AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said he will seek a constitutional amendment that would change the requirements for getting citizen-sponsored referendum questions onto the state ballot.

LePage, who opposed all five of the citizen-sponsored referendum proposals on the ballot Nov. 8, said his proposal would require that voter signatures be collected proportionally from each of the state’s 16 counties. At present, signatures of Maine voters can be collected anywhere in the state so long as the total equals or exceeds 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Currently, that translates to about 61,000 signatures and, as LePage pointed out, they could all come from one county.

LePage’s comments are included in the text of his weekly radio address, which his office released Monday. While a similar idea came up in March and fell short in the Legislature, the governor’s new proposal comes days after voters approved a series of ballot questions that make substantial changes to state law, including legalizing recreational marijuana and increasing the minimum wage. Four of the five citizen initiatives, the most ever to appear on a state ballot, were approved.

“Several of the ballot questions put out to voters have serious, unintended consequences for the people of Maine,” LePage said. “One will chase successful people out of Maine and another will drive the elderly deeper into poverty.”

LePage opposed legalizing pot and raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, as well as requiring background checks for private gun sales, imposing a 3 percent surtax on personal incomes above $200,000 a year to fund public schools, and enacting ranked choice voting for state elections. The governor supported a transportation bond ballot question, which was not citizen sponsored.

All the ballot initiatives were approved except the firearm background checks. Lawmakers will have to make technical changes to the approved measures before they become law, but their intent must be left largely intact.

Tightening the rules for citizen initiatives would require amending the Maine Constitution. That requires the support of two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature, and then a majority of state voters would have to ratify it.

LePage said many of the ballot initiatives succeeded Tuesday because they were supported by voters in relatively liberal southern Maine.

“Our state is large and diverse, and we should have fair representation across our state,” LePage said. “Residents in southern Maine should not be able to control the citizen initiative process.”

Backers of several of the successful ballot questions have said they collected signatures from across the state.

LePage also hinted that some of the approved ballot measures could be subject to lengthy recount procedures. Opponents of marijuana legalization said Monday that they will seek a recount. Other requests would have to be made by Wednesday.

“We won’t agree on everything, but we should always put Mainers first,” LePage said in the prepared address.” If the citizens disagree with the decisions made in Augusta, they have the right to speak at the ballot box. However, we must make sure out-of-state money pouring into one part of the state does not control our desired way of life. Citizens from every part of Maine should have a fair and equal voice in a process that could have a serious impact on their way of life.”

In March, a bid to change the constitution to require referendum campaigns to collect at least 10 percent of voter signatures from each of the state’s two congressional districts failed to gain two-thirds support in the Maine House of Representatives, effectively killing it. The measure received 93 votes in the House, eight short of the 101 needed. The bill easily passed in the state Senate, 31-2, with six votes to spare.

Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, a co-sponsor of that measure, L.D. 742, said he wants to see the details of LePage’s proposal but in general supports requiring that referendum signatures be collected in each county.

“Each county should have a certain say, that’s the democratic way of doing things,” Collins said.

But opponents, including state Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, a former independent who was elected to the state Senate as a Democrat on Tuesday, said the referendum process is already difficult enough.

“Nobody’s signature should be valued more than somebody else’s depending on where they live,” Chipman said. “We are all one state, we are all one people and even if a group went out and collects all their signatures in Aroostook County, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I think this kind of legislation only serves to divide the state more and not unite us.”

Chipman said LePage’s proposal was a reaction to ballot questions not going the governor’s way. He said ballot initiatives often settle issues that are too messy politically to be dealt with in the Legislature.

“The process is already hard enough and there are a lot of groups that try to get ballot questions that fail and that’s because the process is already difficult,” Chipman said.


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