Still tallying up the winners from Tuesday’s election?

Don’t forget Maine’s citizen initiative process.

Heading into this week, many feared that the 109-year-old procedure by which Mainers can directly govern themselves was in big trouble.

They pointed to Question 1, the citizen-initiated referendum calling for a casino in York County, and rightly fretted that one man from far, far away – Shawn Scott of Saipan – had bought his way onto the ballot and made a mockery of what is supposed to be grassroots democracy at its purest.

Valid concerns, to be sure.

Scott’s $9 million gambling gambit would have allowed him, and only him, to score rights to a casino somewhere in York County. Then, as he did 14 years ago in Bangor, he could quickly flip the license for untold millions and laugh all the way to the bank.

“The initiative process has been part of Maine since 1908,” Scott correctly noted during a debate last month on Maine Public radio. “The people of Maine are used to making decisions. They don’t need politicians or anybody else telling them what’s good for them. They’re very smart. They’re independent. And they know what’s good for them.”

Indeed, they do. And on Election Day, by an eye-popping five-to-one ratio, Mainers told Scott in no uncertain terms that they want no part of him, his initiative or his money.

(Actually, that last one’s a bit of a bonus. As Scott heads off in search of greener pastures, we can at least thank him for injecting millions of his not-so-hard-earned cash into Maine’s economy.)

Bottom line, Scott’s transparent attempt to hijack the Maine ballot crashed and burned precisely for the reason he so unwittingly predicted: Mainers do know what’s good for them. Not to mention what’s not.

Which brings us, by way of comparison, to Question 2 – this year’s other statewide citizen initiative.

For years, poll after poll has shown that a strong majority of Maine voters favor expanding Medicaid, known here as MaineCare, to an estimated 70,000 low-income Mainers under the Affordable Care Act.

For years, the Legislature has passed just such an expansion.

And for years, Gov. Paul LePage and a minority of House Republicans have blocked that expansion via a sustained veto not once, not twice, but five times.

In other words, the citizens were not being heard. Or, more accurately, they were being ignored by LePage and his partisan minions.

Enter the citizen initiative, launched last November by a potent coalition of Maine citizens and advocacy groups and sustained by stories of real Maine people with real health problems.

“I have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and I need oxygen,” Kathleen Phelps of Waterville, a hairdresser for 30 years, said in one TV ad. “I don’t qualify for Medicaid, too young for Medicare, and I can’t afford insurance on my own. So, it’s a choice between oxygen and paying my bills. I worry every day that there will come a day where … I just won’t be able to breathe at all.”

This wasn’t some out-of-nowhere con artist trying to fleece us (again) with our own century-old constitutional amendment.

Phelps is one of our own, a working grandmother from central Maine asking only for enough oxygen – that’s right, oxygen – to get her through the day.

Maine voters heard her loud and clear: Question 2, a citizen groundswell if ever there was one, passed by a 59 percent-to-41 percent margin.

Tuesday’s Medicaid vote, of course, is but one victory in a larger war that will consume the State House between now and next fall’s gubernatorial and legislative elections.

LePage, ever the obstructionist, vowed 12 hours after the polls closed that he will “not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels (the state Department of Health and Human Services) has calculated.”

Translation: To hell with Maine voters. Let the cooking of the books begin.

Conversely, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, promised swift action aimed at “fully and faithfully implementing the (Medicaid expansion) law.”

She added, “Mainers could not have spoken more clearly yesterday when they told us that they demand affordable access to health care.”

Advantage, Gideon.

To stand in the way of Medicaid expansion now, with an election year looming, might draw cheers from LePage Land – including, ironically, many of the same folks whose local hospitals could well close without the infusion of $525 million annually in federal health care funding.

But beyond the Big Guy’s base, ignoring the results of Question 2 will be tantamount to political suicide.

I dare a Republican lawmaker seeking re-election to look someone like Kathleen Phelps in the eye and say, “Sorry, ma’am, the voters didn’t know what they were doing. No oxygen for you.”

The truth is that we voters knew exactly what we were doing this week as we simultaneously eschewed Question 1 and embraced Question 2.

In the first referendum, we told an interloper to take a hike. In the second, we told our elected representatives that if they can’t – or won’t – do the job, then we’ll do it ourselves and God help anyone who gets in our way.

That, in each case, is precisely how the citizen initiative is supposed to work.

Just as it was supposed to work a year ago when voters legalized marijuana, raised taxes on the wealthy for more education funding and approved ranked-choice voting – only to have LePage and the Legislature either sidetrack, rejigger or repeal all three.

Do they think we don’t notice?

Do they honestly believe there won’t be consequences?

Do they give a hoot what we think?

Those battles will rage on (see: people’s veto, ranked-choice-voting repeal), along with the Medicaid fight.

But in the meantime, a word of advice to those in Augusta who fear that the citizen initiative process has run amok, that Maine needs to place higher hurdles between voters and their ballot:

Don’t do it.

There is no barrier you can erect that can’t be overcome by the next wheeler-dealer with money to burn.

And more important, when all else fails, there is no force greater than the will of the people.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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