Welcome to the libertarian era in Maine. Buckle up.

Or don’t. See how that works?

In all seriousness, loosening the seatbelt law seems about the only choice-based legislation that Maine lawmakers rejected this year. That they tried shows the undercurrent of this past legislative session: Though Mainers may have elected Republicans, their actions were more libertarian.

Now, I don’t mean the academic libertarian, with deep-thinking treatises on the nature of governance and its relationship to free markets. Nor do I mean today’s trendy libertarianism, which is too often tossed around like the code word to enter some high-minded political club.

What I mean by libertarian is its essence: freedom of choice. That more choices and the ability to either enjoy the fruits or feel the thorns from your choices, is right. In bill after bill, decision after decision, bestowing freedom to choose was a driving force in Maine lawmaking.

Last week, for example, Gov. Paul LePage signed two bills into law in Bangor. One legalized fireworks and the other legalized casino table games, such as poker and blackjack. The latter is still subject to a popular vote in Penobscot County, but that seems more procedural than a deal-breaker.

Neither of these ideas is new, yet they never gained traction in past years. Neither is a Republican ideal. Both, however, are rooted in freedom and choice — in this case, to either make explosions in the sky or let the chips fall and the dice fly.

Mainers can win money or lose fingers at their discretion.

This same principle guides the charter school bill, another evergreen idea. Last session, even with billions riding on its passage through federal incentives like Race to the Top, Maine’s lawmakers couldn’t bring themselves to even say “charter.” They said “innovative” schools instead.

Now, parents have more choices about where to send their children for an education. Where one stands on charter schools is based on whether you think they’ll help, or harm, existing public schools in Maine. That parents now have more options for childhood education is not debatable.

So, now, do consumers when it comes to health insurance. And so do health insurers, about how they can calculate their rates. And the governor’s red tape audits and subsequent reform legislation were, in hindsight, long-form exercises in bestowing greater freedoms and more choices for Maine businesses.

The list goes on.

Rep. Deb Sanderson of Chelsea’s bill about medical marijuana is another example, by eliminating a statewide registry of medicinal pot patients. The choice to use marijuana for your malady — however dire — is now much freer, without this controversial provision.

Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine-Farmington, told us recently Sanderson’s bill showed the “libertarian sentiment in the Republican Party in Maine.” I would argue, given the other examples, it’s stronger than mere sentiment.

Independents are Maine’s largest political voting bloc. This group exercises libertarian tendencies, which can make for unpredictable electoral results.

For example, Republicans sweep the Maine House, Senate and Blaine House in 2010, yet incumbent Democrats return to Congress by wide margins. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins spikes U.S. Rep. Tom Allen in 2008, a year when Democrats won everything but the Stanley Cup.

Then there’s school district consolidation — loved by none — being sustained by voters while funding for Dirigo Health — loved by even fewer, maybe? — is overturned. And Democratic-led tax reform and Republican-led tax caps both get defeated.

The great independent middle tilts toward the side it feels is right at the time. In other words, they prefer the freedom to choose.

And the lawmakers they’ve elected, by many of the bills passed this session, seem to understand it.

* * *

I’ve received some excellent responses to last week’s column about the various ways people read, and why people want, a newspaper. Several will appear in next week’s edition, with the permission of their authors, but there’s still time to send your responses to me to be included.

Here’s my question: If you’re reading this column in print, why did you buy the newspaper? Or, if you’re reading online, what brought you here?

Maybe it’s your morning routine, or your evening relaxation. Perhaps you’re in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, or shopping for a new car. Are you on your mobile phone or tablet? Or are you at your desk, browsing online? Please send me an email, a Tweet, or call me at the paper to let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Anthony Ronzio is editor and publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email to [email protected]


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