By Helen Hanlon
Demonstrators crowded the entrance to the State House for a press conference in anticipation of the Public Hearing on HP 956 (A Joint Resolution Calling For a Constitutional Convention Regarding The Status of Corporations As People and the Role Of Money In the Election Process). Dressed in a variety of garb sure to draw attention – especially in the 90 degree heat –their passion was obvious.
With a full afternoon of hearings ahead, we all streamed into the SLG Hearing room. There was an overflow crowd to hear proposals for changes to the selection process of State constitutional officers (Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer). The full SLG Committee was in attendance, though some needed to leave during the long afternoon for work on other Committees. To my surprise, Senate Chair Whittemore said that each proposal for each office would be heard separately.
First-term Legislator, Rep. Stetkis, presented each proposal while acknowledging that these were the Governor’s bills. Despite that, he faced very tough grilling, primarily from Reps. Evangelos and Co-Chair Martin with a few more polite jabs from Rep. Babbidge. Rep. Stetkis, took it in good humor, admitting he’d had no part in writing any of these proposals and hadn’t spoken to the Governor about why we needed these changes. This was all in the spirit of getting away from partisan politics, he said. After the guffaws subsided, the very public issues between the Attorney General and the Governor were rehashed and the consolidation of power was mentioned. Hank Fenton, Deputy Counsel to the Governor, spoke on behalf of the Governor, saying that a more efficient, cohesive team would be better for Maine. No one seemed to buy that argument.
Next we moved on to items of interest to the League: HP 804 and SP499
HP 804 (Joint Resolution Making Application To the Congress of The United States Calling a Convention of the States to Propose Amendments to the United States Constitution To Impose fiscal restraints, Limit Federal Power and Impose Term Limits)
A long list of people signed up to testify and there was a 6-1 ratio in favor of the Resolution. Note: We were surprised to find so much well-organized support for these measures. To learn more about the supporters see the links below.[i]
SP 499 (Joint Resolution Making Application To The Congress of The United States Calling A Constitutional Convention To Propose an Amendment to the United States Constitution to Require a Balanced Federal Budget and Further Fiscal Restraints)
Rep. Short and Rep. Crafts introduced the resolution and spoke about the need to fix the Federal Government, saying that we shouldn’t be afraid to do this. Since there was a packed house, the Committee Chair, stated that there would be a strict 3-minute rule for testimony. Despite that, Ken Quinn of Grassroots Citizens for Self Government (whom Rep. Crafts and Rep. Short called an expert on the topic) was given an hour and a half to speak. Mr. Quinn is apparently leading the charge throughout the land for a “meeting of states” – not a constitutional convention. He stated that whoever wrote the bill did it incorrectly and the wording would need to be amended. His extended testimony turned into a lecture on constitutional convention, Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Madison and state vs. federal powers. At one point, Rep. Evangelos interjected that he was hearing from all sorts of “arm-chair constitutional scholars” via email on this issue and so facts were thrown back and forth in a match between government history wonks.
Once Ken Quinn brought his testimony to a close, others could speak (it was after 4:30 by then) and the pro/con testifiers alternated with 5-4 ratio in favor. Those supporting the measure railed against our unfair federal government, and one woman even held up a torn $10 bill stating this was all the money she had left and hadn’t been able to pay this year’s or last year’s taxes. She demanded that the government has to get off her back. Meanwhile, her cell phone kept ringing – adding to the cacophony in the room.
Those in opposition included a district rep from the John Birch Society, an Attorney from Connecticut and the League, along with a citizen from Camden who spoke spontaneously (the “League of Voters got it right!” regarding what happens when cutbacks occur in times of crises). I was asked one question after testifying: Rep. Pickett questioned the statement in our testimony about deficit spending being admissible, in our opinion, in times of crises. “What about our $19 trillion deficit?”
The Attorney from Connecticut, Deborah Stevenson, testified testified because she was asked by friends – that is, she was not being paid. Her testimony was precise, interesting and focused, citing specifics of why we should proceed very cautiously when considering a Constitutional Convention. She noted that states have unlimited powers to rectify situations when we don’t want to deal with the Federal Government: we can tell them to take their $ and leave. She and the windy Ken Quinn agreed to return for a work session. Some members of the gallery were restless and objecting during her presentation (because she’s from away). It was enough of an interruption that Rep. Dore ask them to be polite and quiet. Questions from the Committee were xenophobic in nature – who was she & why did she come up from Connecticut for this? Yipes, someone from away!
Meanwhile the pack of people there for HP956 were getting hungry because it was after 6pm. I headed home, waving “nite-nite” to Danielle Foxx, Legal Analyst extraordinaire from VLA Committee. At least I’ve made some friends this session – but I miss the bear bills & the good ol’ days of February and March!