In the Art of War, Sun Tzu made the following observation: “Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.” The Chinese general’s simple wisdom about conflicts has influenced generations of leaders.

Maine’s Legislature should be next, for in its battles with its regular adversary – the Maine Heritage Policy Center – lawmakers have found themselves, too often, in a defensive position against the Portland think-tank’s bombardment of policy and rhetoric.

A prime example came before lawmakers last week, in the form of legislation to separate the names of state workers from their salaries, for the purpose of public records. This bill is a direct result from the policy center’s new Web site, Maineopengov.org, which made this information easily searchable.

Putting this salary data in an online database ruffled feathers, sure, but it also earned the policy center accolades from a leading freedom of information advocacy group, because the organization embodied the very spirit of government transparency and freedom of speech that we Americans hold dear.

The legislative response, then, would be to restrict this information, which runs counter to fundamental First Amendment principles. Speech, political speech particularly, is refuted with more speech; if somebody doesn’t like what is said, the government shall never infringe upon their right to say it.

Yet this is exactly what the salary/names legislation, LD 1353, aims to do. It is a reactive piece of lawmaking that makes government more opaque and erodes public access to information. Legislators and state workers may not like the Web site, but the information should remain public nonetheless.

And the Maine Legislature, instead of taking a defensive position, should take Sun Tzu’s sage advice and assume an offense strategy against the policy center’s repeated assaults.

There are reasons that this organization and its kissing-cousin spinoff, Maine Leads, have resurrected the Taxpayer Bill of Rights for reconsideration on this November’s ballot, alongside a green-washed referendum to slash the state’s onerous excise tax system – and municipal budgets in the process.

One is the evergreen concern over taxes and tax burden in Maine. The other has been the state’s inability, despite repeated claims to the contrary, to act decisively to address issues that the Maine Heritage Policy Center has built its reputation upon promoting.

The greatest victory to be claimed against MHPC was when the Tax Foundation, whose annual rankings of tax burden always gave Maine extremely poor marks, recalculated their findings and revealed Maine’s taxes weren’t as bad as they looked.

Nothing really changed, though. Just the perception.

So here Maine is again, facing tax-slashing referenda and proposing to fight speech with what essentially boils down to censorship. We’re tired of this backpedaling. So should taxpayers.

Sun Tzu would be, too.

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