Sept. 14, 1908: Voters approve by a more than 2-to-1 margin an amendment to the Maine Constitution that establishes the right to a “people’s veto” by referendum and an initiative by petition at general and special elections.

The amendment becomes effective Jan. 6, 1909. Maine becomes the first Eastern state to embed into law the people’s right to statewide initiatives and referendums.

According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, Maine’s amendment owes much of its existence to Ronald T. Patten of Skowhegan, an editor of the Somerset Reporter newspaper. Patten had begun to advocate for the idea in the early 1890s. He succeeded in getting bills submitted in the Legislature. In 1907, with momentum on the issue building, legislators approved handily a bill on amending the Maine Constitution, despite opposition from banks, timberland owners and railroads.

The amendment still was subject to passage by popular vote, however. Newspapers wrote editorials condemning the proposal, and five-term Republican U.S. Sen Eugene Hale sent voters a copy of a diatribe that his Senate colleague Henry Cabot Lodge, of Massachusetts, had written against it.

The voters ignored all that, adopting the amendment 53,785 to 24,543.

“It is a change of far-reaching importance,” the Kennebec Journal writes less than enthusiastically on its Sept. 18 editorial page. “It remains to be seen how well it will work in actual practice.”

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]


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