LePage-induced gridlock gives birth to ballot initiatives

Maine voters will be asked to decide five ballot questions this Election Day.

And while the issues range from social and economic reform to election reform, all five are on the ballot for a simple reason.

Voters are frustrated with a state government that is fractured and dysfunctional — with the dysfunction starting at the top with Gov. Paul LePage.

In a new poll from Morning Consult asking voters about their governors, LePage comes in as the fifth least popular governor in the country with 58 percent disapproving of him and only 39 approving.

LePage rounds out a bottom five that includes Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, whose policies have been a disaster for his state’s economy; Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy; LePage’s pal, Chris Christie in New Jersey; and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

It’s a murderer’s row of ineptitude and vice.

And it speaks to the backlash, at least in the case of Snyder, Brownback, LePage and Christie, to right-wing, ideologically driven governance and the havoc it can cause.

Brownback has broken the back of his state’s economy and education system, Christie’s vindictiveness is on trial right now, and LePage rivals GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on racist and bigoted statements, half-truths and outright lies.

LePage has become such a divisive figure that he’s campaigned against members of his own party in the state Senate, putting the Republican majority at risk, and has vetoed more legislation than any governor in the history of the state.

But that description really doesn’t do justice to the disservice the man has brought. While his supporters love him with zeal, he’s left some Republicans wondering if their party can survive his and Trump’s penchant for hatred.

It’s no wonder voters have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN

Though it was difficult at times for all concerned, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and Republican majority in the state Senate did find ways to work together — and, when necessary, overcome the roadblock to compromise that is Paul LePage.

But the partisan divide left a lot of issues unresolved, despite popular support for the policies.

Voters, ready for progress, decided that it was time to push forward.

Five initiative campaigns collected enough signatures to be on the ballot in November. The legalization and taxation of marijuana, increased funding for K-12 education, requiring background checks for all gun sales, an increase in the minimum wage and ranked choice voting.

(Disclosure: I’m working on Question 3, which would require background checks on all gun sales.)

The questions themselves don’t have a lot in common when it comes to subject, but they are all a reaction to frustrations that voters feel and want to resolve. They represent a desire for real action, efforts for meaningful change, at least from the perspective of the proponents.

It’s fair to disagree on the merits of any of the proposals; but it’s clear how we got such a crowded ballot. The breakdown of the normal order in Augusta has left voters hungry for another way to enact change.

And while the ballot is crowded, it’s also informative to remember that LePage also backed two divisive initiatives that failed to collect enough signatures to make it on the ballot. He couldn’t muster the support to get the job done.

LePage intuitively seems to understand the power of his bully pulpit and he wields it as a hammer against minorities, people of color and anyone he considers an enemy (which, at one point or another includes just about everyone except his loyalists in the House Republican caucus).

But while he stokes up the anger of his base supporters, he’s never found the magic necessary to grow his support beyond a plurality, which incidentally helped drive support for Question 5, ranked choice voting.

Maine has a long tradition of direct democracy, both for ballot initiatives and in the still common town meeting style of government.

We also take our democracy seriously. Maine is consistently in the top ranks in the country for voter participation, something that we should all be proud of.

Come Election Day, the decision on the five ballot questions, plus the transportation bond, will be made by Maine voters, who will carry the energy of the presidential campaign and their frustration with LePage and the gridlock he has birthed into the voting booth.

There, they will have the opportunity to show their frustration with gridlock and hateful and divisive rhetoric, and they’ll be shielded — if only for a few moments — from LePage’s misinformed and misdirected screeds, which today are delivered uncritical through too many mass media channels.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.