Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

The trouble with simplistic political assertions is that even when seemingly stripped of all ambiguity they often defy an intended straightforwardness. Nothing is ever quite as cut and dried as we would like.

As Gov. Paul LePage so emphatically yet enigmatically stated in his final State of the State address: “Maine’s got the government they vote for.”

Well, sort of.

Maine does have an elected government, and “they” reasonably refers to Mainers that voted for those elected into office. All fine and dandy. Except for those other “they,” that part of the electorate who didn’t vote in favor of those elected, especially not for the guy giving such sage insight on the supposed cause of our particularly problematic state of the state under his administrations.

For Maine’s soon to be departing chief executive, speaking straight from the shoulder isn’t always the most eloquent speechifying.

I took him to mean that voters only have themselves to blame for the governance in place, that he can only do so much himself, and that if they want something different they need to vote differently or stop complaining. As with so much of what he says, the words themselves don’t always serve as well as they might but suffice to convey his complete confidence that what his gut tells him is unquestionably correct and needing no long-winded explanation or any exploration of collaboratively constructive leadership. Unfortunately, many voters find such profound lack of any doubt to be the very hallmark of what executive stewardship should be.

My difficulty with his statement is that “they” currently represent an electoral reality where Maine, as with our country at large, is pretty much equally divided between “Us” and “Them” and therefore near half of the electorate gets representation or a governorship that they expressly didn’t vote for.

Maine’s got the government a plurality voted for. A majority isn’t necessary to win election, just more votes than the other contenders. That’s the traditional threshold for holding office, as legally defined by our state constitution and as took place by extreme example in LePage’s first capture of the Blaine House. His second win, much to the consternation of his critics, came close to a majority consensus. Whether or not he’d command a majority mandate if he ran again we’re fortunately term-limited from ever knowing, unless he decides to roll the dice one more time after a stipulated four-year break in seeking re-election.

The political vagaries of a plurality mandate were never of any significant issue until Paul LePage became the resultant victor. That shocking election upset became a suddenly paramount impetus for Maine’s statewide ranked choice voting initiative. This June 12 we’ll see how that constitutionally challenged system works out in the primary selection process prior to general elections this fall. Maine voters will, ironically and surreally, also be giving a thumbs up or down to a “People’s Veto” of the legislature’s rejection of RCV’s passage in 2016 by an clear majority of the electorate.

If the populist veto initiative fails, the legislature’s obstructionism prevails. If it passes, the legislature can simply hamstring the vote once again by some more creative sausage-making.

So much for LePage’s, or anybody’s, notion that Maine has the government it votes for.

“These referendums have been destructive. Fix our referendums.” This was LePage’s State of the State directive to the legislature. Exactly how they have been destructive, or how they should be fixed, he chose not to embellish.

The legislature’s idea of fixing them has been to summarily disregard the indisputable majority consent and essential purpose of those ballot measures. The repeated use of postelection legislative “tampering” has essentially provided the legislature with an executive veto, which the whole purpose of citizen initiatives is designed to circumvent.

“Maine needs to reinvent itself. We need to do that now.” This was another powerful LePage assertion from his farewell State of the State, but one I wholly agree with at least in regards to our current citizen activism vs unresponsive government impasse. Maine’s constitution needs major legislative “tampering” if ranked choice voting is to decide all elected offices, as the voter approved RCV initiative intended.

A bigger issue than whether a fully realized ranked choice system prevails or fails is whether direct democracy initiated ballot measures continue to be oppressed by a two-party status quo that refuses to fully fulfill its representational democracy role in carrying forward the electorate’s will. Reinvented or not, Maine’s Dirigo boasting democratic process needs to invite increased citizen participation rather than, intentionally or unintentionally, fostering a combative exclusion of many that still bother to vote, especially younger constituents increasingly disenchanted by an entrenched establishment disregard.

In assessing the seemingly endless number of candidates seeking office this time around, we should ask ourselves a fundamentally important question in our selection process: “Are we going to elect a governor and legislature that approves or disapproves of the use of citizen initiatives, and approving or not will they still agree to representationally honor such a more pure democracy’s majority decided outcome”

Gary Anderson lives in Bath.


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