We have done our duty, exercised our rights as citizens, stood up for democracy, maybe even made America great again. Now we can sit back and see if the Maine Legislature is willing to accept the vote of the people, or whether legislators will once again dismiss our stupid rights with a wave of their hands and do it their way.
Question 1, the casino referendum, went down in what was just shy of the record for the biggest defeat of a citizen initiative ever. It was not just no, but hell no. Many voters made up their minds early on this one, a ballot initiative that would have handed another casino opportunity to Shawn Scott, the man who won the development rights for the Bangor casino.
He started it up alright and sold the development rights soon thereafter for a rumored $51 million. Having hit the “That was easy” button once, Scott went for it again, proposing a casino for York County. He would have been the sole beneficiary of the measure. Asked whether he would flip his second casino were it to be approved, Scott said coyly that he “didn’t have any plans to sell it.”
For once, Gov. Paul LePage and most Maine voters were in agreement. Under the banner “Fool me once … ,” they joined forces and took the proposal down. Big money? Out-of-state interests? Sweet deals? The casino proposal was all that and more. A record-setting ethics fine was just icing on the cake. Voters could already smell a rat and gave the proposal the big thumbs down, 84 percent of them voting against it on Nov. 7. For once, money did not talk. Supporters of the York County casino spent about $10 million; anti-casino spending was about $600,000.
Next was Question 2. What do first lady Ann LePage, aging crooner Pat Boone and the Welfare to Work PAC have in common? They were all stumping for “no” votes on Question 2, the Medicaid expansion proposal, in the days before the election.
Ann LePage has won the respect of many Mainers for her warmth, her down-to-earth nature and her commitment to causes such as veterans’ affairs. Pat Boone? Who’s he? If you were a teenager in the ‘50s, getting dreamy to the soundtrack of “April Love,” you may recall Boone. Ask anyone under retirement age who he was, and you will get a blank stare. We may be forgiven for finding Boone’s sudden interest in Medicaid expansion in Maine a bit underwhelming.
And the Welfare to Work PAC robocall? Mystifying. A male voice informed the listener that if Medicaid expansion were approved, it just might get more expensive to hunt and fish in Maine. Whaaa? This puzzling caution notwithstanding, Question 2 passed with 59 percent of the vote.
The governor was quick to lay down a marker after the election. He will not implement the voter-approved expansion unless it is fully funded by the Legislature at whatever cost the DHHS calculates. To do so, legislators may not resort to “increasing taxes …, raiding the rainy day fund, nor reducing services to the elderly or the disabled.”
Not unlike ranked-choice voting and the marijuana initiative, both passed by voters but debated endlessly (and fruitlessly) by the Legislature, this initiative is likely to be rattling around Augusta for a good long time. The will of the people? Bah!
Can the governor simply refuse to implement a program approved by voters? Well, yes and no. The new law gives a time frame for developing the expansion proposal, and the governor may face legal action if he simply ignores it. On the other hand, the Legislature does have to fund the proposal and muster enough votes to pass the funding, and with the two-thirds vote necessary to override a veto.
So far, both sides are clinging like grim death to their respective positions. If anyone thought they were going to sit down after the vote and work in good faith toward implementing the people’s wishes, they thought wrong. We have crossed the one-year boundary ahead of the 2018 election, and Medicaid expansion will be one of the biggest political footballs of the season.
Prominent gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle already have begun decorating their trenches in preparation for the campaigns, Democrats for Medicaid expansion and Republicans against.
Questions 1 and 2 sucked up all the oxygen in the election. Question 3, a $105 million transportation bond, passed easily with 72 percent of the vote. Ditto Question 4, a technical change to the public pension system that required a constitutional amendment.
There may be a lull now, but rest assured that all over our state, political campaigns are fundraising and strategizing, preparing to burst out of the gates after the new year begins. Then it will be another round of dialing for dollars and promises, promises.
As candidates make those promises, be sure to discuss with them what actions they took following the passage of citizen referenda. Did they respect the vote of you, the people, or are they substituting their judgment for yours? If they are, is that the kind of representation you want?