Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Reforming the referendum

Al Diamon

In every referendum campaign, there are two sides: people who want change and people who don’t.

That’s more complicated than it appears.

In line with traditional ideological definitions, it would be simple to characterize the forces for change as liberals and the opposition as conservatives. But in today’s screwy political climate, that’s not always the case.

Take, for example, the current referendum debate in the Maine Legislature, which is all about the way referendums are conducted. Perversely enough, right-wingers want to alter the system, while left-wingers want to keep it the way it is.

Both sides have a point.

State law requires anyone seeking a referendum to collect just over 63,000 signatures of registered voters (10 percent of those who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election) within a one-year span. There’s some legal mumbo-jumbo about how the question is phrased, and the initiative can’t amend the constitution. Even if it’s approved by voters, the referendum doesn’t require the Legislature to fund it or prevent legislators from altering it or even repealing it entirely.

In reality, referendums provide the electorate with not much more than a method of expressing popular opinion, so they’re hardly the final word on an issue. The aforementioned checks and balances prevent numbnuts proposals from becoming law – and some sensible ones, as well.

Speaking of numbnuts, Republicans think we need significant changes in the way referendums are conducted. Democrats consider any change to be an abomination.

The GOP has introduced bills to increase the number of required signatures. They also want to prevent future referendums from dealing with fish and wildlife issues. If Republicans had their way, petitioners would have to collect a certain number of signatures from each county. Or each municipality. Paying circulators to collect names would be banned. And anyone who proposed more than one referendum question every decade would be flogged.

These are all excellent ideas – if you hate referendums. Still, it would be simpler to pass a constitutional amendment to do away with popular votes altogether.

Democrats control the Legislature and the governorship, so none of these alleged reforms stands any chance of getting approved. Which is just as well, because making the process all but impossible isn’t in the public interest. But in their solid opposition to any change, Dems are overlooking one small reform that could make referendums more sensible.

Right now, the easiest way to get a question on the ballot, is to send petitioners to large polling places in Greater Portland on election days. Advocates also might want to have a few signature gatherers in college towns, not to mention progressive hotbeds in the mid-coast.

The rest of the state is too sparsely settled to bother with, or too filled with folks who tend to be skeptical about change, since nearly all they’ve ever seen has been for the worse. It’s a waste of time trying to convince those yokels to sign.

That brings us to the one reasonable GOP referendum-altering plan: half the qualifying signatures must come from each of the state’s two congressional districts. That would make it a bit more difficult for southern Maine liberals to control what gets on the ballot. And it would mean any initiative that makes it to a vote has some support across a wider spectrum of Maine voters.

It’s not a big change, but it’s big enough to leave both Democrats and Republicans dissatisfied.
Doesn’t get better than that.

No need to petition me. Just email

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24 Responses »

  1. I would think that all sides would want to have referendums. It is our only means to get what the public wants when our leaders fail us. Is anyone satisfied with our government these days? Even if the process for getting the referendum on the ballot may be considered skewed in favor of liberals by some....the final outcome is determined by popular vote. So the majority rules in the end which is what is supposed to be the case in a democracy...or at least it used to be.

  2. Referendums are great. Problem is out of state group's sending paid petitioners to Portland and Lewiston to gather signatures. We should require an equal amount from each county. The electoral college was designed to keep the more populated states from imposing their will on the rest. Our referendum rules should follow that logic. Why let people who don't understand rural life decide our laws.

  3. The signatures should come from both districts equally, it may help with having to deal with anything else like rcv or some ridiculous hunting restriction. They should also be from Maine residents only (a simple identification check would confirm this also age). I do agree that no referendum should involve hunting or fishing as our state does a really good job in managing our herds and fisheries with the exception of moose, they have been taking a big hit in numbers.

