Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: So what about Question 1?

Why should the voters support the rescue and expansion of Maine’s pioneering Clean Election rules? According to Sen Roger Katz (R-Augusta) these rules “will elevate the voice of everyday Mainers in our political system and ensure that politicians are accountable to the people of Maine. Senator Angus King writes that the Clean Elections reform “returns control of our elections to the hands of the people.... People will be able to take back control once and for all.” Columnist Douglas Rooks write that it will “help restore democracy — government by the people.” Ed Youngblood speaks of “ putting control of elections back in the hands of the voters.”

None of these enthusiasts have taken the trouble to explain how this is supposed to work. We eliminate the influence of the Big Money Special Interest Nasties (BiMSIN) and then.... Then what? I don’t see it. What’s the mechanism by which the People (variously known as hoi polloi, the Great Unwashed, the Many-Headed, il popolo minuto, le canaille) will actually exercise control over their elected representative and ruling bureaucracies? The most I can find is a vague hint that the People will simply rush in to fill the vacuum created by flushing out the BiMSIN. Really?

Al Diamon’s “Money laundering” (Aug. 24) scoffs at this promises of democratic redemption. He argues that the current Clean Election Act hasn’t worked, and the revamped version won’t either. Judging by its past performance, he dismisses claims that the legislature will leave the ordinary taxpayers uninjured by wringing the $6,000,000 required to pay for public funding out of corporate welfare tax expenditures. He theorizes that “big-money groups” will still find ways to spend as much as they like to influence elections and may even increase expenditures to counterbalance the extra public money. He credits political consultants with sufficient cunning to conceal the BiMSIN donors behind false fronts, thus frustrating the act’s flimsy transparency provisions.

On September 3 Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, board member Ed Youngblood responded, writing that Al’s column “included glaring inaccuracies about Question 1 and misrepresented the important role Question 1 will play in increasing transparency and accountability in our elections...” Examine Youngblood’s column paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and you find that he does not pinion a single “glaring error” or clarify any misrepresentations. On October 18 Youngblood told BDN readers that what Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) had written in an earlier column “couldn’t be further from the truth” without troubling himself to identify any falsehoods“

The former Republican senator from Brewer simply reiterates the familiar arguments: Question 1 is a grass-roots, nonpartisan, citizen-led initiative designed to enact a common-sense reform bill that will gives us a government that is of, by and for the people...return control of elections to the hands of the people....elevate the voice of everyday people in our democracy and hold our representatives accountable. It will be “good for Maine and good for our democracy.”

Q1 is going to accomplish all these wonderful things because its passage will “increase fines and penalties for those who break our election laws...demand transparency and shine a light on special interest money in our elections by requiring outside groups spending money in support or against candidates to list their top three funders on any ads they buy”...and “will encourage strict campaign spending and contribution limits by restoring funding to Maine’s Clean Election system so that candidates can run for office without being beholden to wealthy special interests and corporations.” And none of this will cause the ordinary taxpayer a cent.

It’s not my fault if this summary makes Question 1 sound silly. The fault lies with Ed and his accomplices. A serious case in favor of the Clean Elections project must start with a demonstration of how the Clean Elections legislation has improved the performance of Maine’s legislature since its first implemented in the 2000 election. The proof of the pie is in the eating, not in the recipe. Mainers are supposed to pride themselves on their pragmatism. That seems to require some evidence of improved legislative performance. None is being offered.

Angus King tells us in an October 10 column that “I’ve watched as Maine’s clean election system has transformed the state’s Legislature and opened the door for everyday people—plumbers, teachers, carpenters, and firefighters...” Of course we all like everyday people. What’s not to like? They are everyday people every day, just like us. On the other hand, we ought to hear what other forms this transformation has taken. Mainers may rejoice to hear that our legislators have grown taller, prettier and more agile over the last fifteen years, but what’s the evidence that legislation has improved.?

There may be others, but the one carpenter in the legislature I know about is Joel Stetkis (R-Canaan), a leader of the opposition to Q1. Why would Sen. King see his presence as an advantage? Ed Youngblood has claimed that there are more women in the legislature because of Clean Elections, but some people have questioned this and it appears that New Hampshire has the same percentage without clean election legislation.

Most know that poetic/dramatic license means literary and dramatic freedom from imprisonment by facts and quotidian reality. The rules of “political license” are less well known. In simplest terms, it means people involved in politics, even as mere spectators, are allowed a pretty wide latitude for hypocrisy. Understanding this we are not surprised to read columns and articles complaining about too much money in Maine politics that never mention Selwyn D. Sussman and Stephen King or the relative size of the GOP and Democratic Party annual budgets. These items are written by liberal Democrats.

The same license is allowed to those who support Mainer’s for Accountable Elections on the grounds that Question 1 is going to limit the influence of Wretches from Away without ever mentioning that 75-80% if of its funding comes from away, some from as far away as California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Stuttgart, Germany. An October 20 Morning Sentinel column by Lisa Miller is the most recent example but I’m not criticizing the woman. She’s allowed to pretend Q1 is all about, and only about, native born Mainers. This is permitted under the rules of political license.

John Frary

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6 Responses »

  1. Thank you, John for that insightful lesson. I have seriously Question one's promotion since I heard from another source that the promotions were almost entirely funded from non-Mainers. The very hypocrisy makes me question their motives and vote NO.

  2. The proof of the pie is in the eating, not in the recipe.

    An excellent rephrasing of that age old truism: Liberals demand to be judged on their intentions, not their results.

    Thank you, Professor.

  3. There is very great irony in the effort to get Referendum One passed. It is designed to get big money out of State of Maine elections, and yet, the massive share of the money comes from out of state, as Professor Frary has pointed out (and even out of the country.) Why would such big money from outside of Maine want to reduce big money from out of state in Maine elections? It is strange.

  4. "And none of this will cause the ordinary taxpayer a cent."

    Who pays when the government makes things more expensive for corporations? We do. Megalo-Mart will simply pass the costs on to us if our benevolent leaders wring $6 Million out of them.

    Also, a politician needs to be able to raise money. It's messy. Yes, favors will be owed. On both sides of the spectrum. If they can't play in the big leagues, they need to find something else to do.

    I'm sorry, this isn't T-ball, not everyone gets a trophy. I don't want the playing field leveled by our well meaning "representatives", I want the people that fight the hardest to win, and if I'm not happy about the way some corporation supports someone I can vote with my pocketbook.

    The alternative is exactly the tyranny our founders envisioned; the velvet noose of 'rulers' deciding what's best for the trembling masses.

  5. I don't like the idea of supporting the campaign of a candidate that I don't agree with

  6. Everybody who believes any such plan will ever overcome the influence of the wealthy, connected, or organized in any political system raise your hand. Ok, those of you who raised your hands, if you're going to vote you really need to take your meds at least half an hour before next time.