Douglas Rooks

Douglas Rooks

Many of us thought we would never see this day, but it has arrived. A candidate with none of the traditional qualifications for high office will become president, with consequences for the nation that cannot possibly be foreseen.

Where elections are concerned, hindsight is almost instantaneous, and often wrong — but one judgment not likely to be reversed is that, over the last generation, the Republican Party has broadly appealed to voters’ fears, while Democrats have tried to base their campaigns on hope. From Tuesday’s results, it’s clear voters, overall, didn’t find much hope in the Clinton campaign.

We are in for a ride to places this country has never been before, and the term “turbulence” is soon likely to seem a euphemism.

As a national electorate, we have been sharply divided every four years since the 2000 election saw the judicial installation of a president. That didn’t change this time, with a near-dead heat in the popular vote; only the distribution of the electoral vote by states shifted.

As a country, we have been described as sharply divided. Now we may become bitterly divided as well.

In Maine’s state elections, things seem less dire. Following six years of the Legislature’s struggles to pass meaningful legislation, and Gov. Paul LePage’s intransigent refusal to even consider compromise, there was a full slate of policy proposals on the referendum ballot that might ordinarily have been decided at the State House.

With one exception, they all passed. The most decisive verdict was on the state minimum wage, which will be raised from $7.50 to $9 an hour in January, and by $1 increments after that until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020.

This vote comes as no surprise; since the 1990s, we have been experimenting with a low-wage economy on the premise that price competition benefits everyone.

It’s definitely produced staggering inequality, as trillions of dollars have been shifted from American wage-earners to corporate profits and the bank accounts of the 1%. Maine, in concert with other Northeastern states, will now experiment with requiring somewhat higher wages — with interesting results, since Congress will almost certainly not follow suit.

Ironically, a declining standard of living has fueled Trump populism, as well as the very different variety expounded by Bernie Sanders. We should know fairly soon which one of them has the better solution.

Question 2, requiring higher income taxes on upper earners to fund the state’s agreed-upon share of school funding, could be a policy revolution, since both Republicans and Democrats have collaborated, twice, to lower the same tax rates. California, Minnesota and New York are among the states that have already boosted rates, and their thriving economies suggest this is hardly the “job killer” opponents claim.

State aid to schools and municipalities, and individual property taxpayers, has been gutted under LePage, and Question 2 will restore at least part of what’s been lost.

Maine will become one of numerous states with legal marijuana use for adults, though the wrangling among supporters seems to have sharply reduced the margin of approval, compared with previous marijuana questions on the ballot.

We will also be the first state to employ some form of “ranked choice” voting, which allows a multiple choice for state — although, curiously, not local elections — among candidates. Yet the most popular provision, applied to the November election for governor, is likely to be thrown out following legal challenge.

Proponents’ claims to the contrary, the specification in the state Constitution for “plurality” winners is likely to remove this use, but it could be upheld for primary elections, since those aren’t covered in the Constitution. It could thus be a useful experiment, since June primaries sometimes feature large numbers of candidates, unlike November, where there are rarely more than three or four.

Background checks for firearms purchases was defeated, and there’s something tribal in Maine about guns; results were virtually identical in the 2014 bear hunting referendum. By a small, but consistent majority, Mainers tend to reject any restrictions.

The partisan balance at the Legislature changed slightly, but significantly. In the House, Democrats retained a majority, but probably a reduced one. In the Senate, Democrats fell one vote short, picking up four open seats but seeing two of their incumbents lose, pending recounts.

Caucus leadership elections in both House and Senate, due next week, will help determine whether the next session can accomplish much. Let us hope they choose wisely.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 32 years. His new book, Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible, is now available. Comment is welcomed at [email protected]


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