  4. The United States is a Republic not a Democracy.

  5. Tony. It's worth noting that the words Republic and Democracy are not political is not affiliated to the two ruling parties just in case. I hear people say that "we are a Republic not a Democracy" as if they don't realize what it means but here is some clarification. We are both. To avoid confusion I'm just pasting this with a link... If it makes it past the bd admin.

    "The key difference between a democracy and a republic lies in the limits placed on government by the law, which has implications for minority rights. Both forms of government tend to use a representational system — i.e., citizens vote to elect politicians to represent their interests and form the government. In a republic, a constitution or charter of rights protects certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government, even if it has been elected by a majority of voters. In a "pure democracy," the majority is not restrained in this way and can impose its will on the minority.

    Most modern nations—including the United States—are democratic republics with a constitution, which can be amended by a popularly elected government. This comparison therefore contrasts the form of government in most countries today with a theoretical construct of a "pure democracy", mainly to highlight the features of a republic."

    Awww. I agree with you that signatures should represent the will of a wider geographic Maine population to be legitimate.

  6. @Lindy

    Exactly. No matter where signatures are collected everyone votes on referendum questions and both CD1 & 2 have a nearly equal number of voters. The districts are equalized following each 10-year census.

    The idea that liberals have some advantage in the referendum process is pure hooey. There is nothing preventing an interest group based in CD2 from collecting signatures at the Maine Mall. As with all referendum questions, if they have broad enough support they will be enacted.

    The real objection hiding behind "referendum fairness" is whether people trust democracy enough to let it work. Unfortunately too many would take away the ability of the will of the people to be expressed, as if people should not be allowed to pass judgement on someone's sacred cows.

  7. So if you think it won't matter then why oppose having to get an equal number of signatures from each district? The only ones it will hurt are the out of state group's paying to take advantage of our referendum process. Money buys ads and skews public perception. These national group's know the opposition in Maine doesn't have the money to compete so they push their agenda here. I think the referendum is a great way to force Augusta to do their jobs, a little tweaking wouldn't hurt anyone in Maine though.

  8. @ Lindy

    Politicians might not do the work they're supposed to (I imagine going senile after decades of sitting in office and trying to count the millions of dollars they've made during their incumbency must be hard), but remember they're voted in every election cycle by the same people. Perhaps people who want change should start considering who they're putting into office rather than simply checking the box next to their name because of name recognition, familiarity, and/or blind political loyalty.

    @ David Betts

    Is the passage of a referendum really the people of Maine's decision when most are funded by special interest groups beyond state lines? With enough (out-of-state) money, a turd can be polished into an attractive diamond, catching the eyes of people and influencing their perception of it. They want it because it looks like something they absolutely need, yet in the end, it's simply a shiny turd that had lots of money poured into it but is of little value. Is Maine truly fated to be a hoarder of shiny turds?


  9. @Shamus

    Maine doesn't have a monopoly on homegrown good or bad ideas. We shouldn't fall victim to the "not invented on my desk" syndrome. I fail to see what ideas pushed by outsiders were voted in by Maine that aren't ultimately beneficial. Many ideas found lacking are rejected when they reach the ballot. How big of a personal burden is it for voters to fill-in a ballot? It's not exactly heavy lifting being asked of them.

    We aren't going to keep outside money out. How much of LePage's agenda was hatched and pushed by outside groups with lots of money behind them? Heritage Foundation. ALEC--do those names ring any bells? LePage was just one of their useful idiots who now lives in Florida, where he doesn't live with the results of his idiocy and we still do--except for the children his mismanaged HHS department killed.

    "if it's not a problem .." is also the answer to your question. You have a solution in search of a problem. People should vote and government should get all the sunshine we can force upon it.

  10. Turds from away I am forced to live with,,
    "Green" New Deals
    Windmills (again!).
    These aren't even that shiney!!
    But there they are.....

  11. @ David Betts you mean the idiocy of building a huge surplus in our rainy day fund? The one our current guvna is spending faster than it’s coming in ? Now we get to supply every high school and middle school with naloxone (spelling?) how much do you suppose that is going to cost us taxpayers? LePage may have said things that hurt your feelings or others but he did a great job for this state.

