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Tracy Scheckel leads The Ellsworth American’s sales and marketing team.
This rant has been brewing for a long time and it’s officially bubbled over. Since Jan. 6, 2021, and if I’m being honest, even before, during the last president’s reign, there have been so many nails in the casket of democracy that it’s frightening.
I remember reading and then watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” and wondering how society could get there and why no one did anything to stop it. I’m beginning to get a much clearer picture of how such a thing can happen.
We have the Supreme Court governing women’s health, legislators and governors across the country declaring open season on everything from classic literature in school libraries to gender identity and even how a parent may care for their child. We have one elected official punishing private industry for daring to disagree with a gubernatorial edict regarding the use of a banned term, and others suggesting a bounty on drag queens. We even have a newsertainment pundit trying to rewrite (through video editing) a history that millions of us watched with shock in real-time on Jan. 6, 2021. Each of these initiatives is a nail in that casket.
I can only imagine that Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Gilead was a product of similar occurrences. The difference being, Gilead is fictional, and where we are right now is clearly real.
Aside from the TV news keeping us informed about the attention-grabbing antics of our elected officials, there is one little tidbit that offers hope: By law, governments are required to notify the public when governing bodies are meeting and may make decisions that affect us.
Our 50 states and the federal government each have their own laws regarding open public access to proceedings and posting public notices. In general, there are four elements that constitute a valid public notice. The notice must be published from an independent party, the publication must be archivable, the publication must be accessible and the publication must be verifiable.
In Maine and in 14 other states, there is pending legislation to remove the requirement that government entities use printed newspapers as the vehicle for disseminating public notices and giving governments the option to instead post the notices on their own publicly accessible websites. Examining the four basic elements of a public notice, it is clear that municipalities posting public notices only to their own websites does not constitute an independent party, and with significant percentages of Mainers without access to or the means to afford a broadband connection, accessibility is also in question.
When this legislation was considered by the State and Local Government Committee, it was voted along party lines 8-5 “ought not to pass” with the five Republicans voting in favor of LD 422 and against the motion to kill it. It will go to a vote in the House and Senate next.
Anyone familiar with “The Handmaid’s Tale” book and series knows, and is rightfully appalled, that books and newspapers are banned for the masses in fictional Gilead. Legislation like LD 422 in Maine is a small step toward removing government accountability and not much different than what the leaders in Gilead did.
The impetus for LD 422 seems to be to save money for municipalities, but at what cost to the people and democracy? Imagine that all of the uber-conservative initiatives I mentioned earlier were not brought to the public’s attention, whether through media coverage or printed public notices; we could wake up one day and find ourselves in a nonfiction version of Gilead. We’re not far away right now — especially if we let this continue.
Please make sure your state representative and state senator know that passing LD 422 is bad for Maine and bad for democracy.