot initiatives, why should we respect or abide by the will of the voters when we elect our representatives? If for nothing more than the sake of consistency, I urge our leaders in Augusta to stand up for our democratic process and respect the results of our referendum questions, just as they would stand by their constituents’ decision to elect them to office.
A second argument I’ve heard against ballot initiatives is that because these initiatives require a significant amount of funding to run the campaigns, they are somehow not real grassroots efforts that reflect the will of Maine voters. (I am referring here specifically to remarks I heard from Senate President Michael Thibodeau during his January 3rd appearance on Maine Calling.)
As someone who has worked to collect signatures in support of a couple of ballot initiatives, I would like to refute that. Collecting signatures can be grueling, emotionally exhausting work. Under the best of circumstances, it is far from a high-paying job. I certainly would never engage in this work unless I felt passionately about the issue I was advocating for. I feel confident in saying from my experience that this holds true for people at every level of these campaigns. It is patently ridiculous to assert that the staff of the citizen advocacy groups that work on these campaigns are in it for the money.
Also, these initiatives require a massive amount of volunteer and fundraising support from Mainers to get off the ground. The 61,123 signatures required to make the ballot is a very high bar to meet, as anyone who has been involved in one of these campaigns can attest to. (This is something even LePage should recognize, after his failed attempt to get an initiative on the ballot for 2016 to do away with the state income tax.) At every level, these citizen’s initiatives are a labor of love and true civic engagement, and I feel compelled to say that it is a profound insult to our most engaged citizens to suggest otherwise.
Whether the majority of Mainers agree with what the ballot initiatives are trying to accomplish or not is another question. As it happens though, we got the answer to that question on November 8, 2016 with regard to Questions 2, 4, and 5. Mainers voted to fund our schools, raise wages, and make our elections more democratic. Do we need to pass another ballot initiative now to require that our elected officials actually represent us and abide by our decisions?
Photo: Governor Paul LePage shares a laugh with some of his advisors, via official website.
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