RICHMOND – Activists hope to rally progressive forces in a grass-roots effort to challenge Republican Gov. Paul LePage and what they see as his attack on Maine environmental, labor and health-care laws.

They say they’re prepared to use the power of the people — specifically the veto power — to do it.

Veteran political activist Ed Schlick, former communications director of the Maine AFL/CIO, hopes the fledgling Maine People’s Veto Alliance will grow to become a statewide organization.

“The actions and appointments of the LePage administration make it clear that it will take a statewide, grass-roots organization of progressive Maine citizens to keep a minority of right-wing activists from setting our state back 50 years,” Schlick told about 70 people gathered at the Old Goat Pub in Richmond for the first organizational meeting of the group.

Maine citizens can force a referendum vote to repeal a law if they gather the signatures of at least 10 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election, within 90 days of the law being passed.

Examples of its use include recent votes that repealed a tax reform law and outlawed same-sex marriage.

About 60,000 signatures would need to be collected to force a referendum vote.

Schlick of Richmond and other activists said the governor has proposed legislation, in L.D. 1, attacking Maine environmental law.

“The citizens of Maine have a long, proud history of taking care of this state,” said Brownie Carson, former executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Gov. LePage doesn’t seem to have read any of that history, nor do I think he cares about it.

“He has attacked clean air and clean water laws that, yes, are stricter than federal laws, but we don’t want our rivers catching on fire. We don’t want our asthmatic children choking on bad air. We don’t want those laws rolled back.”

John Carr, president of the Maine Council of Senior Citizens, said the LePage administration has refused to take steps to prepare to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which faces legal challenges to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite the legal challenges, Carr said, the act is federal law, which no state can nullify, and Maine needs to be ready for it.

Carr said in general he is not a big believer in the people’s veto, instead preferring to work within the legislative system.

“But in extreme times, you want to be able to have it,” Carr said of the referendum process, “and I think we are in extreme times.”

Schlick said the new group will meet again Feb. 26, also at the Old Goat in Richmond, to adopt operating principles and further establish the organization.

He said he plans to propose that the group change its name to the Maine People’s Voting Alliance, to better reflect the intent that the group do more than seek to veto legislation.

Schlick noted that citizens also can petition to bring new bills to a referendum vote, or propose a new bill that would repeal multiple previous bills to which they object.