Luckily, the people of the state of Maine were smart enough to see through the cynical shell game that was the Pine Tree Power proposal.

Pine Tree Power wouldn’t have done anything to affect electricity rates, service or quality. It simply would have given corrupt insiders – in both the Democratic and Republican parties – another chance to get their hands inside our wallets and our lives.

That much was blatantly obvious. Pine Tree Power was nothing more than a power grab from Augusta insiders, designed to extend their own influence and expand their control of the state. It’s not surprising that it failed, because the lines of battle were never quite drawn down party lines. A few misguided Republicans, who were probably naive or looking for more power for themselves, supported it; otherwise, it was the usual suspect crowd of activist liberal groups, for the most part.

It’s worth noting that “for the most part.” One of the usual elements of the progressive coalition, the labor unions, was mostly united against Pine Tree Power, and for good reason. They rightly feared all of their current members, now employed by CMP and Versant, becoming pseudo-state employees under a new entity. They would have had to negotiate an entirely new contract with an entirely new entity, and while they would have had significant leverage, they couldn’t have any faith in the outcome. Indeed, any negotiation with a state monopoly, whether benign or antagonistic, would have been rigged from the beginning. There’s one very simple reason for this: State employees, unlike their compatriots in the private sector, can’t go work for someone else. They’re stuck.

Of course, that’s not entirely true in practice. Future hypothetical employees of Pine Tree Power could have fled the state to work for private utilities. Similarly, Maine state employee can always decide to leave for another state or the private sector. However, while that outcome might be good for them personally, it wouldn’t have been good for the state of Maine: While they have options, the state wouldn’t; those positions need to be filled.

Question marks over how Pine Tree Power might do that in the face of widespread labor discontent is probably a big part of the reason they lost on Tuesday. Well, that, and the fact that its proponents’ claims that the new utility would run everything better, and for less money, were blatant nonsense.


Interestingly, two semi-related ballot measures won: Question 1, which would require voter approval for borrowing in excess of a billion dollars, passed easily. The idea sounds innocent enough in and of itself. Voter approval to borrow large sums of money sounds like a good idea. This concept, though, was sponsored by allies of the utility companies, as a preemptive act against the next iteration of Pine Tree Power.

It wasn’t an act of simple good governance, nor was it even an act of good faith; it was set up for the next Pine Tree Power-style campaign. Unfortunately, even though the premise itself is well and good, it may end up causing unforeseen problems down the road.

To be fair, the proponents of Pine Tree Power did the same thing, as I see it. They were largely the forces behind Question 2, which bans foreign government spending on elections. As with Question 1, this passed easily. As with Question 1, it will be difficult to enforce. Still, it’s obviously intended as a stopgap to hobble the efforts of Central Maine Power and Versant to defend themselves against future iterations of Pine Tree Power simply because they happen to be in foreign ownership. That might seem to be a good idea, but even though those companies are owned by foreign entities, they still deserve the chance to defend themselves in the public arena. That’s called freedom of speech, and it used to be an American value.

Last Tuesday’s results haven’t immediately killed the insane Pine Tree Power idea. Instead, they simply ensured that the concept will be resurrected in the future, fought under different rules and on a different terrain. Let’s hope, when that comes to pass, that the people of Maine are smart enough to reject it again.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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