The Citizens Initiative process is intended as a way for the citizens of this state to initiate change. Currently this system is being abused by deep pockets from out-of-state special interest groups, and these abuses must be addressed.
This session, I have sponsored a bill to amend the Constitution of Maine to require signature gatherers to collect an equal number of signatures from each Congressional District. To be successful, the bill will need to get two-thirds support from each body of the legislature, and a simple majority vote from the voters of Maine this November.
As you can see, the bar for amending our constitution is intentionally high, which reserves this process for only the most important, widely supported proposals.
Similarly, the bar for the Citizens Initiative process was also high at the time it was founded. However, modern technology has made it increasingly easy to get measures to appear on our ballot.
That is why, of the 24 states that have citizen initiated referendums, half include geographical requirements to qualify for the ballot.
Because Maine does not have geographical requirements, we have become low hanging fruit for special interests from California and New York in search of testing grounds for proposals that are so extreme they can’t make it through the regular legislative process.
With enough money, even measures that lack support can make it onto our ballot, and the number of questions has rapidly increased over the last 20 years.
Just last year, Maine voters said ‘No’ to an extreme home care referendum by a staggering 63 percent. While this question supposedly would have helped those in the home care field, they were among the many who did not support the measure. Within the fine print of the question were several hidden agendas including forced unionization and a drastic income tax increase.
The year before, a referendum to create a casino in York County only managed to get 17 percent approval at the polls after months of controversy surrounding the funding practices of the family who stood to benefit from the passage of the referendum.
The fact that measures with so little approval even made it on to the ballot to begin with highlight the fact that it has become all too easy for special interest groups to hire signature-gathering firms to stand outside of places like the Maine Mall in Portland to collect all of the signatures they need to make their case here in Maine via 30 second soundbites, astroturf campaigns and well-crafted pieces of mail.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that our media market is small and it doesn’t take a whole lot of money to saturate our airwaves with one-sided advertisements that drag down the discourse of elections in Maine while painting a very, misleading picture.
The fact that signature gatherers never have to step foot in the Second Congressional District, let alone the district that I represent, is a real disservice to the state as a whole, and it results in measures that aren’t necessarily supported across the state.
Only 44 percent of Senate District 3 supported ranked-choice voting, yet this voting method determined who represents us in Congress.
Similarly, only 46 percent supported the legalizing of marijuana, yet it is now legal in all of Maine.
Although the measure ultimately failed, the Humane Society of the United States spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to collect signatures to qualify a second anti-bear hunting referendum with 74 percent of signatures collected coming from the First Congressional District.
A few years later, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent over half a million dollars to collect qualifying signatures for a referendum that would have made it a crime for law-abiding gun owners to lend firearms. Seventy percent of the qualifying signatures for this failed measure came from the First Congressional District.
The bottom line is, I believe Mainers are tired of people from away spending millions of dollars each year in an attempt to buy our votes and I would like to give the voters of this state a chance to weigh in with a question on this November’s ballot.
Citizens Initiatives should be reserved for Maine citizens.