Lewiston voters made a sensible choice on June 10 by changing the city’s irrational petition rules.

Under the old method, petitions to challenge council actions were only “distributable” within City Hall, and couldn’t cross the threshold into the community-at-large. The policy was unfair at best and un-American at worst.

Cloistering petitions to challenge municipal decisions inside City Hall not only let foxes guard the henhouse, but ran counter to a basic democratic principle: citizens’ right to disagree with government, and effect change.

Disagreement grows far from the halls of government, in shadowy areas where mold and rebellion grow. From there, the movement casts into the light, spurred by ideologues seeking support one signature at a time.

(OK, so that’s a bit romanticized, but the principle is sound.)

Since sentiments of citizen dissent circulate in public, so should the instruments of the cause. Lewiston’s petition rules were awful, and voters, by a sizable margin, showed wisdom in changing them.

This decision, in Lewiston, put petitions back into the hands of citizens. Now, all Maine needs are some old-fashioned citizens to start one. It seems, nowadays, like our sports arenas and golf tournaments, rabble-rousing starts with securing deep-pocketed sponsors.

Take the combative campaigns about the Legislature’s controversial tax increases on beer, wine and soda to fund Dirigo Health. Two entities have formed to argue each side, one touting Dirigo’s health benefits, the other touting the burdensome taxation.

They have nothing in common, save one detail: a dearth of citizen financial support. Mainers, for these two efforts, did not put any money where their mouths or minds might be.

Fed Up With Taxes, which supports the people’s veto petition now circulating, was started with $182,500 in contributions from several business lobbies: restaurants, beverages, soft drinks, automobiles, inns, beer and wine, etc., according to their political action committee filing in late May.

Health Coverage for Maine, which supports opposing the people’s veto petition, was endowed with $100,000 of its initial $110,050 from a Don Sussman of Greenwich, Conn., a big-time political donor, according to their filing.

This petition drive is a clash of titans with partisan high ground at stake.

In Lewiston, voters endorsed returning petitions to the people, and freeing them from the possible influence of a higher power – in this case, city hall. This is the purest form of democracy.

Now compare this ideal with petition and anti-petition efforts being started by wealthy donors from Connecticut and various trade associations. Their platforms – lower taxes and better health care – are certainly popular.

But how these “people’s veto” campaigns began will never be confused with populist.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.