LEPAGE LUCKY HIS ETHICS BILL WON’T PASS

Gov. LePage’s proposal to use the state’s ethics commission to test the truth of candidates’ claims is almost certainly unconstitutional. And it’s a good thing for the governor that it is.

No holder of public office in Maine has been responsible for as many outrageous falsehoods as the man who told us that the Department of Environmental Protection once made him conduct a buffalo study (it didn’t); or that Maine students have to take a special entrance exam to go to the College of William and Mary (they don’t); or that a staffer at Forbes Magazine said that he ranked Maine as the worst state in the country to do business because of our welfare costs (that wasn’t the reason).

Fortunately for the governor, the courts are very cautious when anybody says voters need to be protected by the government from confusion caused by political speech.

Our system leaves it up to the other campaigns, the news media and members of the public to challenge candidates when they make statements that don’t sound right.

Ultimately, the people, not the government, get to decide who is telling the truth.

MORE THAN PARK AT CONGRESS SQUARE

The redesign of Congress Square too often turns into a debate about whether the park (or plaza, depending on where you stand on the issue) should be big or small.

But there’s much more at stake.

Congress Square involves all five corners of the intersection of Congress, High and Free streets, so it’s good news that one of the most important occupants of the square, the Portland Museum of Art, is working with an architect to develop a master plan for the museum property.

The museum, with its landmark facade and large public space fronting Free and High streets, should make itself an active partner in the city’s planning process that is already under way.

The museum could be a powerful advocate for better pedestrian access for its patrons and others to move between the museum and the public space across Congress Street. It has a lot to offer – and a lot to gain – from this process.

POT STILL ILLEGAL IN PORTLAND

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck did not hedge when he was asked whether last year’s successful referendum had made it legal to sell, buy or use marijuana in Portland.

“No,” he said. That drew boos from some advocates, but the chief is right.

Pot is a scheduled drug by federal and state law, and no local referendum can change that.

Last fall, the pro-pot voters directed the police not to arrest any adult for possession of less than 2.5 ounces, but the vote was more of a record of public sentiment than a meaningful change in the law. Someone with a bag of marijuana is no more or less likely to be charged with a crime now than they were before the vote.

The referendum’s advocates have been claiming that what they wish were true is true: That pot is legal in Portland. It is not.

People who think that it is could jeopardize student loans, military enlistment or eligibility for certain jobs.

The fight to legalize marijuana is picking up steam, but it hasn’t been won yet, and anyone who gives the impression that it’s over in Portland is doing a great disservice.

PUTTING THE BLAME WHERE IT BELONGS

The protests at the University of Southern Maine this week were directed in the wrong place: It’s not the University of Maine System that created this problem – it’s several legislatures and a series of governors who have withdrawn state support for higher education.

Public higher education used to be seen as a great leveler, an institution that gave everyone a chance to succeed regardless of where they started financially. But over the last three decades, it has become less of a public good than an individual advantage, and students and their families are expected to pay more of the cost.

With state support stagnant, costs rising, enrollment declining and tuition frozen, the university system is forced to restructure, and may end up stronger for the effort. That won’t be done in time to help the students who are enrolled now, though. They need the state government to keep a quality public university experience available during this painful transition.