AUGUSTA — On Feb. 17, the Portland Press Herald ran a story, “Bill would make it harder to get citizen questions on Maine ballot,” that would have been better served on the editorial page than as a news article. The author, Associated Press reporter Marina Villeneuve, inaccurately reported who supports and opposes the bill and went on to frame the issue as partisan, stating that L.D. 31 came about because “Republicans sponsored a number of bills to reform the referendum process following the 2016 election.”

L.D. 31 is a resolve proposing an amendment to the Maine Constitution that would require initiative circulators to collect an equal proportion of signatures from each congressional district. Half of the states with initiative systems have similar geographical requirements to qualify a citizen initiative for the ballot.

States have adopted this change to bring fairness to suburban and rural voters, who feel disenfranchised by petition circulators that target heavily populated cities. In the two campaigns I have tracked in Maine, the 2014 bear-hunting referendum and the 2016 background-check referendum, over 70 percent of signatures came from residents of the 1st District, although, ironically, Mainers from the north would have been most affected if either had passed. This is the reason I introduced a geographical requirement bill three years ago – it was not a Republican reform from 2016.

This bill has been introduced in the Legislature three years in a row and has received strong bipartisan support all three years, falling just a few votes shy of two-thirds support in the Maine House in 2015 and 2016 and well over two-thirds in the Senate both years. In 2017, it fell just one vote short in the Senate and passed easily in the House.

The very title of the story was biased; in the headline, “Bill would make it harder to get citizen questions on Maine ballot,” the editor made a claim that is not backed up anywhere. It is opinion. The truth is just the opposite.

On March 14, 2012, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the policy of “All Districts Rule” proposed in L.D. 31 did not make it harder to get on the ballot and has never stopped an effort from getting on the ballot. In support of its ruling, the court cited a National Conference of State Legislatures report that said “geographic distribution requirements … are important because they force initiative proponents to demonstrate that their proposal has support statewide.”

The reporter missed the most compelling argument for passing L.D. 31, which is that if supporters of initiatives had to get signatures from a more politically diverse segment of statewide voters to qualify for the ballot – in other words, voters from both congressional districts – initiatives would have to be written to appeal to all Maine people, instead of just liberals in the south of Maine. It is also likely the measures would have a better chance of passage when they appear on the ballot.

Instead of speaking to the bill’s sponsors, the writer of the article spoke to opponents, like Paul McCarrier of the 2016 marijuana legalization campaign and Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor, who have had little or nothing to do with this bill. Worse, Rep. Cardone’s comment that “some signatures are going to count more than others” has been debunked. The 9th Circuit has rejected that logic! The AP’s Villeneuve cited the support of Gov. Le-Page for reforms to the referendum process, the kiss of death with Democrats. Ironically, LePage opposed L.D. 31 in two of the last three years, twice sending out threats, in writing, to oppose the legislation.

Opposition to L.D. 31 has come mostly from a few urban Democrats, the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine AFL-CIO. These groups use the initiative process to implement proposals like education funding, Medicaid expansion and universal elder care; for them, leaving the status quo in place best serves their liberal agenda.

Three years ago, I was told that Democrats didn’t want this bill on the ballot because it would push conservatives to the polls in an election year and cost Democrats seats in the Legislature. Last year, I was told it would hurt Medicaid expansion, and this year I’ve been given the same election-year reasons.

Sadly, none of the reasons listed by the opposition speaks to this bill’s merits or is in the best interests of voter fairness and all Maine people. Passing reasonable legislation in this hostile political environment is nearly impossible, but one thing is for sure: Maine people and our form of government are best served when reporters get the facts right.