LePage keeps pushing to make it harder for citizens to get referendums on ballot

Good morning from Augusta, where one bit of fallout from last week’s election could be a fresh push to make it harder to use Maine’s petition process to place referendum questions on the ballot.

Gov. Paul LePage said in his weekly radio address Monday that he would like to change the citizen-initiated referendum process so that signature gatherers would be forced to collect a proportional amount of signatures from each county. That’s according to WMTW because LePage’s staff didn’t send the weekly address to the Bangor Daily News and it isn’t posted on his website. Besides, the Bangor Daily News had this story thanks to our partnership with the Sun Journal on Nov. 4 after LePage visited the Lewiston-Auburn Rotary Club.

“Our state is large and diverse and we should have fair representation across our state,” said LePage in the weekly address. “Residents in southern Maine should not be able to control the citizen initiative process.”

The more populous southern portions of Maine are fertile grounds for gathering signatures compared with sparsely populated areas like Piscataquis and Somerset counties, where gathering thousands of signatures is far more difficult. The southern counties also tend to be less conservative, which offers some political insight into LePage’s call to reduce the value of registered voters’ signatures gathered there.

LePage’s proposal would unquestionably make ballot access more difficult and he is not alone on this. There has been a rising chorus of people wondering if Maine’s citizen initiative process, which put five questions on this year’s general election ballot alone, has become too easy.

The law requires more than 61,000 signatures to force a question on the ballot — a number that represents 10 percent of the ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — but some campaigns have reached the bulk of that number with signature gatherers at the polls on Election Day and others have hired professional signature gatherers to do the work for them. Those organizations often pay per signature. LePage has said he also wants to limit spending on referendum issues to in-state sources in an effort to stem the flow of money coming from outside organizations.

An effort to require signature gatherers to collect an equal number of signatures from Maine’s two congressional districts gained some traction earlier this year but ended with the bill’s defeat.

It’s hard to gauge how LePage’s proposal will do in the new Legislature. This year’s failed bill had bipartisan support, and opposition. The change LePage proposes would require amending the Maine Constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and then the support of the Maine people in a statewide referendum. Ironically, if the proposal fails again in 2017, supporters of the change may have to resort to a citizen initiative. — Christopher Cousins

Let the recounts roll

Which reminds me of a great song by an underrated 1980s band. That’s your soundtrack.

The Maine secretary of state’s elections division will oversee ballot recounts in at least two House races.

  • Republican Keith Cornelio, who appears to have lost the race for the Livermore-area House seat by 61 votes against Democrat Christina Riley, has requested a recount. District 74 was formerly held by Democratic Rep. Paul Gilbert.
  • Republican Benjamin Twitchell III, who is the apparent loser in the House District 78 seat in the Winslow area by 140 votes against Democrat Catherine Nadeau, has requested a recount. Nadeau is the incumbent.

The secretary of state’s office is also preparing to recount ballots in Question 1 and Question 2 referendums. Recounting ballots costs money, mostly because of a requirement that the Maine State Police gather and transport ballots from all over Maine to Augusta. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has estimated the cost of recounting ballots in a statewide referendum at $500,000, though his spokeswoman said today that “if we received multiple statewide referendum requests, we would be looking to combine those to save time and money.”

The recounts have not yet been scheduled. The deadline for recount requests is 5 p.m. Wednesday. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

When road rage strikes, what do you do?

On my ride to Augusta on Monday evening for a work assignment, I was in no hurry, nor were the cars in front of me. We were averaging about 5 miles per hour below the speed limit. I could tell that the driver behind me felt differently by the way he rode my tail and was looking for an opportunity to pass.

He finally did pass me in Pittston but came very close to a head-on collision with traffic coming the other way. I hit my brakes and veered into the breakdown lane to give him room to avoid the crash. The car coming the other way went off the road a bit but was able to recover.

I was still trembling when I reached the red light at the Gardiner-Randolph bridge and was shocked to see the driver get out his truck and approach my car, screaming at me about how I was going to cause an accident by driving so slow. He pointed to another car which he said his son was driving and said I’d put him in danger by swerving to the breakdown lane. The son opened his window and joined with the father in berating me. He told me to get out of my car so we could settle the issue in a fight. A few things flew through my mind as I my own shallow pool of rage deepened:

  • I should fight the guy. That thought lasted only a split second. I’m decidedly non-violent and the last time I hit someone was when I sucker-punched a kid in the sixth grade. That kid became my lifelong best friend a year later.
  • I should defend myself, at least verbally, which I did. I wasn’t very polite about pointing out that I thought I’d saved the father’s life.
  • These guys must have been on some kind of drugs, judging by their over-reaction to the situation. I have obviously have no proof of that.
  • The most terrible realization was about what could come next. Was I about to be attacked? Did these guys have a gun? I thought of my wife and kids.

We all went on our ways when the light turned green, but I still have a sick feeling when I think about the ways the situation could have ended differently. My advice? If this ever happens to you, keep your window rolled up and ride on. Oh, and remind your loved ones that you love them. — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.