Citizens' Initiative

Is Maine’s referendum process for sale?

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again… with all of the money and misinformation you can accumulate.

Maine voters faced a record number of lofty, liberal ballot initiatives in 2016, many of which were plagued with harmful economic consequences and questionable constitutionality. They were measures that our real lawmakers, the Maine Legislature, hadn’t previously enacted because they did not have the support of the Maine people.

A frequent call from their playbook, liberal organizations drew up far-reaching initiatives and sold them to Maine voters with deceiving slogans, like “education equality regardless of zip code” from Question 2, that misrepresent facts and suppress reality. With a little help from friends in high places, liberals managed to get the vague language appearing on Maine ballots approved after having meticulously crafted each question in a manner that concealed its full contents, like the elimination of Maine’s tip credit that came buried in Question 4.

These deceitful practices were funded by out of state interest groups who flooded Maine’s political system with millions of dollars to push their extreme agendas. The support campaigns for Questions 2-5 saw more than $17 million in contributions. In contrast, the opposition campaigns that fought to protect our rights and defend our constitution spent significantly less. The opposition campaigns for Question 2-5 together raised just over $1.9 million, with more than 1.2 million of that total coming from Question 3 alone. There were no opposition funds raised for Question 5.

Unfortunately, many of these initiatives succeeded, undermining the progress our state has made in promoting pro-growth policies and putting Mainers back to work.

And, all of this spending makes you wonder if Maine’s citizens’ referendum system is for sale.

Fortunately, the Maine people are beginning to experience buyer’s remorse, and one ballot initiative has been deemed unconstitutional by Maine’s highest court.

Additionally, a massive coalition of Maine restaurant workers formed to reinstate Maine’s tip credit and recent revenue forecasts show that the surtax imposed by Question 2 is not supplying the tax dollars Maine Democrats anticipated. Instead, as we accurately diagnosed, revenues are beginning to shrink as job creators scramble to find ways to stay in business. Some are fleeing the state altogether. Both are major blows to these initiatives.

While the opposition remains strong, Maine can do more to ensure an onslaught like that seen in 2016 never occurs again. Two bills that would refine Maine’s referendum process, LD’s 31 and 1411, never made it out of committee this session but should be seriously considered in the future to battle outside influence and preserve local interests.

LD 31, sponsored by Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, would amend the Maine Constitution by requiring petitioners collect signatures for citizens’ referendums from voters in both of Maine’s congressional districts. The number of signatures collected from each district cannot be less than 10 percent of the total votes cast for Governor in that district in the most recent gubernatorial election.

This measure would ensure Mainers across the state support an initiative before it appears on the ballot. Too often are signatures collected in left-leaning Portland and other southern areas of the state that Mainers in The County would never consider enacting. When liberal organizations dump millions of dollars into Maine to pass a referendum question, Mainers in rural areas have no way to defend their livelihoods other than hope people show up at the polls and beat the big money campaigns. As seen in 2016, that is easier said than done.

LD 1411, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, would allow the state’s Governor, Attorney General, the Maine Legislature (by a one-third vote in both chambers) or 500 electors request an opinion from Justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court regarding a ballot question’s constitutionality. If a majority of Justices find a measure unconstitutional, the Secretary of State would reject the petition.

This bill would prevent obvious unconstitutional measures, like Ranked-Choice Voting, from appearing on Maine ballots. The rights of our citizens, as clearly outlined in the Maine Constitution, should never be up for a popular vote. If a referendum question violates the Maine Constitution, it should not appear on the ballot, as a ballot question cannot undo our state constitution. The only way a measure like this could be approved is through constitutional amendment – a more difficult task than passing a referendum question.

After seeing a record number of initiatives and the millions of dollars outside groups spent here, Maine must reform its citizens’ referendum system to ensure our state is not for sale to the highest bidder.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at The Maine Heritage Policy Center and the editor of The Maine Wire. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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