As Maine goes?

By Stephen Bowen | Oct 17, 2009

In a recent speech before a packed house in South Portland, Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund suggested, to the surprise of many, that what happens in Maine on Election Day this fall, even though no candidates for any statewide office are on the ballot, may have a profound impact on national politics.

Maine, he said, could send a powerful message to Congress and the president by supporting the Question 4 Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative, or TABOR.

How could this be?

Elections in the year following a presidential race are seen by many, he said, to be an early indication of public support for the new president’s policies.

Take 1993, for example. President Bill Clinton became engulfed in a series of scandals and controversies almost immediately upon taking office and saw his approval ratings plunge below 50 percent by early June of that year. The failure of his attempt at health care reform made matters no better, and that fall Democrats lost gubernatorial seats in New Jersey and Virginia.

The following year, Republicans picked up 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate to seize control of both houses of Congress for the first time in generations.

Could history be repeating itself this fall?

President Obama’s poll numbers are certainly Clintonian, with his disapproval ratings reaching as high as 50 percent in some polls. Opposition to the president’s government-run health care proposal has also solidified, with 57 percent of independents opposing the president’s plan as well as a solid majority of seniors.

In a recent Quinnipiac poll, an amazing 69 percent of Americans said the country was “on the wrong track.”

In Virginia, Republican Robert McDonnell has taken what the Washington Post describes as a “commanding lead” over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, while in strongly Democratic New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine is behind in the polls and struggling to hold off a strong Republican challenger. President Obama won both states handily less than a year ago.

That brings us to Maine, which has not only been in the national news for the prominent role its senators have played in the ongoing health care debate, but also is being watched carefully for how it will vote on the TABOR proposal.

The TABOR vote may indicate, for example, the true extent of voter outrage at the direction the nation has taken under the leadership, if it can be called that, of President Obama.

In these pages and elsewhere, those on the left have been quick to dismiss the anger and frustration expressed by voters at various town hall meetings and taxpayer rallies. This anger is not a genuine expression of concern for the direction the nation has taken, we are told, but rather some kind of manufactured rage, organized and staged for the cameras by the same allegedly vast right wing conspiracy that has been trounced in two consecutive national elections.

Indeed, in the minds of many, there is no such thing as legitimate criticism of the president and Congress. Either you support Obama, or you are a) a “sore loser” conservative who opposes him out of sheer spite or b) a racist. There is, according to some, no other explanation for opposing him.

The same kind of thing is happening in the debate over the Question 4 TABOR initiative on the Maine ballot. All the proposal does is require voter approval if government spending exceeds a certain rate of increase or if the Legislature enacts a major new tax. It doesn’t cut any government spending or programs.

We’re told, though, that empowering voters in this way by passing TABOR will devastate our towns and schools. As a TABOR supporter, therefore, you must be against your town or against public education. It simply can’t be that you think it is perfectly reasonable, in a time of economic and financial uncertainty, to enact moderate restraints on government spending that empower voters rather than the politicians and the special interests.

The powers that be, though, don’t trust the voting public. It has been proposed, for instance, that the federal health reform bill, whatever form it finally takes, be posted online in its entirety for 72 hours prior to its being put to a vote. The Democratic leadership of the Senate, under orders from an Obama administration that promised unprecedented government transparency, has opposed this provision. They would prefer, it appears, to do as they did with the stimulus bill and simply ram it through before anyone can read it.

Perhaps they learned that tactic from the Maine Legislature, which enacted the beer, wine and soda tax in the middle of the night last year without so much as a public hearing on it.

Why is it that the politicians and the special interests have such contempt for voters and taxpayers?

Mainers have the chance this November to state clearly and unequivocally that they are tired of business as usual in Washington and Augusta. The passage of Question 4 will not only put voters back in charge here in Maine, it will also send a strong message across the country that voters intend to make their voices heard, whether those in power want to hear what they have to say or not.
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