If elections don’t matter, can we reconsider a few others?

Augusta politicians have decided that they know better than the voters.

As the Maine Public headline says, “All Voter-Approved Initiatives From 2016 Ballot in Flux in the Legislature.”

Since the Legislature – and particularly Republican leaders – and the governor so comfortably ignore the outcome of elections, I’d like to suggest a few others that they should ignore.

First, let’s start with 2016. Maine voters rejected a ballot initiative to require background checks on all gun sales. I managed that campaign, and we came up just a bit short.

But since lawmakers seem convinced that voters didn’t know what they were voting on when it came to marijuana, taxes and education funding, the minimum wage and ranked-choice voting, surely they also didn’t understand Question 3 either.

After all, we’re reminded every day of the deadly harm guns can do when they end up in the hands of a criminal, someone with severe mental illness or a domestic abuser.

A new report published in the journal Pediatrics and by the Centers for Disease Control should outrage us all. During an average week in the United States, 25 children die from gunshot wounds. That’s about 1,300 a year.

Gunshot wounds are second only to car accidents as a cause of death for kids. And another 6,000 kids a year are wounded by guns.

Last week, a gunman opened fire on a group of congressmen practicing for a charity baseball game in Virginia, critically injuring U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.

And the news is full of stories about crime, murder and suicide in which guns are involved.

Closing the background check loophole wouldn’t stop all violent crime or suicide, but research shows that they decline when guns are kept out of the hands of bad people.

While the Legislature is sitting around waiting for budget-geddon to end, maybe they could apply the same standard to the background check initiative that they have to the other referendum questions from November and go ahead a pass that common-sense legislation.

I’d also like to revisit the presidential election in 2016. While Maine overall went for Democrat Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump won one electoral vote from the state’s 2nd Congressional District. It was the first time the state has ever split its electoral votes.

Had voters understood the depth of Russian meddling, the disastrous consequences of Trump’s health care and budget policies, which will cost more than 100,000 Mainers their health insurance, or his escalation of wars in Syria and Afghanistan, or his willingness to ignore the law and the Constitution, surely they wouldn’t have still voted for him.

We should definitely revisit that vote.

Once they’re done there, lawmakers should also revisit the election in 2014, when Gov. Paul LePage was re-elected.

Voters clearly didn’t know what they were getting there.

The governor has gone off the rails with racist remarks, threatening behavior and generally embarrassing conduct.

He’s let five paper mills close on his watch, driven away a $120 million job-creating off-shore wind industry and allowed public health and welfare to whither away. It’s gotten so bad even The Washington Post called for his resignation.

The governor has also shown his disdain for the will of the voters, refusing time and again to release voter-approved bonds that would create jobs and make important improvements around the state.

If voters didn’t understand the nuance of progressive taxation and education funding or the legalization and taxation of marijuana, why should we believe that they understood the terrible consequences of electing LePage to a second chaotic four-year term?

Elections have consequences. We hear that all the time. We seem to accept it when the consequences are things like a Supreme Court seat, which could affect everything from women’s health to equal rights to the conduct of our elections.

But it turns out that not all elections have the same consequences. Some, I guess, matter more than others.

Maine has been blessed with high voter participation rates – and a history of thoughtful political leaders. But we are putting unnecessary pressure on those successes.

Voters from across the political spectrum are losing faith in our system of governance and in elections. They are frustrated with inaction on the big issues of the day. And they see a system that’s stacked against them.

We’re facing a great unwinding of civil and political norms. There have never been halcyon days in politics.

But looking back at the great periods of turmoil, it seems that we were able to come together to solve big problems. That compact is breaking down. And the break down is starting right at the top when political leaders ignore what the voters tell them.

Whether it’s health care in Washington or education funding in Augusta, politicians aren’t listening to what voters tell them they want. This disconnect cannot be sustained.


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.