AUGUSTA, Maine — A lawmaker who backs Central Maine Power’s $1 billion hydropower corridor is suing Secretary of State Shenna Bellows in a bid to force her to split one anti-corridor referendum set for the state’s November ballot into three separate questions.
Rep. Chris Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, filed the lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court Thursday. As the referendum is currently written, it will ask voters if they would like to ban “high-impact” transmission lines in the upper Kennebec region and require the Legislature to approve similar projects on public lands with a two-thirds vote retroactively to 2014.
The lawsuit asks Bellows to reverse her decision on the question’s wording. It is the first legal challenge from CMP and its allies to the second referendum bid targeting the project after Maine’s high court struck down a question once slated for the 2020 ballot as unconstitutional.
This new complaint will be heard amid a similar climate of competing advertisements and a pending challenge in the Legislature to create a consumer-owned utility to buy out CMP and Versant Power, the state’s other dominant electric utility.
The complaint, filed by Pierce Atwood attorneys who have represented the CMP-funded political committee Clean Energy Matters in prior corridor lawsuits, said splitting the referendum into separate sections would allow voters to better understand the questions and allow them to weigh in on the different aspects.
It cites a state law requiring the secretary of state to split referendums into separate questions if different elements are present. Caiazzo voiced his concerns to Bellows in a May 13 prior to filing the suit, according to a letter included in the complaint’s exhibits.
“Maine voters could reasonably have different opinions on the different changes to Maine statutes proposed by the initiative,” the complaint reads.
Caiazzo suggested three questions be presented to voters: whether transmission lines or other infrastructure built on public land retroactive to 2014 require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, whether “high impact” transmission lines on public land require a similar vote and whether to ban transmission lines in the upper Kennebec region.
Bellows said she reviewed Caiazzo’s comments among others in the review process but did not respond to individual concerns. She said she was confident her office followed state law but declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.
Former state Sen. Tom Saviello, a Wilton selectman and leading corridor opponent, said he had not read the lawsuit but opposed the change, saying he liked Bellows’ question. He was not sure yet if breaking the referendum into three questions would have any effect on his effort.
“It’s just sour grapes,” he said. “It’s just, ‘We lost, so let’s go to court.’”