A column by Don Roberts in the Jan. 23 newspaper, “Income inequality? Don’t bring class warfare to Maine,” said that the people of Maine should not declare class warfare against the wealthy because income inequality is virtually nonexistent in Maine — as compared to other states. I agree it is generally not the more successful residents of Maine who oppress Maine people; it’s people from other states.
Maine does have a large percentage of people who are unemployed and can’t find a job, and a great many people working at very low rates of pay. This is much more the result of federal policy than Maine policy.
There is class warfare in the United States, and it has an effect on Maine. It is warfare declared primarily by wealthy people who don’t live in Maine, not by people who are not wealthy. Wealthy corporations spend money to influence federal elections, and hire lobbyists to influence legislation to their benefit. This money has changed the government of the United States into a plutocracy. Now it is happening at the state level, as well.
Maine voters have tried to minimize class warfare. The Maine Clean Election law, enacted years ago by citizen referendum, has done a lot to remove the potential adverse influence of campaign contributions on candidates trying to be elected to the Legislature. A recent change, however, no longer allows candidates for governor to use clean election funds. The law provides limited, but enough, public funding for a campaign without private donations. About 80 percent of candidates use it, thereby reducing the influence of campaign donors on decisions made by elected legislators. That limited influence reduces class warfare based on income inequality in Maine. Most states do not have a clean election law.
In spite of the Maine Clean Election law, however, out-of-state money is spent to help elect candidates for the Legislature who will support the interests of the wealthy. Too often these mailings and other media messages don’t tell the truth. Federal law allows this.
Out-of-state corporations that own large Maine businesses have influenced politics here for a long time. Paper, textile and shoe manufacturing companies are well-known examples. These large companies hire lobbyists to influence legislation, while smaller companies have great difficulty even learning how proposed legislation will affect their businesses. Employees also have difficulty keeping up with proposed legislation that will affect them.
Corporations based outside the United States own Huhtamaki, Sappi, Madison Paper, Central Maine Power Co. and Bangor Hydro. The Canadian Irvingfamily owns a lot, too.
In a way, it is good that businesses that employ a large number of Maine workers try to prevent legislation that would cause them to move away from Maine. That is not class warfare.
Years ago, then-Gov. Edmund Muskie realized that we should not require Maine paper companies to treat the polluted water that they were dumping into our rivers because if we did, the paper companies would move to another state with no such rules. Muskie realized that it was necessary to have federal laws with the same pollution abatement standards for all states.
Now, because of NAFTA, these companies, and others, compete with companies located in other nations that do not have the same pollution abatement standards that the United States has. The United States should have import restrictions to prevent this. Also, we don’t restrict imports made by workers in other countries that pay much lower wages than people of the United States need to live on.
Now a new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, similar to NAFTA, is being proposed. It gives international corporate representatives control over environmental standards and working conditions instead of following U.S. standards and laws. This is another declaration of war by the very wealthy against those people in the United States who need a good job. Congress should not approve the proposed fast track approval process for the TPP.
The trickle-down economic theory does not work. Tax cuts for the wealthy don’t automatically create jobs for people who need them.
We do have class warfare in Maine, but we shouldn’t.
Elery Keene of Winslow was executive director for the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments for 31 years, retiring in June 2001. He continues to be involved as a volunteer in support of environmental and economic justice.