While it’s important to vote yes for the Clean Elections initiative on Nov. 3, I’d like to see a bunch of other political reforms as well. Here’s my wish list.
• Road signs. Every fall, just as the colorful foliage brightens our days, the signs of political candidates sprout like invasive plants along every road. Even the invasive Purple Loosestrife has a beautiful flower. But not those awful political signs. Our politicians exempted themselves from the law that prohibits such signs by others. Those signs ruin our views, walks and drives, and are totally unnecessary. Get them off our roads!
Candidates use those signs to increase their recognition and name identification, instead of doing the hard work of meeting and talking and communicating with us. As one who has managed many political campaigns, I know that the road signs work. But if you are voting for candidates simply because you recognize their names, well, perhaps you shouldn’t be voting.
• Term limits. As a guy who has hung out at the Legislature for decades, I can tell you that term limits have been disastrous. This year, the Legislature included 58 new legislators. It was disconcerting to think that, for many of them, I was their source of historical knowledge about the outdoor issues before them. When a new legislator chairs a committee, which happens now, the process can become dysfunctional and difficult.
And if you think that term limits has reduced the influence of lobbyists, think again. Legislators depend on lobbyists more than ever, because those lobbyists know a lot more about the issues and process than do the legislators. I was a lobbyist for 18 years representing the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and many lobbyists are my friends, so please don’t think I am trying to convince you that lobbyists are evil. They’re just doing their jobs, whether for corporate clients or groups like SAM and Maine Audubon. But I do think the system would be better balanced if we had more experienced legislators.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why, if you like your legislators and think they are doing a good job, you kick them out of the Legislature after four terms.
• Donor disclosure: With so much money now flowing into political campaigns, it’s more important than ever that we know who those donors are. I especially like the part of the Clean Elections initiative that requires outside groups to disclose their top three donors in all political ads. I also would like to see newspapers and other media do a better job of providing us with this information. I’ve appreciated the way the newspapers and websites have listed the key votes in Congress, telling us how our representatives and senators vote. More information and knowledge about their activities, including their donors, can only be a good thing.
The Clean Elections Initiative also requires our governor to disclose all donors to his or her transition team. I’ll bet you didn’t know that after the election and before he takes office, the governor raises a ton of money to pay for his transition team and work. And no donors to that effort are disclosed. No big surprise that, even if they didn’t support the new governor in the election, every major group and lobbyist ponies up funding for the transition team.
• Voter education: I can sum this one up in two words: Pay attention. Be an educated voter. Make sure you know a lot about the candidates you vote for, talk with them, challenge them, hear about their plans, tell them your hopes and dreams for Maine. Don’t just take the slogans and headlines you get from them on signs and mailers as the truth and all that you need to know. You need to know a lot more than that. And these days, some of those nasty, anonymous mailers are evil, ugly and inaccurate. Please don’t base your vote on those.
Thankfully, candidates for the Maine House and Senate are very accessible. Many go door to door, hang out in the local cafes, and attend meetings and events throughout their district. There’s really no excuse for not knowing these candidates — or for voting in ignorance about them and their opinions and plans.
• Voting day: Maine once led the nation by voting first, in September. I’d love to get back to that sensible practice. Git ‘er done early. Then we could really enjoy Maine’s spectacular fall.