Friday, October 28, 2016

Election Day 2016: Questioning the Questions? By Donald Hutchins

While Trump and Clinton have dominated the airwaves for the past few months, Maine simultaneously awaits citizen initiative legislation on recreational marijuana regulation, a tax for public schools, gun control, minimum-wage increases, and ranked-choice voting. As Maine voters wearily prepare for November 8th, the spread of Question 1 through 5 propaganda along our roadsides and intersections has folks wondering just what’s behind all that “Yes on…” or “No on…” fury. Since it’s never elaborated on the posters, here’s some insight to this year’s issues:

Question I: Do you want to allow the possession and use of marijuana under state law by persons of at least age 21; and allow cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products subject to state regulation, taxation, and local ordinance.

This legislation would implement a new system of regulation in order to provide a legal recreational cannabis market to Maine’s non-medical population. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has worked hard for the past few years with members of Maine’s Medical Marijuana Program, and others, in order to outline vocabulary that best supported their intentions for this initiative. 

Supporters of the bill speak of tax revenue, job opportunities, and legal moralism in garnering votes. The opposition poses concerns with regulating a plant as alcohol while it’s simultaneously regulated as a medicine, and how having two parallel systems of regulation could potentially impact medical marijuana infrastructure throughout the State of Maine. Maine was the first state to decriminalize the cannabis plant in 1978, and was among some of the first to legalize its medicinal use in 1998 and some are nervous of how the two could coexist. 

While the actual legislation is riddled with clauses specifically stating “this chapter may not be construed to limit any privileges or rights [granted]… under the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act”, it’s implicitly suggested that this legislature promotes a production-based marijuana industry. Bangor Daily News, in opposition to the bill, noted that adding a new system of regulation for police to integrate may not be wise with the growing opiate/heroin epidemic. 

Many caregivers are worried that particular aspects do not support the efforts of small-businesses and farmers, as industrial approaches historically don’t bode well for the little guys. Whichever way Maine goes with Question I, it’s important to note that it has no effect on the Federal prohibition of cannabis, so you may still be penalized for use and possession of the plant on Federal property.

Question II: Do you want to add a 3% tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000 to create a state fund that would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education?

This bill would establish and support the Fund to Advance Public Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education in order to improve “the ability of the State to reach the annual target of 55 percent, specified in statute, for the state share of the total cost of funding public education,” as the bill summarizes. It also specifically states that the generated funds would be used “for increasing the direct support for student learning rather than administrative costs.” 

The idea is to bolster State funding for K-12 public education, through the establishment of this fund and financial backing from Maine’s upper middle class. While this doesn’t seem as exciting as pot or guns, it holds great significance in reaching our state’s annual mandate of 55 percent funding for public schools and their staff. Teachers, school nurses, librarians and others would have access to funds in order to stock their classrooms and offices without it costing them, personally. 

Teachers and school staff are among some of the most under-valued and under-paid employees in our country, and at a time when education and development are of critical value. It’s common knowledge how people feel about taxes. Some see this as taking hard-earned money from someone and simply giving it to another, others consider it much more like an investment. 

Not only would this 3 percent tax provide security where it’s most needed, both monetarily for a teacher struggling to stock her classroom and refrigerator at the same time, and for the varying districts that need a few more teacher assistants and tutors than another. It also sets the example that we value and encourage education, which the youth will not only see in politics, but, regardless, will experience in the classroom.

Question III: Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers, with failure to do so punishable by law, and with some exceptions for family members, hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions, and shooting range activity?

Since the Brady Bill was enacted in 1994, it has effectively prevented 2.8 million gun sales to prohibited buyers, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Yet, research estimates that around 40 percent of firearms are obtained without a safeguard, such as online, independent, and gun show sales/transfers. Some people believe closing those few gaps could help. 

