Jackie Sartoris

Jackie Sartoris

There seems no place to find inspiration in the direction of our government. At every level, disregard for citizen voices and the democratic process abounds.

The Maine Legislature just shut down ranked choice voting, one of a series of actions in Augusta marginalizing our proud Maine constitutional right to pass citizen initiatives. Even some in Brunswick’s delegation failed to support ranked choice, despite our community’s overwhelming support (63 percent). Ranked choice voting would prevent the future election of a highly unpopular leader like Gov. LePage, who only secured his first term when the progressive vote split between a Democrat and an Independent.

Notwithstanding LePage’s nonexistent mandate, he and his radical right administration have decimated State government in ways no majority of Mainers could ever wish. Once regarded as a squeaky clean pragmatic state, Maine is mired in scandal, LePage and his minions refuse to help our fellow citizens even when mandated by federal law, and he’s thrown away millions in our tax dollars on frivolous, mean-spirited lawsuits and dodgy deals with private contractors, rather than fund state workers who are accountable to the public. Ranked choice voting gives the citizens the choice they wanted and demanded. Some legislators apparently do not care.

Similarly, Brunswick citizens rose up and sent an overwhelming message to our local officials: give us a say on the fate of a town-owned coastal parcel of land. Despite over 60 miles of coastline, Brunswick enjoys few usable access points. Addressing the diminishing public coast is a longstanding town priority. Notwithstanding over 1,100 citizens signing a petition asking for a say, amplified by strong support from our Town committees and staff, our Council could not move quickly enough to thwart even the possibility of a nonbinding vote. Members of our Council did not hide their derision at the mere thought of citizens volunteering and collecting signatures.

They did not perform due diligence in considering misinformation provided by opponents, and they failed to divulge their personal relationships concerning the property and the opponents. When the minority-group opposing public use maligned Councilors in starkly personal terms, the Councilors who agreed with them allowed those personal attacks to stand unchallenged. A black mark for Brunswick’s democratic process, and a result that serves no one but the wealthy few abutters, most of whom are not even Brunswick residents.

At the national level, Senator Susan Collins is enabling consideration of a fast-track federal budget that fundamentally alters and drastically cuts Medicare, Medicaid, popular tax programs that benefit the middle class, and our entire social safety net. She has done so to prevent anyone other than Republicans from needing to vote to pass this draconian budget. So much for being a moderate voice that values bipartisanship. It’s hard to claim that moderate mantle when you pass rules to prevent the other side from even having a voice.

Did we sign on for this, when installing a President who lost the popular vote, whose election was facilitated and perhaps secured by a foreign nemesis and vast and documented voter suppression? Did the folks who voted for Trump realize they were threatening their ability to have mom or dad receive needed long term care when the family resources are gone? Did we all agree to paying more — a lot more — for medication and healthcare when Medicare and Medicaid become block grant programs? Do we really think that families inheriting estates over $11 million shouldn’t pay any taxes, while the rest of us should pay federal taxes even on the state and local taxes we’ve already paid?

Conservatives love to point to the founding fathers when it suits them, often misstating their intent. But there is no way to misinterpret their strong feelings on inherited wealth. Like almost every founding father, Thomas Jefferson, citing Adam Smith, strongly opposed inherited wealth’s tendency to deform a democracy: “A power to dispose of estates for ever is manifestly absurd. The earth and the fullness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity.” Estates today are rarely even the result of hard work, but of inherited investments and trust funds. Senator Collins is helping support vast tax breaks for trust fund babies, while sticking the middle class and today’s kids with the bill.

So, what to do? Do we stop supporting citizen initiatives, stop raising our voices, give up on democracy in the face of such overwhelming discouragement? No. We double our efforts, moving from voters to activists. November 7, we have new citizen led initiatives to consider. We have a contested Council race, pitting an at-large Councilor hotly opposed to citizen voices against one who says she’ll listen. We call Senator Collins to oppose the budget. We step up. Our entire democracy is at stake, at every level. We act accordingly.

Jackie Sartoris is a former Brunswick Town Councilor

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