November 6, 2011

Bill Nemitz: Take ad at its word: Beware 'outsiders’

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

You know you’re on the wrong side of an issue when you’re afraid to call it by name.

Over the last few days, Maine’s airwaves have been bombarded by a 15-second television ad urging a “no” vote on Question 1 in Tuesday’s referendum election.

Question 1, as most of us know, involves Maine’s tradition of allowing voters to register at the polls on Election Day – a “yes” vote restores so-called “same-day voter registration,” while a “no” vote upholds the Legislature’s decision last spring to prohibit the practice for the first time in almost 40 years.

A simple and straightforward choice? You’d think so.

But then there’s that ad ...

“Who should decide Maine’s elections? Mainers? Or outsiders from other states?” asks a female narrator while a weird graphic shows the five other New England states and New York creeping up on poor, unsuspecting Maine.

“Today,” she continues, “outside interests are trying to get rid of Maine’s election ethics law.”

OK, let’s pause it right there.

Maine’s “election ethics law"? Where, pray tell, did that never-before-uttered phrase come from?

Good luck getting an answer to that one.

The ad was paid for and released last week by Secure Maine’s Ballot, the group leading the Question 1 “no” campaign.

As the Lewiston Sun Journal reported last week, Jen Webber, the group’s spokeswoman, could not say what the ad meant by the phrase “Maine’s election ethics law.”

Nevertheless, Webber told the newspaper, “We believe it’s an effective ad.”

How nice. They can’t explain the origin of their ad’s pivotal phrase – but they sure know it’s working!

I called Webber on Friday to get her to elaborate a bit, but she didn’t call back. Instead, I heard from Lance Dutson, CEO of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Since he was calling on Secure Maine’s Ballot’s behalf, might Dutson enlighten us on who coined the phrase “Maine’s election ethics law"? And while he’s at it, might he explain why the words “same-day registration” are never uttered?

“I didn’t buy the ad and I didn’t produce the ad,” Dutson said. “We’re a corollary organization here.”

It turns out Dutson actually wanted to talk about other things. Like the fact that Donald Sussman, the wealthy hedge-fund manager who’s married to Maine’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, contributed $285,000 to the pro-Question 1 “Yes on 1/Protect Maine Votes.”

Sussman, according to Dutson, is that “outside interest” mentioned in the ad.

Wait a minute. Isn’t Sussman a legal Maine resident who’s entitled – this being a free country and all – to spend his money wherever and however he pleases?

“Do you know he’s a Maine citizen?” countered Dutson.

Well, judging from the fact that Sussman holds a Maine driver’s license and is a registered voter in North Haven, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes, the man’s one of us.

Dutson also wants us to think a coalition of 23 nonprofit Maine organizations behind Yes on 1/Protect Maine Votes – the League of Women Voters, the Maine chapter of AARP, to name a couple – are “usurping the elected will of the Maine people.” By which he means the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage.

This from the same organization that just last year supported the use of the people’s veto to deep-six a tax-reform package passed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and then-Gov. John Baldacci – also known as the “elected will of the Maine people.”

But we digress. Back to that 15-second ad, which, in its disclosure line, doesn’t even get Secure Maine’s Ballot’s name right. (It clumsily identifies the source as a nonexistent “No on 1, Protect Maine’s Ballot.”)

(Continued on page 2)

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