  12. Referendums are good when used in the manner in which they were intended. Legal weed for example, if people actually knew the ramifications of that, weed would still be illegal, the proceeds can't be spent in tandem with anything that receives federal money, no school funding, it can fund out of school programs, but it can't fund other things, Why? Because of a poorly written law, the law provides no places to allocate the money, no school building funding, no nothing. Because the geniuses who wrote the law didn't put enough thought into the law to list the details, aka the fine print. So Maine could have millions in weed tax money it can't do anything with because doing so would violate the law because the state just can't spend money as it sees fit. Unless the law says "$40 million of the taxes from the sales of Marijuana shall be allocated to the upkeep of school buildings." the state can't spend the money for that. Colorado has hit this wall many times. Which is one of the factors why the law has been tied up in congress for so long, they can't stop arguing about where the money should go and how much of it should go there.

  13. I don't know what we are these days. What do you call a country where so many of its top leaders though chosen by majority vote, once elected, ignore the needs of the masses who got them elected and instead, cater to the wants of the wealthy special interests that donated the most money to their election campaigns, and follow the direction of their political party leaders. All this, while they themselves spend a huge amount of their time in office fundraising for the next election?

    Shamus is right....we shouldn't keep reelecting these people....BUT.. there is a lot of money these days doing a lot of polishing.

  14. Lindy: Unfortunately late stage of capitalism has stripped much of the representation from the peoples elected officials. Human nature is to survive and grow bigger and acquiring lots of money is how you do that these days.

    Major Study Finds The US Is An Oligarchy:

    "The U.S. government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country's citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful, a new study from Princeton and Northwestern universities has concluded. "

    Awww. I respectfully disagree with you about the surplus being a good thing. Lepage didn't generate money or save anything he just didn't spend money that was already budgeted for programs that keep our state running. He knew that it would cost the next Gov, more to fix later. If you are selling your house in a few years but it needs a roof and you have the money do you fix the roof or let it leak and let it cause other problems? How many children died becasue of those cuts? How much of our infrastructure was repaired? How many problems did we ignore to safe short term? I wouldn't call that a good job I would call it selfish. I wouldn't even call it conservative spending if we know it will cost more in the long run but I would call it political if people are touting it as a commendable part of his decision making. Anyway, you are entitled to your loyalty.

  15. Sigh please do elaborate on how many and why it could be LePages fault kids died. I see many roads and bridges being repaired over his eight years you must not travel much. He also tried making able bodied people at least look for work or volunteer (get of their butts) to draw benefits from working people. Like I told mr. Betts maybe he hurt your feelings when he spoke but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do a good job. Please do answer your own question on dead kids because there is really no way to hold a governor liable for people’s deaths ( it happens everyday and there is no stopping that)

  16. Sigh, Run with me for a second, let's run back passed 3 past Governors, King, Baldacci and LePage. King gave us laptops in the class room, a deeply revised and expanded medicaid(Mainecare) program, expanded other programs that actually bought cars for people(mostly mothers) provided they went to school or had a job.(ASPIRE), increased money for Temporary Aid for Needy Families(TANF), and increased education spending. He also left us $3 billion in debt. Now to Baldacci, He liked Angus's ideas and decided to keep them going, but he ran into trouble when the feds wouldn't fund all of the programs that King had expanded, the feds did kick in $1.2 million for the laptop brogram, but Baldacci scaled back the ASPIRE program, made cuts to Mainecare and sold 2.5 million acres worth of timber rights to Irving's in order to fund the programs that he did want to fund. Caught up to LePage, Hospitals and other medical facilities come at LePage demanding money or they will stop accepting Maincare($77 million owed) so LePage told congress at least 3 times "Find a way to pay for Mainecare or I will!" Congress instead went to the media and ran LePage into the ground and accused him of trying to endrun congress. LePage took $44 million from the smoking cession program that is never used and made the hospitals happy, then he took another $5 million from various places and got another $9 million from the feds and gave the $14 million to nursing homes. So in order to try to avoid the high Mainecare debt he scaled back the program, basically undid what King had done and made it available to the most vulnerable, but since he is a reasonable man, he allowed for a measure to allow people to keep their Mainecare and other programs if they worked, went to school or volunteered 20 hours a month. Well when people refused to go by those rules, they lost their Mainecare, which is not unreasonable as 38 other states have a work or volunteer system for their programs. Now for Mills, she has implemented 80% of the programs that King had, that LePage had cut. She has plans for more spending as she is a believer in the Green New Deal, so expect your paycheck to get smaller due to it, the feds have agreed to help out with her Mainecare expansion to some degree for this year, next year is a total crap shoot, her current budget already adds $1.2 billion to our debt, Mills is going to wreck us just like King did. She will do it for the next 3 years or seven if she gets reelected, and the state will get sick of all the dems' BS and elect a Republican to office who will undo everything Mills did and try to get us out of debt.

