It’s fabulous to see that Maine conservatives are finally embracing the power of the citizen initiative, by collecting signatures for an attempt to overturn the recent passage of the national popular vote and a referendum to require voter ID at the ballot box.

The national popular vote interstate is a dangerous, unconstitutional attempt to tie Maine’s election outcomes to a mythical “national popular vote” figure that isn’t officially tallied by any government agency. With varying standards by state of who can vote and how votes are counted, implementing this policy now would subvert democracy rather than enhancing it. Requiring voter ID is, similarly, a good idea whose time has come: A majority of voters already have eligible IDs, and it’s been implemented successfully in other democracies, like India and Mexico. There’s simply no logical reason why the United States shouldn’t move forward with this policy as well.

While it’s good to see conservatives taking this step, their priorities are a little misplaced. The national popular vote interstate compact, for instance, is a terrible idea, but it’s unlikely to be implemented any time soon. It’s not close enough to the required threshold, and even when it gets there, it’s likely to be tied up in courts – and probably overturned – before it’s ever actually used. On the flip side, while requiring voter ID is a good idea, it probably won’t have much impact in Maine one way or another.

So, conservatives are correct to move forward with both issues, but the problem is that there are a great deal more that they could be addressing. Take gun rights. Every single one of the new gun control bills passed by the Legislature last session should be facing the possibility of a people’s veto. It’s understandable why the organized Second Amendment groups failed to take up the mantle; people’s vetoes are extraordinarily difficult to implement, and referendum campaigns of any kind take a lot of money – at least, that was their argument. Instead, they’ve chosen to focus on a legal challenge to one law and repealing the other legislatively.

There’s one big problem with that argument. We’ve known since the Bloomberg-backed background check referendum failed in 2016 that gun control advocates would have Maine in their sights. That means that Second Amendment supporters have really had eight years to prepare for this moment – which could have come at any time – and they haven’t taken the opportunity. They’re not unique in that regard, unfortunately.

Conservatives in Maine, unlike progressives, tend to focus their activism on candidates rather than issues, and it usually waxes and wanes with every election cycle. Maine progressives have a whole host of activist organizations constantly battling for their issues at both the state and the local level. We’ve seen how they have a system in place to try out ballot issues in Portland and other areas before taking them statewide, just as national groups use Maine as a testing ground.


Conservatives not only have far fewer groups acting on their behalf, they don’t seem to have a sustained interest in referendum campaigns, so they’re always scrambling at the last minute to get things organized when problems arise.

That means that if the few major conservative groups aren’t interested in a referendum campaign, it’s unlikely to happen – or, conversely, they wage battles over issues that aren’t appealing to voters. Now, it’s perfectly understandable that the Maine Republican Party stays away from initiative campaigns; their focus ought to be on recruiting, training and electing Republican candidates, not on referenda. What’s less understandable is why there isn’t a well-oiled machine outside of the state party apparatus and issue groups to focus on referendum campaigns. The group behind the voter ID push, the Dinner Table PAC, is a version of that. They’re also involved in electing candidates, though, so they’re not quite what’s needed.

Instead, Maine needs a group that is entirely focused on implementing conservative policies through referendum. When they’re not actively gathering signatures or waging a campaign, they can focus on fundraising and education. If they stay away from candidate elections, they could avoid the factionalism that has so frequently riven the Maine GOP. Then they could either sponsor their own initiatives or be ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice when the opportunity presents itself. Such a group would be well-positioned to both assist Republicans in Augusta and fight the liberal agenda.

Instead, Augusta Republicans all too often fail to fight, and there’s nobody else left to pick up the slack.

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

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