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Paul Davis

Intimidation and Democracy
By Senator Paul Davis
May 24, 2005 - 9:17:00 AM

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It came to light this past week that a couple of my colleagues in the Legislature saw fit to approach business owners in their districts to make them aware of the risks involved in permitting people to gather petition signatures in their stores. They reportedly said that doing so would "offend and alienate" some of their customers.

Senator Joe Perry of Bangor and Representative Jeremy Fisher of Presque Isle, both Democrats, suggested it might be bad for business to "open up politics" in their stores. They insinuated that by allowing the signature gatherers into their stores, the storeowners would be inviting "people who want to discourage people" as well They suggested that this would be bad for business, especially on a weekend as potentially profitable as Mother’s Day weekend. Unfortunately it is unfounded advice, and it goes against that very passage in our State’s Constitution that provides for the petitioning of our Legislature when the citizens see an issue that they believe needs redress:

"The electors may propose to the Legislature for its consideration any bill, resolve or resolution, including bills to amend or repeal emergency legislation but not an amendment of the State Constitution, by written petition addressed to the Legislature or to either branch thereof and filed in the office of the Secretary of State by the hour of 5:00 p.m., on or before the 50th day after the date of convening of the Legislature in first regular session."

That paragraph comes from the Maine State Constitution Article IV, Part Third, Section 18, paragraph 1. The subject in that sentence is "The electors," anyone in the State qualified to vote for Governor. In plain English, that means you, or any other eligible voter in this State, has the right to circulate and sign a petition addressed to the entire Legislature, to fix something they did that you don’t like. State law makes no mention of where and when signatures can be gathered, and the folks hoping to collect signatures at some of these businesses did the right thing by securing permission from the store owners before they set up there. Then along came the Democrats, intervening to protect the storeowners from themselves.

The Assistant Senate Democrat leader, Ken Gagnon of Waterville, said on Monday that he personally supports any effort to frustrate the signature gathering process because he thinks the veto process will lead to the eventual downgrading of Maine’s bond rating. I have some news for Senator Gagnon: Moody’s Investor Service placed the State of Maine on their Watchlist for possible downgrading of bond rating back on the 4th of February. That was more than two months before the People’s Veto was launched on April 25th. In the press release announcing their actions, Moody’s specifically mentioned Governor Baldacci’s budget proposal to borrow money to keep the lights on in Augusta. "We look for structural balance and ask whether ongoing revenues meet ongoing expenditures," said Nicole Johnson, senior analyst and vice president at Moody's Investors Service. "We want to see what the state's plan is to get back to structural balance," Johnson said.

Wall Street clearly did not need to wait for the citizens of Maine to exercise their constitutionally protected right to petition the Legislature before they put us on their Watchlist. Perhaps the present action of the citizenry of Maine will be enough to help get us off that list someday.

Senator Paul Davis (R-Sangerville) is the Republican leader of the Maine State Senate and a four-term legislator.

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