This Memorial Day, Americans in towns large and small will gather to honor those who gave their lives in service to our country. Flags will fly at half-staff until noon in remembrance of their sacrifice, then be raised with the resolve that it would not be for naught. In my hometown of Wayne, a wreath will be cast into the Mill Stream followed by a smart salute from the senior military officer in attendance, and the playing of taps.

In many communities, a young student will recite the Gettysburg Address, concluding with President Abraham Lincoln’s powerful sentiment: “… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

What does it take to have government of, by, and for the people? For one thing, it takes all of us doing our part to make our democracy work. It means that each one of us must find a way to serve our community and our country. Whether that service is in the military, in elected office, or in the thousands of jobs, paid and unpaid, that keep our communities strong, it is incumbent on every one of us to step up in some way.

Hard work and civic engagement are no strangers to Maine people, and those are just some of the attributes that make us good at democracy. We show up, we roll up our sleeves, and we get the job done. We do this at our jobs and in our civic lives. We do it every time we show up at town meeting or cast a ballot on Election Day.

Maine has worked hard to make sure our election laws serve the goal of government of, by, and for the people. We protect our own right to vote, and we protect the right of everyone else, friend or foe, to do the same. When open access to the ballot and ease of voting are threatened, public-spirited individuals and organizations step up to protect them.

Maine has established itself as a leader on the stickiest of all election issues — money in politics. Thanks to the hard work of Maine people, we passed the Clean Election Act in 1996, then went back to the polls last November to refresh our mandate and strengthen our law.


That mandate could not be more important. It is to provide public financing to all qualified candidates for state offices rather than perpetuating the reliance on private money. Clean Election candidates demonstrate substantial support among voters in their district and agree to strict spending limits and other rules. Among the great benefits of this system are the ability of a diverse pool of potential candidates to run, and for our elected officials to serve in office without ties to moneyed interests.

Under our Clean Election system, it is voters, not big donors, who fuel campaigns. That means that no legislator who uses Clean Elections needs to look to special interests for campaign contributions. Maine voices are heard during elections and in the halls of the State House, even though few of us employ a professional lobbyist to represent our interests.

Our democratic system thrives when people are allowed the same opportunities and the system is not rigged in favor of those who have more and against those who have less. That’s why Maine people work so hard when it comes to elections and governing.

Clean Elections helps us do just that, but we citizens must not be complacent. Large donations from lobbyists and others with a vested interest in the outcome of legislation still flow through political action committees and make their way into campaigns. Opponents of Clean Elections are still fighting, despite the people’s victory at the polls. They pick a fight over funding for Clean Elections in every budget cycle.

All those who value Clean Elections and a government of, by, and for the people must work to keep this and other election laws strong.

In addition to being an important day of remembrance, Memorial Day marks the unofficial kick-off of summer. Let’s make sure we savor President Lincoln’s powerful words. As flags are raised at noon, so we too must rise to continue the unfinished work of ensuring liberty and justice for all.

Walter McKee is the former chairmain of the Maine Ethics Commission. He is an attorney in Augusta and served for eight years as a JAG officer in the Maine Army National Guard.

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