There’s one thing we can all agree on: We need to get big money out of politics. It’s why Maine’s first-in-the-nation clean election program is so popular. It keeps dark, corporate money out of elections, promotes transparency and allows more Mainers to have a voice while making it possible for working-class people to run for office. It’s no surprise Mainers have overwhelmingly voted for it twice.
But for the past few months, Augusta has been at an impasse because the House Republican caucus has exploited a typo made by a nonpartisan staffer in a huge budget document. That little typo has threatened to derail the whole program because it appeared it could prevent the release of funds to candidates who pledged to run clean. Until now.
On Thursday, a judge ruled that the governor had to follow the law and release previously guaranteed clean election funding. This vindicates our position that this program, which has been approved by the voters, is crucial to democracy and should not be held hostage by Republicans as a bargaining chip.
Over the past several months, House Republican leader Ken Fredette has offered us a series of bad deals that proposed weakening the right of Mainers to initiate referendums at the ballot box and decreasing the minimum wage, taking money right out of people’s pockets. As leader of the Senate Democrats, I refused to give in to these demands that would have hurt and disenfranchised Mainers from Fort Kent to Kittery.
Now that the courts have definitively ruled, it’s clear we were right to draw a line in the sand on these issues. We won’t accept a bad deal for Maine people. In fact, we won’t leave Augusta until we get the fair deal that we made last year.
Last summer, we had the first state shutdown in 26 years solely because House Republicans grinded government to a halt trying to roll-back voter approved referendums. This year, we’re currently in the longest session in history because they’re still intent on slashing the voter-approved minimum wage increase, shifting revenue to raise property taxes and preventing Mainers from making use of their right to a referendum. They were the only caucus to vote against extending the session. Their refusal to do their work costs taxpayers each day.
They also made us, as well as Maine seniors and individuals with disabilities, wait two months to fund direct-care workers and nursing homes because they felt slighted. And now, they are holding hostage the routine errors-and-omissions bill that would correct the clean election funding issue to see what else they can get. That’s no way to govern.
Unfortunately, it seems their goal is to take advantage of a technical issue and exploit it to undermine the clean election program, attack the will of the voters and hamstring their opponents this November. It’s disingenuous for House Republican members, who are running against clean election candidates, to claim they’re trying to fix a simple error when in reality they’re trying to fix their elections.
When people agree to run as clean election candidates, they are making a promise to the people they intend to serve, not special interest or big donors. They are willing to listen to every constituent regardless of background or funds. It’s what allows Maine’s Legislature to truly be a citizen legislature.
House Republicans like to talk a big game about their constitutional duty to uphold the law, but it turns out, that is only when it works in their favor. They may not like the clean election program, but it’s crystal clear that it’s the law, and that is what we are all sworn to uphold. You can’t have it both ways.
Let’s call a spade a spade — we’re in this mess because of Fredette and the House Republican caucus, and I won’t be bullied into to accepting a bad deal for Maine people. Where I come from, that’s not called being a problem. It’s called having a spine.
Many times throughout my life I’ve been called a problem. I was a problem way back on the border when greedy landowners were undercutting Maine workers, and I’ve been a problem every time big pharma has used its monopoly to screw over consumers with outrageous prices for prescription drugs.
So if standing up for the will of the voters, keeping money out of politics and working families all across the state makes me a problem, then so be it. I will gladly be a problem until we have a fair and transparent government that works for all Mainers, not just those at the top.
Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, is the Senate minority leader.
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