For decades, many Mainers have argued that there are two Maines, North and South.

Many in the North feel as though they have no voice in Augusta politics. In March of 2012, state Rep. Henry Joy, R-Crystal, even proposed legislation that would have allowed Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin, Penobscot counties, as well as parts of Washington, Hancock and Oxford counties, to become their own state, called Maine. Southern and coastal Maine would be renamed the state of Northern Massachusetts.

I served in the Legislature at the time and many of us could not figure out whether it was a joke or whether he was serious. I think he was dead serious.

Never could the North vs. South divide have been more defined than during the bear referendum signature-gathering effort and in the final vote on Election Day, when only three southern counties supported the effort.

In early February 2014, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting announced they had submitted 78,528 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office and that the signatures collected came from 417 cities and towns, in every county throughout Maine.

This sounds like statewide support, except the devils in the details.

First of all, of the 78,528 signatures turned in, only 63,626 were valid, just 5,000 more than required.

Of the 63,626 certified signatures, nearly three quarters, or 46,463, of those came from 115 1st Congressional District towns.

To pare it down further, 12 towns, mostly in Cumberland County, were responsible for 46 percent of the signatures. Twenty-two towns, again mostly in Cumberland County, were responsible for 58 percent of the total valid signatures collected.

For those living in the other rural counties, what is extremely unfair about this lopsided collection effort is that if the referendum had passed, nearly no one in southern Maine would have been affected by the loss of rural Maine jobs or from new bear nuisance problems.

Rep. Stanley Short, U-Pittsfield, has introduced a bill, L.D. 1228, “An Act To Amend the Ballot Initiative Process To Ensure Support in Maine’s Congressional Districts.” It is identical to a Nevada law that requires qualifying signatures come proportionately equal from each Congressional District.

There are 24 states that have citizen-initiated referendum systems, and of the 24, 12 have geographical requirements to qualify for the ballot, though not Maine, where it only takes valid signatures from at least 10 percent of the number of voters that voted in the previous election for governor.

In Nevada, the congressional geographical requirement that is used in L.D. 1228 was tested in the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Angle v. Miller, Sept. 1, 2011.

In upholding the law, the court said:

[1] All Districts Rule did not dilute political power in violation of the Equal Protection Clause;

[2] All Districts Rule did not discriminate against an identifiable class in violation of the Equal Protection Clause;

[3] All Districts Rule did not impose severe burden on communication between petition circulators and voters, as would trigger strict scrutiny under First Amendment;

[4] There was no evidence that all Districts Rule significantly inhibited ability of proponents to place initiatives on ballot, as would trigger strict scrutiny under First Amendment; and

[5] In a matter of first impression, Nevada had legitimate interest in making sure any initiative had grassroots support that was distributed throughout the state.

In Maine, the 1st Congressional District is 20 percent the size geographically of the 2nd District, yet it holds half the state’s population. Maine’s 2nd District is the largest east of the Mississippi, and it is the second most rural in the country, with 72 percent of its population in rural areas.

In contrast, 50 percent of the 1st District is considered urban and the rest rural.

The 2nd District is like its own country, and because of its size, the politics and opinions of its inhabitants are diverse. When considering policies like wildlife management, it is easy to understand why the people of rural Maine feel disenfranchised — they are.

As our population migrates further south toward Massachusetts, the distance between urban and rural Maine is growing.

According to MapQuest, it takes six hours to travel from Kittery to Fort Kent. It takes just four-and-a-half hours to travel from Kittery to New York City.

Rep. Joy was right to some degree, southern Maine is an extension of Massachusetts. But that doesn’t mean in order for the rest of Maine to have fair representation in the initiative process, they need to secede.

Instead, the Legislature needs to find ways to bring fairness to processes like our referenda.

If passed, L.D. 1228 will finally bring geographical fairness to state ballot initiatives. This bill will not impede debate or suppress voters; on the contrary, it will insure that ballot initiative signatures represent a diverse and more accurate geographical sample of Maine voters.

David Trahan is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Augusta. Email at [email protected]


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