An Unexpurgated Guide to the Maine Referendum
"My first and greatest love affair," wrote E.B. White in July of 1940, as the Third Reich was energetically snuffing out the democracies of Europe, "was with this thing we call freedom, this lady of infinite allure, this dangerous and beautiful and sublime being who restores and supplies us all."
Every word counts, as I try to impress daily upon my students at Watershed. Viz:
Sublime. Surely there's no denying that freedom is "of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe."
Beautiful. We don't normally equate freedom with, say, the view from the Jordan Pond House in Acadia. But we get the idea.
Dangerous. Wait ... freedom is dangerous? As in, "able or likely to cause harm or injury?"
Sad but true. And the nation's Founders were aware of it. Thus we have in this country a political system that seems, in many ways, ingeniously devised to impede progress. Despite which the American people, in their wisdom and passion, have managed over the past two-centuries-and-counting to nudge the nation along by fits and lurches in the direction of of greater freedom, deeper justice, wider equality. Only now and then we've royally screwed up.
Which brings us to the off-year referendum in Maine that will happen this Tuesday, Nov. 3.
I now presume, in my capacity as blogger provocateur, to tell you how to vote.
Now at the outset let me say that I do not speak for Down East, for Watershed School, for the village of Lincolnville Beach, for my three perfect children, or for my cat. Well, maybe my cat. I speak for nothing more than my personal understanding of freedom, in all its danger, beauty and sublimity.
No on 1: "Do you want to reject the new law that lets same-sex couples marry and allows individuals and religious groups to refuse to perform these marriages?"
I trust that this campaign, which has garnered national attention, has been as informative and stimulating for those of you in the larger heterosexual community as it has been for those of us in the smaller one. In the end it has boiled down, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, to a poignant example of the politics of hope versus the politics of fear. Personally, I've long felt reticent about trying to move too far, too fast. Yet here we are, on the verge of making history. I hope we have the guts for it.
No on 2: "Do you want to cut the rate of the municipal excise tax by an average of 55% on motor vehicles less than six years old and exempt hybrid and other alternative-energy and highly fuel-efficient motor vehicles from sales tax and three years of excise tax?"
Diddling piecemeal with the tax code is never a good idea in a time of economic agony. Everything connects to everything else. Everyone has a sense of where our priorities ought to lie. The only way to deal with the broad issues of taxing and spending is by taking, so to speak, a holistic view. There's nothing to be gained by throwing a dart at the spreadsheet and declaring, "You know what, we ought to cut taxes for people with awesome herb gardens shaped like labyrinths in their back yard!" — though clearly this is an enlightened proposal that would greatly benefit me and my cat.
No on 3: "Do you want to repeal the 2007 law on school district consolidation and restore the laws previously in effect?"
For God's sake, let's give this thing a chance to work. It saves money and it hasn't yet caused the collapse of Western Civilization. We can take a sober look at the results a couple of years from now.
No, a thousand times No on 4: "Do you want to change the existing formulas that limit state and local government spending and require voter approval by referendum for spending over those limits and for increases in state taxes?"
TABOR in its various guises — 1 or 2 or the inevitable 3, 4, and 987 — is the stupidest, greediest, most short-sighted measure we could possibly enact. Look no further than California, a few decades into its seminal experiment with this kind of "It's my money, dammit" citizens' initiative, which is accordingly now in a state of near collapse.
Yes on 5: "Do you want to change the medical marijuana laws to allow treatment of more medical conditions and to create a regulated system of distribution?"
My deep reasoning here amounts to: Why the hell not? Medical marijuana does no one any harm and it makes people in terrible shape feel better, for a little while. Our Puritan angst about this sort of thing is unbecoming. Live and let live, I say — which also applies in a more crucial way to Question 1.
Yes on 6: "Do you favor a $71,250,000 bond issue for improvements to highways and bridges, airports, public transit facilities, ferry and port facilities, including port and harbor structures, as well as funds for the LifeFlight Foundation that will make the State eligible for over $148,000,000 in federal and other matching funds?"
Bite the bullet. We'll all be better off for this.
No on 7: "Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to increase the amount of time that local officials have to certify the signatures on direct initiative petitions?"
Unless you really get off on this sort of thing.