Here in Maine we are living through an explosion in the number of ballot questions. Activists around the country have learned that Maine is an easy target for social experimentation.
In 2016, out-of-state money pushed five sweeping measures onto the November ballot, by far the most aggressive use of the process we have ever seen. According to independent source Ballotpedia, on these five ballot initiatives the “yes” proponents spent an average of $3.55 million per question – more than eight times the average spent in opposition ($426,000 per question).
Many have called for changes to make it tougher for out-of-state players to manipulate our referendum process. A simpler answer is already available under the Maine Constitution – the Legislature should do its job.
Whether approved by voters or the Legislature, all new statutes carry the same introduction: “Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine …,” and under the Maine Constitution all are equally subject to legislator review and revision. By custom, legislators have treated citizen-passed statutes with far greater deference than they give prior statutes passed by the Legislature. A tradition of automatic deference, however, helps make partisan-drafted referendum statutes cheaper and easier than the normal legislative process of give and take, and thus fuels resort to the referendum wars.
All referendum statutes deserve respect, but none deserves automatic deference. Legislators regularly question popularly elected governors and regularly re-examine laws passed by prior popularly elected Legislatures. That is the job that the Maine Constitution entrusts to them.
A legislator who refuses to weigh each new referendum statute critically is a legislator who shirks constitutional responsibility.
Gregory S. Fryer