  17. Aww, you have a computer and can look these things up. I know you have pleanty of free time on your hands and seem a bit touchy when I mention your hero's negatives so I'll lighten up. You don't need to get so defensive and emotional.

    Bstard. I never said any of our past Govs were perfect I only called out the so called good job surplus mentioned above for the other effects of those decisions. Yes, I can too can find the faults in all the past Governing becasue that is power of reflection. Good job. The myth that Dems spend and Rep save is just that, a myth. They are all the same and both parties spend-spend-spend. Lp threw money around and spent pleanty just not on the programs and departments that were already allocated to be funded. Gave is appointed loyalists big raises, 40K on taxpayer funded liposuction, huge hotel and food bills... lived the life of luxury. It's easy to balance the books and even easier to cook them to make it look like we have more than we do but eventually the time will come when someone has to pay the bills not paid. But like I said, we all have shortcomings and strengths.

  18. LD 444 has been submitted to reinstate Maine State Revenue Sharing with the towns back to 5% of receipts which is what it was until LePage. During his reign, to balance his famous budget, LePage wanted to eliminate this State money going to the towns entirely. Thankfully that did not happen but he did get it reduced to the present 2% (even many Republicans opposed the cut.) What that resulted in was an increase in property taxes because towns have to get money from somewhere. In addition to reducing this revenue sharing to balance his budget, LePage also cut way back on State funding to schools. Again, this resulted in increases in local property taxes. So, which do we want? Do we want all of this money to be provided by local property taxpayers or do we want it to come from the State? The State's money comes from many sources not just one group. Isn't that more fair? But, it does mean the State budget has to increase. Seems Mills is stuck with a lot of expensive fixing due to LePage.

  19. Sigh I’m not getting upset but when you blame a past governor for kids deaths I will call you on it. I don’t have a lot of free time but I do like to read up on the bulldog whenever possible doesn’t matter if it’s twice a day or ten. Maybe you can back up your allegations against LePage with regards of deaths. Not likely but maybe you can show your on proof that he directly caused them with the way he did things. If not you should refrain from faux news.

  20. Awww. You are commenting two to ten times a day? That is the definition of free time on the internet. You can look it p yourself inspector. Lepage allowed and praised and financially rewarded M. Mayhew to mismanage DHHS. Unless you live in a cave and only hear what you want to hear then you would know about the several cases of child abuse that lead to child murder. This was only what we heard due to the high profile cases but there was a lot more abuse, child rape, and neglect that was not publicly reported. All these kids were under supervision of DHHS and all were supposed to be checked on by intentionally overloaded case managers. That is on the former Governor who oversaw the whole thing. What better way to support your warped views of protective social services at DHHS then to make it as dysfunctional as possible. The overload of cases on single CM's are now being notice and changed but too late. Changes to TANF were a joke as well. They changed the definition of parenting so that single mothers working and watching kids 5-6 days a week could no longer qualify for TANF (used to purchase healthy food for the kids) if a father had the kids one or two days a week. This was an intentional move to impose hardship on the most in need, kids. So you can dismiss this becasue it doesn't apply to you and your life but until you walk a mile in another's shoes your opinion is just that, "Yours" and the facts are out there.

