Imagine you are a political consultant hired by a group opposing initiated legislation, and you are tasked with identifying an emotionally charged word that will cause the voting public to rise up in anger against the proponents of the legislation and soundly defeat it at the polls.

Obsessed with your task, you have a revelation so powerful it awakens you in the middle of the night: The killer word, you decide, is “retroactive.” My advice: Go back to sleep and rethink your career choice in the morning.

Putting aside the question of whether a political slogan should ever include a four-syllable word (“America” may be the one exception), “retroactive” hardly gets pulses fluttering. And it does not help when you insult the voter by invoking what are supposed to be examples of prior “retroactive” acts that have absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand.

I voted “no” on Question 1, albeit with some reservations, but one mailing by the initiative’s opponents came close to pushing me in the opposite direction. The flyer in question featured a picture of Donald Trump and the words: “That’s right. Donald Trump tried to use retroactive laws to undo the Affordable Care Act.”

It is difficult to imagine anything less relevant to the proposed transmission corridor. Apart from the fact that If statutes could not be repealed, we would still have Jim Crow laws on the books, the flyer was nothing more than an insulting attempt to create a vague link between Donald Trump and the attempted repeal of the ACA on one hand and the proponents of Question 1 on the other.

Assuming ads designed to scare voters are now obligatory in our political campaigns, the prospect of a steady stream of laws reversing the decisions of regulatory bodies hardly seems likely to instill great fear. That theme also had the major flaw of appearing to say that the transmission line may have been a mistake, but it is too late to remedy it.

By contrast, climate change, with the prospect of ever-hotter temperatures and increasingly violent storms, is nature’s version of a horror movie. Why the supporters of the transmission line did not seek to link the initiated legislation with that outcome is unclear to me.

Even more disappointing was the failure of those opposing Question 1 to take the high road and deliver the message that I believe is the key to ending global warming.

Yes, the transmission corridor would inflict some “harm” on the Maine woods, and, yes, Maine would not really derive much of a benefit for making this sacrifice. But that is not the point. The nature of global warming is such that we have virtually no prospect of solving this problem unless individuals, corporations, states and countries are willing to incur costs, even with the knowledge that their actions will have little impact unless many others follow suit.

While the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow has received mixed reviews, it did produce specific agreements. It is naive, however, to think they will necessarily be honored by all the participating countries. The reality is that some countries will have to lead by example and use all available measures to bring recalcitrant nations into compliance.

I do not claim to know under what circumstances one can persuade Maine people to make a collective sacrifice for the sole reason that it is the right thing to do, even if it will bring Maine no special benefits and, God forbid, possibly be helpful to Massachusetts, but without such an attitude in Maine and elsewhere, our progeny will have to adjust to a much warmer planet.

Could that message have changed the outcome on Question 1? Unless the initiative’s opponents find a way to retroactively raise the question, we will never know.


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