This legislation came from a skeleton built on Michael Bloomberg’s bill for New York’s gun laws. Every Town For Gun Safety, Mainer’s For Responsible Gun Ownership, the Maine Municipal Association, and a number of law enforcement have publicized support for the bill. However, the Maine Warden Service, 12 of 16 Maine Sheriffs, and proponents of limiting government have opposed the bill with the usual rhetoric. 

While criminals are gonna get guns regardless of the laws, and only law-abiding citizens may be impacted by new background check laws, it is undeniable that remaining inactive on gun responsibility and accessibility should not be an option any longer. Since Sandy Hook the debate has flared up with its repetitive jabs and passionate points from both sides, only to stagnate until another round of grisly slaughter brings us, briefly, back to the issue. 

While gun rights and responsibility are key to a successful hunting tradition, as well as Maine communities, we ought to wonder, whether or not this initiative passes, if both sides of the debate would be willing to unite to fight for the re-institution of gun education in Maine schools. After all, an educated populous is the best defense against the charlatans that attempt to exploit our ignorance.

Question IV: Do you want to raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, with annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020, and annual cost-of-living increases thereafter; and do you want to raise the direct wage for service workers who receive tips from half the minimum wage to $5 in 2017, with annual $1 increases until it reaches the adjusted minimum wage?

This bill would, effective 1st January 2016, increase the hourly minimum wage to $9/hour, and by a dollar per hour each year until 2020, where at $12/hour, it will appropriately increase at the same rate as the cost of living. Furthermore, service industry minimum wage for workers receiving tips would change from $3.75/hour to $5/hour, with annual $1/hour increases until it matches the regular minimum wage, which is to occur no sooner than 2024. 

While countless opponents of minimum wage increase cite small-business failure, job losses, and increased costs in the marketplace, there is an important economic consideration that is notoriously absent from such rhetoric. Wages haven’t been adjusted to inflation since the 1970s, and the Economic Policy Institute reports that the lowest-paid workers in America have lost five percent of their purchasing power since Ronald Reagan became president. 

We’re living in the post-recession world, where technology is in hyperdrive and productivity has no comparison to our workforce capability. People today work harder and longer for far less than in previous decades, and it’s worsening each year. Poverty wages decrease customers’ buying power and encourage them to spend where capable; often with conglomerates like Walmart, who impose such wages on their employees while raking in more profits that most small countries, and returning none of the benefit to the local community.

In order for people to support their economy, they have to be able to participate in it. If local and small-businesses are to survive, their employees have to be able to use them. It’s a Maine tradition to be self-reliant and dedicated to our communities. Divesting from multinationals and investing in our local economy could be the next big step for Maine’s future. Positive market changes come with time and faith, and the opportunity to begin may only be a few weeks away.

Question V: Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?  

“Ranked-choice voting is a method of casting and tabulating votes in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, and tabulation proceeds in rounds in which the last-place candidate(s) are defeated and the candidate with the most votes in the final round is elected,” as summarized in the bill. With the embarrassing happenings of our 2010 state election, and the continuing nature of our current election, Question V comes as a blessing.

Ranked-choice would replace Maine’s caucus system and would differ from the typical mode of primaries by eliminating the continuing bias for a two-party system. Instead of getting down to the wire and woefully differentiating between red or blue, this system would better facilitate third-party and independent candidate consideration. It would clarify voter preference, and determine the best candidate through the views of Maine’s constituency. 

For example, if Maine wanted Bernie Sanders to be president, and really didn’t want Donald Trump to be president, they could vote in order of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump, to distance themselves from the prospects of a Trump presidency. Similarly, if Mainer’s were morally opposed to Clinton, they could order their ticket Sanders, Stein, Johnson, Trump, Clinton to ultimately disqualify Clinton from consideration. 

If passed, Maine will be the first state in America to initiate ranked-choice voting. After the past few elections, it may become a bright and shining example of political progressivism. To be able to determine specifically which candidates one prefers, in order, is one of the most democratic proposals to date. Portland embraced ranked-choice for mayoral elections in 2011.

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