Conservative to the Core

Big Money at it again

By Tom Seymour | Oct 27, 2017

Once again, big money from out of state stands poised to influence Maine voters. Question 1 on the upcoming ballot asks, “Do you want to allow a certain company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to the specific programs described in the initiative?”

The wording alone should serve to alarm any thinking voter. A “certain company?” What exactly does “certain company” mean?

According to a recent news release by Maine Gov. Paul LePage, the wording on this referendum question means that one entity, and only that entity, may apply for a gaming license and after that, build a new casino in York County.

Of course regarding “gaming,” Maine already has two “gaming” operations in the form of casinos. Far from bringing more money into the state, another casino would only siphon money away from the other casinos already operating.

Don’t forget, too, that in addition to its two existing casinos, Maine already has a form of legalized gambling. It’s called the Maine Lottery. Although few recognize the problem, many people are hooked on lottery tickets, spending money that should otherwise go toward things like bills and groceries. Do we really need even more state-sponsored gambling? After all, a large number of people who gamble, and buying lottery tickets is gambling, are those who can least afford to lose their money.

Back to question 1. This question stands out as perhaps the most unfair question ever proffered to Maine voters. Let’s look at the thing in a general way. Suppose Tom Seymour somehow convinced some monied, out-of-state interests to put big bucks into getting a referendum question on the Maine ballot. The question might ask, “Do you want a certain company (that would be me) to have the sole right to operate another widget business in Maine?” We are supposing here that there are already two established widget businesses, previously ordained by the state.

If passed, then, Tom Seymour would have a widget business monopoly. But what about other prospective widget companies? Why should just one person be allowed to manufacture and sell widgets?

This, in short, is the essence of Question 1, the first question Mainers will vote upon this November. It reeks of cronyism and if passed, would prove beyond a doubt that money can indeed buy everything.

Mainers, though, are not stupid. Nor are we prone to unfairness. By and large, Mainers are decent people, unwilling to allow unjust practices such as giving a license to operate a casino to only one entity to the exclusion of all others.

I make no doubt that this question will not pass. Maine people are better than that.

Referendum problems

Referendum questions should reflect the true feelings of the people of Maine. Accordingly, the push for putting a topic on the ballot should originate from Maine people. That’s real democracy. But there’s a fly in the ointment in the form of referendum topics that originate from outside Maine.

Let’s recall the bear-hunting referendum. A monied organization from out of state managed to convince enough Mainers that they were opposed to a certain form of bear hunting to get the question put on the ballot in the form of a referendum.

This failed the first time and failed again on the second attempt. That’s because the premise was wrong. Those in favor of the proposal were primarily from urban areas in southern Maine. A majority of these people don’t hunt and were easily swayed by silver-tongued activists from away.

But the majority of Mainers have ties to the land and to traditional activities such as hunting and it was this majority that managed to sink the anti-hunting move.

So we see a distinction between and among referendum questions. Those that don’t originate in Maine generally won’t benefit Mainers if passed. And questions that do originate in Maine, like them or not, at least reflect the feelings and wishes of Maine voters.

Referendum questions stand as a vehicle for the governed to have a say in how they are governed. In fact it comes close to pure democracy. The only other process that comes to mind as being a purely democratic process is the New England town meeting.

There, citizens have a hands-on vehicle for determining how their town government works. Likewise, referendum questions enable people to have a say in their government, but this time on a state level. And that’s a good thing.

Tom Seymour is a freelance magazine and newspaper writer, book author, naturalist and forager. He lives in Waldo.

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