Politics & Other Mistakes: Referendum madness

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Apparently, you are an idiot.

I’d previously suspected this of Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, Gov. Paul LePage and everyone in authority at the state Department of Health and Human Services.

But I had no idea the plague of stupidity included you (and me) until I read a new report from the Maine Heritage Policy Center called “The Will Of The People? How Maine’s Ballot Initiative Process Is Tainted By Outside Influence.”

The center is a right-wing think tank much enamored of free markets, limited government and allowing rich conservatives to spend as much as they wish influencing elections. The MHPC is not, however, fond of deep-pocketed political contributors supporting liberal causes.

To thwart these wealthy left-wingers, the center believes Maine must reform its referendum statute to make it more difficult to place issues it doesn’t approve of on the ballot. The reason for this is, as previously noted, that you are an idiot, and will fall for almost anything you’re told.

According to the report, “Today, the process is regularly exploited by out-of-state interest groups that, often without formalized opposition, use Maine as a laboratory for ambitious policy proposals that could not withstand the deliberative scrutiny of the Maine Legislature.”

Wait, what?

The Legislature’s ability to scrutinize anything deliberatively is roughly equivalent to Facebook’s ability to protect your privacy. Nonsensical bills get passed. Common-sense measures are defeated. The will of the voters is routinely ignored.

That last one is understandable, given that voters are idiots. But so are legislators, so they should display a little respect for their fellow imbeciles.

But back to the referendum problem. Between 2009 and 2017, supporters and opponents of assorted ballot initiatives spent more than $81 million on their campaigns. Most of that money came from out of state, and most of that cash went to support generally liberal causes, such as gun control, increasing the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana.

The MHPC believes this is part of a Nationwide Conspiracy. From its report: “These finding suggest that the support behind Maine ballot initiatives originates not within Maine, but from outside interests who seek to influence ballot question outcomes in multiple states.”

That could be true, but is it relevant? It might be if big money from away was the key to passing almost anything at the ballot box. Brainwashed voters would obediently flock to the polls to do the bidding of these moneyed masterminds of manipulation. Before long, Maine would be burdened with all manner of laws requiring unspeakable levels of socialism and depravity.

Unfortunately for the center’s perspective, it doesn’t always work that way. In spite of excessive spending by unseemly foreigners, a 2014 effort to ban most forms of bear hunting failed miserably. Big money couldn’t save an outsider-backed 2016 gun-control referendum. Buckets of alien cash were dumped into a 2017 effort to allow a York County casino, to no avail.

Contrary to the MHPC’s conclusions, the voters may not be idiots, after all. At least, not all the time.

Even when a referendum passes, the state has further roadblocks in place to hamper its implementation. The Legislature may simply refuse to abide by the new law (because Maine’s Constitution says it can), as was the case with an initiative requiring the state to pay 55 percent of the cost of local education. It can alter the bill until it’s almost unrecognizable, as it’s done with pot legalization. The governor also has all manner of opportunities to hinder initiatives not to his liking (see Medicaid expansion).

In short, the will of the people is little more than a will o’ the wisp.

The MHPC isn’t swayed by these arguments. “Maine should not waste public resources,” its report says, “cleaning up the mess caused by outside groups influencing ballot measures.”

To fix this non-problem, the center is proposing several reforms, some of which are in place in other states, where voters are even more idiotic. Strangely enough, a few of these ideas make some sense.

Referendum questions should be limited to a single policy change. If multiple alterations are requested, they should appear as separate ballot items.

All initiated referendums should be the subject of legislative public hearings, so the major issues can be laid out clearly ahead of time.

And petitioners should be required to collect half the necessary signatures (currently a little over 61,000 names) from each of Maine’s two congressional districts to keep the dopes in populous Cumberland and York counties from dominating the process.

Other than that, I don’t think any changes are needed. But then, I may be an idiot.

If you email me at aldiamon@herniahill.net, use small words.