This story was update at 9:55 a.m. to correct the name of a commitee

Back when I was a young boy, I had this deep, dark fear about letting my arm dangle over the side of my bed while I slept.

Why? Because The Bogeyman was under there, that’s why.

And because the second I came within his slimy reach, The Bogeyman was going to grab me by my wrist, yank me under the bed and summarily end life as I’d ever-so-briefly known it.

Now I knew even then that this belief, while terrifying, was rooted in neither logic nor experience. Rather, it sprang each night from my hyperactive imagination and the not-so-rational rationalization that my never having actually seen The Bogeyman in no way proved he didn’t exist.

Thankfully, I never did encounter my nemesis. I just outgrew him.

But as I sat last week listening to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee hold a one-hour hearing on An Act to Require Candidates for Public Office to Provide Proof of Citizenship, it suddenly occurred to me that The Bogeyman is back.

Just ask state Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, who’s sponsoring the bill — not because he knows of any noncitizens who have tried to bluff their way onto a ballot, but because (cue the raised hairs and shivers) they may already have infiltrated our halls of government without our even knowing it!

“I don’t know if there’s a big problem. Nobody knows if there’s a big problem,” Cebra told fellow lawmakers on the committee who at least had the good sense to raise an eyebrow over his measure. “Because nobody’s being asked.”

At the risk of interrupting a good nightmare, let’s turn on the lights for moment.

Currently, in order to run for county, state or federal office in Maine, you have to sign an oath stating that you meet the qualifications to become a candidate — the first of which is that you be a U.S. citizen.

You also have to be a registered voter, which also requires your sworn affirmation of your U.S. citizenship.

In other words, in order to get your name on a ballot, you twice must swear under the penalty of perjury that you’re an honest-to-God American.

But in Cebra’s world (think “lurking under the bed”), that’s not enough. In order to run for office, his bill states, a candidate must produce “proof of United States citizenship in the form of a certified copy of the candidate’s birth certificate and the candidate’s driver’s license or other government-issued identification.”

“I believe we need to trust but verify,” Cebra told the committee. “I think it’s so much simpler to look at these sorts of issues on the front end than to deal with the problem on the back end.”

Uh-huh. And what exactly might that “problem” be?

As Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn put it two years ago when an identical bill sponsored by Cebra died in committee, “Our office is not aware of any candidates for (county, state and federal) offices whose citizenship status has been questioned. Thus, requesting proof of citizenship for these candidates seems unnecessary.”

What’s more, Flynn noted, if anyone felt a noncitizen has pulled a fast one and snuck onto the ballot, they could raise a red flag up to five days after the candidates’ petition filing deadline.

That would trigger a mandatory “challenge hearing” at which the Secretary of State’s Office would “determine whether the facts alleged in the challenge are true.”

Again, folks, that’s never, ever happened. Not once.

And we’ve gotta believe that if there ever was reason to suspect Candidate X’s citizenship (skin color? accent? travel habits?), an ever-vigilant conservative like Cebra long ago would have beaten a path to the state’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions faster than we can say the Pledge of Allegiance.

But alas, that was then — and this is now.

With a dutiful Deputy Secretary Flynn at his side, newly installed Secretary of State Charles Summers turned more than a few heads last week when he testified in favor of Cebra’s bill.

One of Summers’ more tortured arguments: “Since (the Transportation Security Administration) has been checking identification at airports, they have not found one terrorist.”

We’ll give Mr. Secretary a pass on the painfully obvious fact that the Sept. 11 hijackers themselves got on those airliners only after sailing through security with perfectly legitimate IDs.

Far more troubling is that the new Republican secretary of state, in arguing to keep imaginary noncitizens from running for office, would default to an analogy about terrorists.

Which brings us to an elephant-in-the-room question looming over Cebra’s bill: What exactly is going on here?

And why, just two years after the same measure was properly tossed in the legislative trash can, do rueful Democrats on the State and Local Government Committee now predict its passage no matter what they do to add a little common sense to the discussion?

Because in Republican-controlled Augusta, common sense doesn’t stand a chance against pent-up paranoia, that’s why.

And because if there’s a way to send a message to noncitizens that “we’ve got our eye on you,” everyone from Gov. Paul “Get a Job” LePage to Rich “Prove You’re One of Us” Cebra is now hell-bent on sending it.

Some have suggested that Cebra’s bill is actually the work of the truly wacky “birther movement,” which posits that President Obama was born in Kenya, rather than Hawaii, and thus occupies the White House in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Truth is it’s got nothing to do with that — since the president is actually chosen by each state’s Electoral College representatives, it is they, not the president, who fall under Maine’s election laws.

Still, the drumbeat sounds the same: They’re under there, somewhere, plotting to pull our democracy right out from under us. And if we’re ever going to sleep peacefully at night, we’d best put on an extra layer or two of protection.

Starting with The Bogeyman Bill.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]