Politics & Other Mistakes: The wrong right

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I’m pro-immigrant. I think Maine needs all the new people it can get, and I don’t care where they come from.

Unless it’s New Hampshire. Bunch of unmitigated pissants there, full of themselves just because they have cheap liquor and no sales or income taxes.

But otherwise, I’m all for more immigrants, regardless of race, creed, religion, or misguided affection for soccer or the New York Yankees. A state with an aging population and a higher death rate than birth rate can’t afford to erect artificial barriers against anyone who might want to move here.

I’m not bothered because some of these potential new arrivals are refugees from horrible places like Syria, Somalia or Alabama. I also realize that in order to successfully settle in Maine, they’re going to require a wide range of taxpayer-funded services, from English classes to food stamps to housing assistance to job training. I think those investments will pay off in the long run, as this new blood produces productive members of society with innovative viewpoints.

If you’re one of those folks like Donald Trump (by which I mean a racist), who thinks allowing outsiders to settle here will destroy our nice, white culture, allow me to reassure you. According to the U.S. Census, Maine is nearly 94 percent Caucasian, so our culture (pot smoking, domestic violence, putting old appliances in the front yard to decay) can absorb thousands of immigrants without threatening our cherished traditions.

If we don’t embrace an open-door policy toward people who weren’t fortunate enough to be born here, this state is going to wither and die. If we do, Maine can revitalize itself for decades to come.

But there are limits to how far we have to go to do that. And there are some politicians in (surprise!) Portland who want to go well beyond those limits.

Mayor Ethan Strimling and Pious Ali, a city councilor, are promoting the idea that immigrants who aren’t citizens should be allowed to vote in municipal elections. This sort of pandering to their liberal base is a variation of the way Trump engages with his alt-right supporters when he bans Muslims from entering the country and labels Mexican immigrants as disease-ridden rapists. It fires up the crowd, even if it makes no sense.

The most important right a person gains when they become a citizen of the United States is the one that allows them to cast a ballot against Strimling, Ali and Trump. To dilute that right by allowing non-citizens to vote reduces any incentive to become a naturalized American to near zero. Why go to all that trouble and expense when it doesn’t really get you anything of value?

Proponents of this change never address that question. Instead, they argue that the mere fact someone lives here ought to entitle them to vote. As City Councilor Brian Batson told the Portland Press Herald, “At the end of the day, many legal immigrants are active members of the community, working in Portland, paying taxes, owning homes or renting, and having children in the school system. It only makes sense to me that their voices be heard in the decisions made locally that directly affect them.”

Does Batson also favor extending voting rights to commuters who work in Portland, but live in the suburbs? Surely, they too have a stake in municipal decisions relating to roads, parking and public safety. If immigrants are going to cast ballots, wealthy neighbors from Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth should be afforded the same right.

And let’s not forget seasonal visitors. Whether they own a vacation cottage on Portland’s islands or just rent a hotel room for a weekend, these tourists are paying taxes. They ought to be issued special voter registration cards that allow them to cast ballots in any elections held during the summer. Transients who promise to winter over in the city should also receive seasonal permits.

In 2009, the Legislature made short work of a bill that would have allowed immigrants to vote in local elections. In 2010, Portland voters rejected a City Charter change that would have done the same. Since then, there’s been plenty of discussion about legitimate challenges facing non-citizens in these xenophobic times, but somehow getting them food, shelter and education has overshadowed more exotic issues like voting.

In pushing this proposal, Strimling and his ilk aren’t really concerned with helping immigrants. They’re engaging in demagoguery designed to further their political ambitions.

If you don’t like it in Portland, someone once told me, you can leave. So, I did. You can reach me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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