A Superior Court judge has ordered Maine election officials to reword a November referendum question that could create a consumer-owned electric power utility for the state.

Judge MaryGay Kennedy on Friday said the state’s draft question, which used the word “quasi-governmental” to describe the proposed utility’s governance, could be misleading or confusing to voters.

As drafted by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, the question read: “Do you want to create a new quasi-governmental power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity, transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”

In her order, Kennedy told Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to rewrite the question without “quasi-governmental,” but she didn’t otherwise suggest how to reword the question.

Bellows’ office said she was reviewing the order and “weighing next steps.” The response noted that the deadline for her office to appeal the order is Monday.

Our Power, a group supporting the proposal to replace Maine’s two investor-owned utilities – Versant Power and Central Maine Power – gathered enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot this fall. But the group objected to Bellows’ wording on the question, particularly the part which referred to the new utility would be “quasi-governmental.”


Our Power said the “quasi-governmental” description was misleading and the utility would be run by consumers, including a board containing some elected members.

One of the Our Power supporters who challenged the wording said the ruling reflected “common sense” and also said the question should refer to a consumer-owned utility.

“Who knows what ‘quasi-governmental’ means, anyway?” John Clark said.

A spokesman for Maine Affordable Energy Coalition. which opposes the Our Power measure, said the group was reviewing the decision Friday and had no immediate comment on the ruling.

“But Pine Tree Power (Our Power) is no more ‘consumer-owned’ than the Maine Turnpike is,” spokesman Willy Ritch said. “They would be run by elected politicians and have the power to conduct the largest seizure of private property in the state’s history. It sure sounds like government power to me.”

The coalition and Our Power have been squaring off for the last few years over the proposal for a takeover of Versant and CMP. The coalition has a separate referendum lined up for November that would limit the state’s ability to borrow more than $1 billion without voter approval. If passed, that could complicate Our Power’s plans, although that group says it would not apply to a takeover of the two utilities.

Our Power backed a legal challenge to more than 1,000 of the signatures for the coalition’s referendum, but a judge this week declined to toss out the signatures. Eliminating the signatures would have knocked the coalition’s question off the fall ballot.

Unless either side decides to appeal this week’s rulings, the measures next will go to the Maine Legislature. Lawmakers are likely to reject both proposals, meaning they will head to the ballot. Lawmakers also could adopt one or both of the proposals are adopt competing measures for the ballot, but they rarely take either step, and instead clear the referendums for the ballot.

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