Matt Gagnon did a superb job of “fisking” Edgar Allen Beem‘s recent Forecaster column attacking MHPC’s report on Maine’s referendum process. The report details how the process has increasingly been used by out of state big money interests. In his response, Matt clearly showed how intellectually bankrupt Beem is, and how perverted his journalistic principles are. Ethics and integrity are the least of Beem’s concerns, and he shows his disrespect for Forecaster readers because of it.
Beem has been the “featured” opinion writer in The Forecaster for many, many years. He’s an unapologetic member of the far left. I’ve jousted with him innumerable times in the comment strings associated with his columns, often along the lines of Matt’s fisking, though not as extensively. Beem swore he would no longer respond to me a dozen or more times, each time falling off the wagon. In the last year or so, he has sworn off responding to ANY posted comments, except in very rare cases.
Beem has “dined out” on his hatred of Gov. LePage and all things Republican, and since 2016, has added President Trump to his regular meals. Without these two, it’s safe to say he’d be scratching in his front lawn for column subject matter. Last year he went so far as to say “99% of Trump voters are white trash Americans.” One of his groupies added that “Trump voters are lousy Americans.” I pointed out that in so doing, Beem called 5,000 plus of his fellow Brunswick residents white trash, and hundreds of thousands of Maine voters the same thing. You can see just how objective his musings are, and how they infuse his columns with “fake news,” as Matt demonstrates.
Matt’s column was strictly based on the contents of Beem’s screed against MHPC. As I read it, I realized this left out a major aspect of the referendum process.
Surely you’ve seen the numerous pharmaceutical commercials on TV–they are more prominent than ever. They’re filled with schmaltzy visuals of loving individuals romping through spring fields, or nuzzling at home, or enjoying time with friends, overlaid with fine print and voice overs about warnings and side effects, sometimes mentioning death as a possible outcome! The advertisers are clearly confident that the emotional visuals and message framing swamp out the enumerated cautions. The commercials always conclude with the line “ask your Doctor if Schmaltz might be right for you.”
Similarly, I’ve seen print ads where the first page carries the schmaltz, and two or more subsequent pages carry the fine print warnings and other important information…..so important that it’s reduced to the likes of a 2,000 word eye exam written by lawyers.
Which makes pharmaceutical ads a perfect analogy to the referendum process. The typical referendum is presented to the public as a carefully worded question that reduces the proposed legislation to yes or no wording that will appear on the ballot, should enough signatures be obtained. This is where the schmaltz gets slathered on. Below the question are blank spaces where registered voters can sign and give their address, affirming they wish to see the measure up for vote on an election ballot. These forms are typically something like 11” x 17” in size. Turn the form over, and you will find one or more pages of that size filled with the mind-numbing, lengthy, and often incomprehensible formal language of the proposed legislation.
Let me relate some personal experience; I’ve personally been responsible for collecting well over 5,000 signatures on proposed referendums. And I never made one red cent for doing so. Kind of old-fashioned these days you might say, and you’d be right. Which is why the term “citizen’s initiative” has become increasingly meaningless.
I can say with complete confidence that 98 percent or more of those who sign such petitions never, ever look at the statutory language on the back of the form, and the few who do don’t read a bit of it. Further, a goodly portion of those who sign the form aren’t sure they agree with the proposal, but think it should be put before the voters. I and others have used that suggestion to encourage uncertain voters to sign the petition, and it works quite well.
If the petition process gathers enough certified signatures to make it on the ballot, we’re flooded with TV and radio spots that spread the schmaltz and emotion with evocative video and audio, but with not a single disclosure about the actual details of the legislation, its possible side effects, unintended consequences, costs, and longterm effects on all of us. Instead, the focus is on those who will benefit, and the pure and innocent intentions of initiative sponsors.
In short, the referendum process has none of the myriad controls imposed on the pharmaceutical world. Each is presented in the most positive light, with a precisely sculpted question that reduces thousands of words of statutory legalese to overly-simplified and carefully tuned ballot wording.
In conclusion, the underlying specifics of the referendum process make it a very poor substitute for the legislative process in a democratically elected governing body. Even more, claims that it “represents the will of the people” in any rigorous and intelligent sense is unsupportable when one examines the nuts and bolts of how the “will of the people” is discerned.
If you have to ask your Doctor whether a drug “might be right for you,” or to tell you not to take the drug if you are allergic to it, you need to get yourself another doctor who is far more informed than you are from watching TV commercials. Similarly, if you’re in danger of having out of state funders drive laws in your state via the referendum process, you need to find new legislators to represent you in Augusta. And you should thank those who do their best to ensure you’re fully informed on the details of such proposed legislation, rather than rely on the schmaltz you see on TV.