Keep the dream of ‘Red October’ alive. Maine should keep resisting REAL ID

“I would like to have seen Montana.”

With those fateful words, Capt. Vasily Borodin, executive officer of the submarine Red October, died. His goal in defecting from the Soviet Union was to live a simple life in America, settling in Montana, marrying a “round” woman, and driving an RV from state to state. Nothing like a Cold War movie where the very idea of America seems fanciful, a land of freedom, milk, and honey.

The most astounding thing to Capt. Borodin, would-be-American? You could go from state to state, no papers.

We’ve come a long way since Red October.

Photo by Moto "Club4AG" Miwa | Creative Commons license 2.0

Photo by Moto “Club4AG” Miwa | Creative Commons license 2.0

In a year, you might need a passport to fly out of Maine. Not just to exotic places like Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, but also to the frontier towns of Orlando and Newark. Why? A little law called REAL ID.

Passed back in 2005, it was intended to provide enhanced security in a post-9/11 world. It created numerous requirements for state-issued identification cards so they could be used for federal purposes. That includes things like veterans’ health care or passing through the checkpoints of America’s blueshirts, the TSA. The law’s enforcement has been slow, since some of its requirements — such as requiring states to confirm the authenticity of a utility bill — were nearly impossible to enforce, and most states couldn’t quickly adapt to the new, significant technological requirements.

There were various other concerns with the law, which is why Maine’s legislature prohibited our compliance back in 2007. But the slow march of the federal government has finally caught up with us; Washington has decreed that, since Maine has not complied with its demands, our licenses will no longer be valid as identification effective Jan. 22, 2018. It only took 13 years from enactment!

So what should we do about it? Interestingly, REAL ID is one of those peculiar laws that does not cleanly break along partisan lines. State Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat and former Maine secretary of state, supports compliance with the law. Democrat Matt Dunlap, our current secretary of state and the official responsible for issuing licenses, opposes it. Republicans focused on terrorism tend to support it, while those in the GOP more concerned about civil liberties oppose it.

Those who believe Maine should abandon its position and fall in line with REAL ID will generally offer one of two defenses. First, continuing the quixotic stand will do little more than hurt ordinary citizens: if you wanted to fly to Disney World, you would need to spend an additional $135 per person to get a passport. Alternatively, the federal government already has so much information on us and our privacy is already so compromised that the marginal effect of REAL ID is miniscule.

Standing against it, the loudest argument surrounds the establishment of a massive national database filled with the personal information of nearly every American. The federal government acknowledged this concern in its 2008 rulemaking, but assured everyone that the safeguards were sufficient to protect the information. Of course, less than six years later, the personnel records of over 20 million Americans with security clearances were stolen from a federal database. Oops.

When it comes to REAL ID, Maine should continue its principled stand and live up to the motto “Dirigo.” It is always easier to simply knuckle under the demands of Washington, but the easy answer isn’t necessarily the right one. As long as Augusta holds out against REAL ID and the spectre of inconvenience for Maine people looms large, Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree will all be incentivized to work together quickly to fix the problems with poorly constructed policy. And it will serve as an example — with Maine in the lead — on how states can push back against federal overreach.

After all, Sen. King lived Capt. Borodin’s dream of driving an RV from state to state. No papers. Let’s keep it that way.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.