Report from the Statehouse: VLA Work Session April 24

Showing Initiative

By Helen Hanlon

The place seemed deserted on a Friday – I even found a place to park!

First up on the docket:

LD1290 (An Act To Repeal the Maine Clean Election Act and Direct the Savings To Be Used for the State’s Contribution toward the Costs of Education Funding)

Things started off with Senator Brakey of Auburn introducing his bill. He explained that it wasn’t really his intent to “REPEAL” the Clean Election Act, but rather to give Maine Citizens a choice: to keep, expand or repeal the Act. He admitted that the bill was misleadingly titled and needed clarification. The goal, he said, was to allow Mainers to use their tax dollars for education vs. more political signs and victory parties. He claimed that the Maine Clean Election Act had not reached its goal of transparency and had failed to clean up negative campaigning. And, though he didn’t present details, he said it actually increased campaign costs.

The Committee members grilled Senator Brakey about the intent of this bill and about his statements that MCEA was a failure. Many (10 out of 12) on this Committee had used MCEA funds for their campaigns, and so most seemed to be against (or at least perplexed by) this bill. The lone hold-out was Rep. Dillingham of Oxford who seemed to agree with Brakey. She is one of the few traditional candidates on the Committee.

Rep. Luchini noted that the MCEA was initiated by the voters and suggested that any repeal efforts should also involve signature gathering to place it on the ballot. The Committee Chair, expressed his profound appreciation for the MCEA saying,

“Never in a million years could I ever have imagined sitting in this chair without the MCEA, I am humbled.” – Sen. Cyrway

Additionally, Rep. Schneck and Sen. Patrick both voiced strong support for keeping the MCEA, with Senator Patrick adding, “If money is speech, then speech isn’t free.”

Senator Brakey answered Committee questions for nearly 40 minutes. There was a lot of confusion about the education funding piece of this bill. Was it a way of diverting voters from the real issue (repealing MCEA)?  Was this a competing measure? Why 2015? Why not 2016? Brakey agreed to consider amending the education piece upon the recommendation of Rep. Longstaff.

(Note: Contrary to the title of this bill, there is no dedicated Educational Fund and monies are almost never segregated in this way. It would most likely go into the General Fund to be allocated just like any other State funds)

Senator Brakey couldn’t stay for more discussion due to commitments on the Senate floor. It’s unfortunate but Legislators are busy this time of year with responsibilities for several bills and committees.

No one spoke in support of LD1290.

Ed Youngblood spoke for nearly an hour about the importance of MCEA and efforts to improve the Legislation through the 2015 initiative. He fielded many insightful questions from the Committee who obviously had immense respect for him. They expressed how much they missed his experience and presence in the Legislature.

Allison Smith, founder of the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, spoke forcefully about this as a citizen’s initiative, emphasizing to Brakey, “We have thousands who signed petitions, no one is here speaking with you.”

MCCE spokesperson Robert Howe put the icing on the cake, when he reminded the Committee members that this wasn’t a “competing measure” but a calculated plan to undermine the initiative by depriving it of a majority. “Go out and collect your own signatures if you want this repealed,” he said.

It was a spirited hearing, for sure. My read on the Committee members is this:

  • Dillingham supports Brakey & this bill.
  • Longstaff supports an amendment eliminating the Education piece and then may support the bill.
  • Harrington, Cyrway, Schneck, Patrick, Luchini, oppose LD1290.
  • Kinney, Turner, Soucier, Golden played it closer to the vest and their opinion is unclear.
  • Bear, absent.

Other bills

LD1335 (Act to Amend Election Laws)

Addressing a variety of issues; an agency bill from Deputy Sec. Of State Julie Flynn.
LD1138 (An Act regarding Municipal Reporting of Statewide Elections)

Action: ONTP (Unanimous) – with timeline components to be folded into LD1335

LD742 (Resolution proposing an Amendment to the Constitution requiring a 5% of signatures on a Direct Initiative of Legislature Coming From each County).

Action: Tabled (Unanimous)
LD1127 (An Act regarding The Authority of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General To Conduct Investigations of Vote Recounts)

Action: ONTP (Unanimous)

Rather than passing a new law, the Committee chose to appoint Deputy Secretary of State, Julie Flynn, to work on new rules and regulations, and keep Committee informed.
LD1084 (Resolution Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution of Maine To Exclude Wildlife Issues From Citizens Initiatives)

Action: Tabled (Unanimous)

 

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