2017-11-14 / Opinion

Will of the Voters’ to be Major Campaign Issue

BY GRADY BURNS

In a race that was watched intently around the country, last week Mainers voted overwhelmingly voted to become the 33rd state to expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and were the first to do so at the ballot box. The vote’s margin, 59% supporting to 41% opposed, is the largest seen for a citizen initiative in the state in nearly twenty years.

While most of the national coverage has rightly focused on the effects of the outcome itself–mainly the extension of health insurance access to between 70,000 and 89,000 Mainers–here in Maine it’s becoming clear that this election result will have an impact felt beyond its healthcare policy implications, one that will likely reverberate through the 2018 midterms a year away.

It took less than 24 hours for Governor Paul LePage, key Republican legislative leaders, and members of the legislative GOP rank-and-file to come out swinging against the results of the expansion vote, with LePage going so far as to make the legally dubious statement that he will not implement the law until its funded in a way he approves. This visceral reaction marks the fifth time since 2016 that LePage and Republican leaders have vowed to roll back, dismantle, delay, or dramatically amend a measure passed by majorities of Maine voters in statewide referenda.

With this brazen and reflexive new attack on the voters’ will, the die is being cast for the narrative of the 2018 election cycle: one in which Republicans across the state will be forced to look their constituents in the eye and explain to them with a straight face how they intend to maintain the public trust while not actually trusting the public. It’s not a good look for anyone seeking elected office anywhere, much less in a state with such a robust history of citizen participation in politics–as Maine does.

But for the time being, most appear to be undeterred. Auburn Rep. Bruce Bickford dismissed the Medicaid vote as giving “everyone a free pony,” despite the measure passing in Auburn by a healthy 54 percent margin. Bickford himself once lost his seat in that district in 2012 by a single-digit vote margin, and reclaimed the seat in 2014 with just under 53% of the vote. GOP gubernatorial candidates Mary Mayhew and Kenneth Fredette have also doubled down in their opposition to the measure, apparently unperturbed that once one of them perhaps eventually makes it through the Republican primary that person will have to face these same voters.

With Republican leaders so enthusiastically backing themselves into this corner, the field is wide open for opposing candidates to simply point to these votes, acknowledge the voice of the voters, and commit to act as good-faith stewards for the voters’ expressed will. Because ultimately, there are few campaign messages simpler than “I hear you, and I’ll listen to you,” and few more repulsive than “I heard you, and I didn’t care.”

The preceding originally appeared on mainebeacon.com, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance.

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