There are some things that people should understand before voting for the citizen initiatives on the 2016 Maine ballot. Judging by the chatter on several of my social network sites, there is much confusion.
Maine is organized in the same representative form as the federal government. We elect Representatives and Senators to handle the legislative needs of our society. Despite a constant refrain to the contrary, we are not a democratic form of government. We are a republic. In this republic there are constraints on the majority to protect the minority.
This is my favorite description of the difference. A Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for dinner. A Republic is a well-armed lamb influencing the decision. There is a great meme making the internet rounds, depicting the Wizard of Oz group on a cold night. They have just lit the scarecrow on fire. “Sorry, Scarecrow,” says the caption. “We took a vote. You lost.”
Making laws is a cumbersome proposition. People complain about ‘grid-lock’ in both Washington and Augusta. The true cause of grid-lock, the inability to get laws passed, is an increasing divergence in the world view of the two political groups. While it is popular to think that one’s own view is the only correct one and that those who do not share it are either ignorant, stupid, or evil, that is not the case.
Those who strive to move the country and/or state forward are not wolves and lambs (armed or otherwise); they are for the most part decent people who have put a lot of thought into what they believe and the best way to achieve the best possible things for their country. We have, sadly, long ago come to the fork in the road and are on very different paths.
Thus grid-lock, and slow moving increases in laws. This is not, however, a bad thing. It is how it was intended and designed. When things move slowly, there is less tendency to have to go back in a laborious process to fix mistakes.
But, we are Americans and we are a people of action. We applaud mistakes, even disastrous ones, because “…at least we did something!” Those who would counsel caution and time and care rarely are respected or heeded.
The process that a bill undergoes to become a law (some may know a cute little ditty about being just a bill on Capital Hill) is arduous in the best of times. Once introduced it heads out to multiple committees, each of which has the power to outright kill it, or change it so drastically that the bill’s sponsor will handle the destruction. The committees at least tend to alter all but the most innocuous measures, after which the alterations must be re-examined. It takes time. Each committee will have the opportunity for public input. More time. If the bill makes it through this gauntlet, it must go to yet another entity to determine the financial impact its passage will have. Finally, it gets to the head of the controlling party of each house of the legislature, who decides if and when it will go to the floor for more discussion and voting. If passed by both houses, it goes to the Governor who can sign it into law, let it sit though a certain time period and become law without his signature, or veto it. Upon veto, there is another convoluted path to overriding or not in the legislature.
The law goes into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.
The Citizen Initiative and Citizen Veto move much quicker. Any citizen of Maine can start a Citizen Initiative (or Veto). A written application including the full text of the proposed law must be submitted to the Secretary of State, who has 15 days to accept or reject it. When accepted it goes to the Election Division which provides an approved petition form. These petitions can be circulated for up to 18 months, although signatures must be submitted within 12 months of their signing. The signatures must be accepted by the town clerk of the residence of each signer. There must be valid signatures equaling 10% of the total of the last vote for Governor.
When sufficient signatures have been validated, the initiative goes to the Legislature where it is voted upon. If it is rejected it goes on the next ballot.
If a Citizen Initiative or Citizen Veto passes with 50% plus 1 vote, it becomes law 30 days after the Governor declares the election final. If there is no funding included in the initiative, it becomes law 45 days after the next session of the legislature convenes, to give the legislature time to find funding.
In the greater scheme of things, this is a fast process. Especially when many of our initiatives are not things dreamed up by a single Mainer musing about a problem they would like to fix. Most come from out-of-state groups, who get similar measures put on the ballots of several states a session. These groups have what seems unlimited funding. Maine allows paid petitioners, although they are supposed to be Maine citizens.
Much of the discussion I referred to in the first paragraph centered on changes that should be made to initiatives, and how ‘They’ should fix them. ‘They’ possibly meaning the legislature, but that was nebulous.
There is no ‘They’ to fix anything. Any initiative that is passed will become law in either 30 or 45 days. My fellow socialmediaites repeatedly urged everyone to ‘…not throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ I urged otherwise.
Doing nothing is always preferable to passing a bad law. The bath water is so murky there is probably no viable baby in it. There is not a single measure on the ballot that is not flawed. Two (#3 Require Background Checks for Gun Sales and #5 Ranked Choice Voting) are doubtless unconstitutional under the Constitution of the State of Maine. The marijuana initiative will severely constrict the funding of current programs to aid young farmers and cheese makers, among many groups. Raising the minimum wage and increasing income taxes on people making over $200,000 will contribute to a perfect storm of destruction for small businesses in Maine. Not to mention what it will do to the what will become formerly tipped.
I like the idea of the Citizen Initiative, and, particularly the Citizen Veto. I participated in the veto of the ‘tax everything and everyone’ measure several years ago by volunteering to collect signatures and educating people through writing and speaking to groups. It was bad legislation, particularly for people living along the border. I like the idea of a little person having a say in what is happening. I have been participating in individual freedom issues for a long, long time.
But, most of our initiatives, as I said earlier, are not introduced by an individual. They are brought here by outsiders, and the bitter pill is cleverly disguised with a sugar coating of something that sounds simple and rational. The poison in #3 is the word ‘exclusively.’ One would need to read the entire text very carefully, possibly multiple times, to find that while the proposed law says, for instance, that you can lend your gun to a relative or friend to hunt, ‘exclusively’ means that relative or friend cannot transport the gun, because the car and the road or a path to the woods are not the place where he can legally hunt.
Laws are made of the words in their text. Those words mean what they say, not what you might think they should say or what they meant to say, but what they do say. In many cases the authors of the bills did not make any mistakes. They knew what they were proposing.
On Thursday, December 8, 2016 any Citizen Initiative that passes will become law. There will be consequences, some intended some otherwise. Think it is long and hard to enact a law? Getting rid of it is even more expensive in time, effort and money. Do not make bad law.