Sunday, March 9, 2014
By Tom Bell email@example.com
AUGUSTA – A legislative panel voted 9-0 Wednesday to reject Peaks Island's bid to secede from Portland.
Members of the State and Local Government Committee said the secession movement's leaders had not followed the process spelled out in state law. After less than a half-hour of discussion, they voted to kill a bill that would have allowed Peaks Island to form its own town if voters approved it in a subsequent referendum.
The committee's vote left supporters of secession dismayed and angry.
"I can't understand why they say we haven't followed the law," said Russ Edwards, one of the group's leaders. "We had been through that process in spades last time."
Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. was smiling after the vote.
An opponent of the secession, Mavodones said he hopes the city will be able to facilitate discussions on Peaks Island for residents on both sides of the issue.
Secessionists will have a major hurdle if they want to start another drive for independence. Before holding a referendum on secession, they would have to gather signatures from the majority of registered voters on the island, the committee said.
Secessionists say they did that in 2006. They gathered 596 signatures -- a majority of the residents -- and held a referendum in which 58 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of secession.
Despite that vote, the Legislature in 2007 rejected a bill that would have allowed the island to form its own town.
A compromise came out of the legislative process. In the wake of the bill's defeat, the city created the Peaks Island Council, an elected advisory group to the City Council.
Advocates of secession say that the City Council has largely ignored the Peaks Island Council, and that they should be allowed to continue their effort without having to hold another petition drive.
Opponents of secession said too much time had passed since the 2006 advisory referendum. About 150 of the 596 people who signed the petition have since died or left the island, they said.
Lawmakers agreed with opponents.
Rep. David Cotta, R-China, the committee's House chairman, said secessionists mistakenly tried to "leapfrog" over the process. He said he hopes the two sides will find a way to mend hard feelings and work out a solution.
Lawmakers also said the secessionists had failed to show there is consensus on the island for separation from Portland. At a public hearing on the bill Monday, nearly half of the 54 people who spoke gave testimony opposing secession.
"We were not seeing unanimity among you," said Rep. Bradley Moulton, R-York.
After the vote, some of the secessionists gathered outside the committee room and expressed confusion about the next step. They wondered whether the House and Senate would take up the issue.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, who had urged the committee Monday to "let my people go," explained the bill's fate to his people.
"It's dead," he told them. "It just goes away."
MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at: