PORTLAND – Should private citizens be allowed to interact with government officials?

According to Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz, the answer is “depends who you are.”

My organization, the Maine Heritage Policy Center, is a private nonprofit that advocates for some pretty simple things: lower taxes, efficient government, free markets and individual freedom. We believe Maine is a state with virtually limitless potential, bound by decades of incorrect decisions that have prevented our state from thriving.

In his May 27 column (“Think tank, government proud to buddy up”), Nemitz used some highly charged terms to describe our efforts to influence the course of public policy.

Nemitz claimed we were on a “crusade”; that we were “a wholly owned government subsidiary”; that we exist “first and foremost to enable (Maine government)”; that we are the “state government’s go-to subsidiary”; and that the Maine Heritage Policy Center and the state government are “joined at the hip.”

These are all very puzzling descriptions of a group whose aim it is to limit the size and scope of government. Nemitz is an unabashed big-government advocate, and has classically held a negative view of our policy suggestions because we seek less of it. His column appears to suggest we have switched ideological places with him.

However, Nemitz seems to have concerns that run deeper than his confusion over ideology. His breathless, scattershot column indicates it is the interaction between our private organization and state officials that is cause for alarm.

To allay Nemitz’s concerns, I would point him to the U.S. Constitution. And don’t worry, Bill, you don’t have to read far into it to get my point.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, along with literally hundreds of other public policy advocacy groups in Maine, exercises its constitutional right to petition the government under the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

To see the widespread exercise of the First Amendment in action, Nemitz should spend some time in the Appropriations Committee chamber in the State House. There, he will see groups like Maine Equal Justice Partners, a left-wing advocacy group, monitoring and controlling Democratic action on the budget.

A trip to the Labor, Commerce, Research and Development Committee would enlighten Nemitz to the impact of the AFL/CIO and the Maine State Employees Association on any labor-oriented piece of legislation. A Freedom of Access Act request to committee members may even reveal (gasp!) emails between elected officials and lobbyists for these groups.

Time spent in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee would show groups like the left-leaning (and deceptively named) Consumers for Affordable Health Care pushing their single-payer health care agenda on elected officials like Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell.

But to make it simple, Nemitz should take a look at one group: the Maine Can Do Better coalition. This group, led by Democratic operatives, is arguably the most influential political organism in the state. It consists of hundreds of left-wing social service, political and advocacy groups, and guess what they do?

Exercise their First Amendment rights to petition their government and influence policy.

A core tenet of our constitutional government is the ability of citizens to interact with government and affect the course of policy. Nemitz, however, sees something sinister in our exercise of this right.

Though literally hundreds of left-leaning lobbyist and advocacy groups have drifted in and out of the State House for decades, using legislators and other elected officials like hand puppets, the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s success in pushing a limited-government, pro-growth agenda is somehow considered a threat.

Readers of this newspaper would be well served by a thorough vetting of public policy issues.

Intellectually honest criticism of the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s policy objectives would be much more productive than the pretzel-logic selective approval of the public advocacy process presented in Nemitz’s column.

What readers are left with is the understanding that Bill Nemitz is fine with citizens petitioning government, as long as they meet two criteria: ideologically similar to him or unsuccessful.

Thankfully, the Maine Heritage Policy Center is neither.

Lance Dutson is CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which is based in Portland.