Brace yourselves, folks. It’s “Maine people” time in Augusta.

Over the next few weeks, as the 128th Maine Legislature careens toward its legal deadline for wrapping up its business and going home, we’re going to hear a lot from our lawmakers about what’s best for “Maine people.”

For example, Republicans will insist that “Maine people” simply can’t afford a 3 percent surtax on incomes over $200,000 to help pay for public education statewide.

Democrats, meanwhile, will insist that “Maine people” are tired of waiting for the state to meet its 13-year-old obligation to fund 55 percent of Maine’s school costs. Despite last fall’s vote, however, the Dems already have signaled their willingness to dicker on how best to reach that elusive goal.

But here’s the kicker: Even as they wrap themselves in the mantle of “Maine people,” both sides will labor long and hard to ignore us altogether.

The sad irony is that Maine’s people have already spoken.


Remember back on Nov. 8, when “Maine people” went to the polls and passed Question 2 on the statewide ballot?

It couldn’t have been clearer: “Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?”

A majority of voters said yes. And with that, as required under Maine’s 109-year-old citizen initiative process, the referendum became law.

At least that’s what’s required under the Maine Constitution.

Six months later, in the above-it-all chambers of the State House, it’s as if it never happened.

Take, for instance, this email blast on Tuesday to the party faithful in which Maine Republican Political Director Joe Turcotte tiptoed around any mention of Question 2 whatsoever.


“One of our most crucial tasks here at the Maine Republican Party is making sure that Democrats are held accountable for every single choice they make,” he wrote. “Right now, a group of Democrats is threatening a government shutdown if they can’t get a massive spending increase.”

See that? The voters didn’t do it – the Democrats did!

God bless the Republicans. They’re holding those dastardly Dems accountable for their “choice” – even if the choice was, in reality, made by 383,428 Maine voters.

And speaking of Democrats and their choices, where are they as push comes to shove and the Legislature’s statutory June 21 adjournment dates looms ever closer?

They could, for once, show the same spines of steel as their Republican counterparts and say enough is enough, we take our orders from the voter. If that leads to a state shutdown, so be it – it will be the Republicans, not the Democrats, who defied the will of “Maine people.”

Instead, House Democrats unveiled a plan last week whereby the 3 percent surtax will be reduced to 1.75 percent and the $200,000 threshold will be bumped up to $300,000.


And oh yes, they’ll make up the difference by tacking an extra quarter-percent onto Maine’s 5.5 percent sales tax and hiking the lodging tax from 9 to 10 percent.

Translation: Rich people get yet another tax break while everyone else digs a little deeper.

The Democrats argue, as always, that theirs is a winning strategy in the long run: By portraying themselves as the adults in the room, the ones most willing to compromise, they will endear themselves to “Maine people” and thus reap political rewards for generations to come.

Two problems here.

First, like the peacemaker in a bar fight, the Democrats will inevitably end up on their collective keister.

Second, this is not their compromise to make.


As Abraham Lincoln once said back when Republicans stood for more than just entitled self-interest, “The people themselves, and not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions.”

Not political parties. Not tone-deaf legislators. The people themselves.

There was a time in Maine’s not-too-distant past when citizen initiatives were considered sacrosanct.

Remember back in 1993 when Maine voted overwhelmingly to impose term limits on the Maine House and Senate?

Lawmakers hated it from the get-go. But despite all their grumbling after it passed, they dared not put their own political interests above the explicit desire of so many “Maine people.”

Contrast that with today, when it’s hard to distinguish between a successful citizen initiative – in other words, a passed law – and any other run-of-the-mill piece of legislation.


Ranked-choice voting drew strong support at the polls before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opined this spring that in general state elections (unlike primaries and congressional elections), it runs afoul of the Maine Constitution.

So what’s a legislator to do? Here are their current choices:

They can do nothing and let the candidates duke it out, post-election, in the courts.

They can pass a constitutional amendment to allow for ranked-choice voting – a heavy lift requiring a two-thirds majority – and dutifully send said amendment back to voters for their consideration.

They can sidestep the constitutional conflict and at least allow elections not covered under the court’s opinion to proceed via ranked choice.

They can hit the “pause” button and study the issue.


Or they can decide voters didn’t know what they were doing last November and, by a simple majority, scrap the entire ranked-choice law altogether.

The only suspense at this point? How lawmakers will manage to repeal ranked-choice voting on the one hand, and claim they’re looking our for the interests of “Maine people” on the other.

The simple truth is there are two moments in our democracy when our will, the real will of Maine people, should trump all else. Actually, make that three.

The first is through the referendum, that extraordinary moment when we bypass the legislative and executive branches and specifically assert, “This is what we, the people, want to do.”

The second is election to office, when we tell a winning candidate, “Go, represent us on matters large and small.”

And the third?

When, having determined they no longer give a hoot what we think, we return to the polls and throw the bums out.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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