Cianchette, Gagnon, and I are in total agreement on the referendum process

The last time I referenced fellow BDN bloggers Mike Cianchette and Matt Gagnon, I was in disagreement with their views on formally reprimanding Governor LePage for his recent bout of racially charged rhetoric and troubling phone use. 

I called out Maine Republicans for losing control of their party and their rhetoric, and I even threw down a “that’s mighty white of you.” I didn’t relish using it, but I resent what LePage has done to the issue of race in Maine. As I said in that post, I have a soft spot for conservatives, and I enjoy reading both the He Said It Right and the Pine Tree Politics Blog.

And, I am happy to point out that, when it comes to Maine’s referendum process, our three blogs are like an inside-out Oreo of agreement.

I’ve been harping on the process since early in this blogging gig when I started to look into the Clean Elections question last year. I was appalled. Appalled by the characterization of the proposal by proponents and appalled by the obscene sums of out of state money spent in a matter of a few months.

This year the flow of obscene sums of out of state money has continued. I’ve been especially troubled by the amount of out of state funding/involvement with the establishment of a recreational marijuana market here in Maine. Question 1 isn’t alone, though. When I last looked, the ranked choice voting question was the only one not drowning in out of state funds.

In a post about the issue I wrote:

Further, Maine is unique as our welcome slogan suggests:  Maine, the way life should be. I’m beginning to worry that our new slogan is: Maine, the way out of staters tell us life should be because we can’t seem to think for ourselves nor can we elect leaders who are willing to progress our own interests.

Money aside, I first came to terms with the other limitations of legislating by referendum when I read the text for Question I. Replacing a long-existing, thriving black market with a new legal one is a complex job that should be done by our elected officials.

Cianchette and Gagnon say it better than I do, however; and if you’ve been at all inclined to be open to my perspective in my past posts, their thoughts on our referendum process are worth the read.

In his He Said It Right blog, Cianchette calls out the hypocrisy in all the concern about big money influencing our elected officials, but not our referendum process. He writes:

That is part of the perversity of the referendum process. We constantly hear how dangerous big donors are when it comes to influencing Maine legislators, tying ourselves up in knots to combat them. Yet most legislators can easily run a race for a few thousand dollars as long as they knock on doors and adequately reflect their district. No matter how much money is spent by a GOP candidate, you’re not going to see a Republican House member from Munjoy Hill in Portland.

But when we are dealing with ballot questions, big donors do have a substantial impact. Look at the spending reports for organizations supporting the five referenda on this November’s ballot. In each case, the vast majority of the money spent advocating passage comes from New York- and Washington, D.C.-based organizations. They hired lawyers to write the exact language they want, they paid for signature gatherers to place it on the ballot, and they pay canvassers to share their talking points and get it passed.

In his Pine Tree Politics blog, Gagnon goes into great context and even gives a little historical background to the evolution of the process since its adoption in Maine in 1908 — things that are good to know. Gagnon and Cianchette also stress that when lawmakers legislate, there is an elongated process that involves experts and hearings and public input.

Not so with these referendum questions that get posed as simple yes or no questions representing language that is anything but simple.  How many of us take the time to read the actual text and ask experts to explain the details and ramifications?

Not many. I know I didn’t until I became a blogger. But please do take the time to read the language of the proposals. If you don’t believe how important it is, take the time to read the posts I mentioned.

Gagnon and Cianchette’s arguments are compelling.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.