In this Feb. 9, 2021, file photo, workers watch the installation of the first pole of Central Maine Power's hydropower transmission corridor near The Forks. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A group aligned with Central Maine Power Co. fighting a referendum aiming to kill the $1 billion hydropower corridor argued it could empower “gun grabbers” in an appeal to conservatives.

The tactic highlights how project backers are making targeted appeals to parts of Maine’s electorate in the final weeks of the campaign over Question 1. But it is a false conflation of the direct effects of the referendum — which deals only with permits for infrastructure projects — and concerns about precedent that have no direct link to guns.

Question 1 contains three provisions, each aiming to stop CMP’s corridor, a transmission line in western Maine that would bring hydropower from Quebec to New England’s energy grid. A “yes” vote on the question would ban transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region and require retroactive legislative approval for all transmission line projects since 2014 and similar projects requiring public lands leases since 2020.

CMP allies have seized on retroactive portions of the referendum with a political committee named Mainers for Fair Laws, which has argued retroactivity is unfair and could affect other businesses. But a recent mailer from the group goes further, saying Question 1 “empowers politicians and out-of-staters with a new set of tools that can be used to target gun owners.”

“And if you don’t believe me, just look at the retroactive laws [President Joe Biden’s] administration is trying to push through ATF to target folks who own gun braces,” says the letter signed by former state Rep. Gary Hilliard, R-Belgrade.

The reference to the Democratic president relates to a plan put forward by the Department of Justice this summer to require gun owners who want to attach a stabilizing brace to their pistol to obtain approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Biden’s proposed gun regulation would apply to gun owners who already use stabilizing braces.

But there is no link between a potential federal gun rule and a change in Maine law that would give the Legislature the power to retroactively disapprove permits for infrastructure projects. Adrienne Bennett, a spokesperson for Mainers for Fair Laws, said that, while Question 1 does not deal directly with gun rights, the referendum pushes Maine down a “slippery slope.”

A victory for the yes side, she argued, would establish a greater precedent for politicians and citizen’s initiatives to put forward more retroactive laws targeting other areas of life.

“Obviously, the language within Question 1 does not target firearms, but the retroactive nature of the law is nonetheless concerning to many Mainers who see it as a tool that can be used to target them in the future, particularly in the hyperpartisan environment we live in today,” she said.

But state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, a leading anti-corridor voice, said the claim that gun rights would be affected was the latest example of CMP allies “throwing everything they can at the wall” to persuade Mainers to keep the corridor project.

He noted that the Legislature has passed retroactive legislation before while gun rights remain protected under Maine’s Constitution, and he did not see any indication that the corridor fight was leading the Legislature to consider more retroactive laws.

“There’s no appetite for them, except where there’s been a miscarriage, or an error in policy, and this is what has happened here with respect to the corridor,” he said.