Another exercise in American democracy has come and gone. Now, hopefully, the campaigns will get their signs picked up before the snow flies.
As we prepare for another Maine winter, what can we learn from Tuesday’s results?
Maine is a center-right state. Yes, the retort to this assertion will be “but Medicaid expansion!” However, advocates made quite a large to-do about the policy being “bipartisan,” with GOP states and governors — including Vice President Mike Pence — having adopted it in years past. Either advocates truly believed the policy transcended politics as a “common sense” measure, or they just applied that veneer to gain an electoral advantage.
If you believe Critical Insights’ polling, a majority of registered Republicans agreed with the policy. The right side of the aisle in Maine was represented publicly by Sens. Tom Saviello and Roger Katz. So while it is a proposal aligned more with the left, the vote indicates its support — and the victory — encompassed the center of the spectrum.
Meanwhile, if you look at Waterville, Saco, and Auburn, you will find mayors of a more conservative bent. Lewiston has deja vu all over again, with the unabashed progressive Ben Chin winning a plurality on election night. However, he will face a single, conservative challenger, Shane Bouchard, in a December runoff. If 2015 is any guide, Lewiston will see a new Republican mayor next month.
Even dear Portland hewed to the right side of the left edge. No one will confuse our largest city with a bastion of conservatism, but super-NIMBYism — in the form of neighborhood zoning vetoes — and government central planning — also known as “rent control” — went down in flames. These were both anti-development proposals; Portland’s voters took positions aligned with a market-driven approach.
The same holds true with the city council. While officially non-partisan — and indeed, all candidates were some flavor of Democrat — those put forward by the self-styled Progressive Portland and Maine People’s Alliance crowds found themselves significantly short in the vote count. The more steady, level-headed “centrist” candidates won.
Money is neither everything nor the only thing. Quick: what’s the best way to lose $10 million? Bet Maine people will pass a law giving you exclusive rights to a casino in the most populated part of the state.
Shawn Scott paid around $160 for every “yes” vote. The “no” campaign spent about $2.60. For the Medicaid expansion vote, the “yes” campaign had a per voter cost of $11.36, while the “no” side was under $3 each.
In one ballot question, big money won. In the other, it lost — bigly.
The fact remains that dollars, while important, are far from the only factor in a successful campaign. For all the cries about money in politics, all it seems to buy is more high-priced consultants and ad time. It seems that we are approaching the day where it becomes clear to candidates and committees that you can’t, in fact, buy the ballot box. That day can’t come too soon.
Fights are far from over. Gov. Paul LePage made headlines shortly after the results came in, stating he would not support enacting Medicaid expansion through tax hikes or raiding the rainy day fund. Not surprisingly, he found harsh words from advocates.
Proponents of the expansion question had learned from the past. When the referendum requiring the state to pay 55 percent of school costs was passed, it wasn’t tied to funding. It was a great idea in the abstract. So when many of those same activists worked on last year’s school funding ballot initiative, they tied it to a 3 percent surcharge on income taxes for “the rich.”
The result? Their popular proposal barely eked out a victory. And after it won, Democrats and Republicans alike teamed up to repeal the tax increase.
Now, MaineCare’s enrollment is supposed to, by law, add 80,000 people. But that idea passed in the abstract. Finding the money to pay for it — whether $50 million or $100 million per year — remains up in the air. And all the Ethics Commission fines in the world can’t pay for it.
So, if I’m correct that Maine remains a center-right state, then buckle-up. Spending is easy; funding is hard. It’s going to be a long winter — and a wild ride.