    I showed you mine now show me yours if you can. You say vague things that seem to sum up your views like, "I see many roads and bridges being repaired over his eight years you must not travel much. He also tried making able bodied people at least look for work or volunteer (get of their butts) to draw benefits from working people.". Can you prove any of this is true? Probably not since you don't have time.

    P.S. Lepage never hurt my feeling or offended me personally. Why do you say such immature things? How could he? He did make me cringe and sometimes laugh at the imbecilic things he would say in public forums that nationally embarrassed the Maine people. And. Where is he now? I'll stop here becasue you seem to easily irritated or angered by any criticism of Lepage which are are both emotional responses. Snowfalking out? Masculine anger is an emotional response even if it is a tough little guy stance.

    Thanks: You just wasted another 5 min on the internet. +5-10 if you respond.

  21. Sigh,,,
    Congrats for your creative writing skills. Unless one takes the time to think,,, you would be convincing with your emo' ...

    Surely you're not saying DHHS didn't need (still needs) an overhaul?. You want to be taken seriously?

    If the case managers were (and still are) overloaded,, could it be due to the hoards of cheaters that are allowed to endlessly wallow in the system, taking all the resources that should be used to help the truly needy?
    Yes it was and still is the case. Sad.
    Owned/Operated and protected by the Democratic Party.
    I'm not a Rep so stuff all that.

    I hated lepages demeaner but admired him for at least trying to correct this bloated corruption called DHHS in Maine.
    It's Broken. Hello.

    The cheaters are allowed (encouraged) to take so much that there isn't enough left to help all the truly needy.
    Shame on this system.

    I wear a size 12 shoe and they have experienced many things.
    I just hate seeing the needy refused what they should be getting. Sickening.

    Who's going to fix "that" now?

  22. U want... I just want to hear a valid comment instead a nonsensical rant.

    You say, " Surely you're not saying DHHS didn't need (still needs) an overhaul?." Nope I didn't say that you just did in a suggestive manner that I did. Please don't spin my words because you don't understand them.

    Seriously, you are not even talking about the same thing.
    When you say, "If the case managers were (and still are) overloaded,, could it be due to the hoards of cheaters that are allowed to endlessly wallow in the system...". Where did you get this view? I'm talking about children under DHHS protection and foster care which is an entirely different part of DHHS. Unless you are suggesting that children are scamming the system but I think you are just confused. Lepage made targeted cuts to the services for children (who cannot speak for themselves or sign up for services themselves or even understand why life has given them such sour grapes) and there were terrible consequences. He let Mayhew illegally re-appropriate millions of fed money that was meant for specif programs for kids. This is the "bloated corruption" you speak of...? It's being handled now.

    I believe in redemption so please before you comment again come back with some basic facts and logically process this to your best ability. Rumors, hearsay, emotional imagination, and parroting talk radio opinions are the actual, "fake news".

    (This is for all of what DHHS does not just child CM)
    Q:How many people cheat the overall general DHHS system? (less than 100-200-300??) It's a shame and they should be brought to justice!
    Q: How many people use the system? (100K-150K-200K??)

    Try not to let the subject of DHHS trigger such a rant reaction. Seems there are too many polarizing and political trigger words implanted in our narratives to obstruct dialog these days.

  23. Sigh,
    Many ranting words without "reading" what you are whining about,, floats your boat.
    Give yourself a congratulatory hug.
    I'm done.

  24. Sigh it took me about teo min to read up onyour responses. I will save time on responding to you and say you need to calm down. You say I’m easily upset you seem overly anxious for some reason. Have a nice day take a nap.