About a week into Election Day, Central Maine Power and its aligned political committees are targeting specific constituencies in a last ditch effort to defeat Question 1.
A “yes” would stop construction of the CMP corridor, while a “no” would allow work to continue on the billion dollar project.
But CMP-affiliated groups are highlighting a key word in the poll question to suggest that there is more at stake on November 2 than just going out of the hall.
Listen carefully to an announcement from the Mainers for Fair Laws group funded by the CMP, and you will likely hear the word “retroactive.”
For example, we can hear the narrators of three separate commercials funded by the CMP:
- âThis is question 1 of the ballot. It allows politicians to impose new laws retroactively, targeting the Mainers for things that have happened legally in the past … “
- “… This means that if a politician doesn’t like me, or a company like ours, they could target us for things that we have done legally in the past and shut us down …”
- “… and it’s not just unfair. It’s dangerous.”
To be clear, question 1 does not give elected officials in Maine more power than they already have to make or change laws, even retroactive ones.
“No. I mean, that’s a pretty straightforward answer. It’s not,” said Anthony Moffa, professor of environmental law at the University of Maine School of Law.
“This is a citizens’ initiative that attempts to do something that the legislature itself could have done. It says nothing about their ability to pass future retroactive laws in subsequent legislative sessions. It does not change the Maine constitution in regards to this problem. It doesn’t say anything about it, “Moffa said.
Some campaign materials go even further.
Last week, the CMP Mainers for Fair Laws group sent letters to voters in Republican-leaning areas claiming that Question 1, “gives politicians and outsiders a new set of tools that can be used to target homeowners. ‘guns’, and, “We know these politicians will do anything to limit our rights to the 2nd Amendment.”
“That’s how crazy they got, okay? It has nothing to do with gun rights,” Nick Bennett, a scientist with the Maine Natural Resources Council, told the Maine program. Calling from last week on question 1.
Bennett and the NRCM, who oppose the CMP corridor, take a stand against gun shippers and others who suggest that unless the corridor is built, climate change will threaten the future of the lobster and blueberries from Maine.
“Why are they sending gun rights letters? It’s the same as saying we’re not going to have blueberry pie if this project isn’t built,” Bennett said.
“There’s a sort of smart messaging strategy here, designed to reach certain audiences,” says Mike Franz, professor of government at Bowdoin College, who analyzed ads for the Wesleyan Media Project last year.
He says the hallway is not a Republican versus Democrat issue, which is why the CMP adapts ads to engage different constituencies.
Some received the mail containing the guns, while others received one comparing the campaign to shut down the hallway to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“I think there is an attempt here to kind of tap into the kind of emotional reactions voters have to these long-standing political debates around Trump, around health care, etc., and to try to graft on this emotion to move voters on this issue, âsaid Franz.
In a written statement, Chris Glynn, spokesperson for the CMP’s Clean Energy Matters campaign committee, acknowledged that Question 1 does not give lawmakers additional power to pass retroactive laws, nor does it have a direct impact. on health care or guns.
The point, he says, is that Question 1 is a citizens’ initiative – a tool that could be used more frequently to determine policy in areas other than energy and infrastructure.
âNothing like this has happened before, but now that there is a plan, it could definitely happen again,â Glynn said. “Passing retroactive laws sets a dangerous precedent whereby law-abiding citizens and businesses can be held accountable for actions taken in good faith based on existing law.
âThis means that even if you play by the rules, you can be penalized for your actions. These laws are pushing us down a slippery slope. Obviously, the language of question 1 deals with infrastructure projects, but the retroactive nature of the law is nonetheless concerning to many Mainers who see it as a tool that can be used to target them in the future, particularly in the future. hyper-partisan environment we live in today. “
This is an argument echoed by Thorn Dickinson, president of New England Clean Energy Connect, the CMP company created to oversee the project.
“This same strategy can be used by other businesses, other competitors, other social activists who want to attack, whether it’s rights people have had in the past, health issues, and so on. this slippery slope is really critical, âDickinson said.
The slippery slope argument rests on the fear that it will set a bad precedent – as citizens’ initiatives in the 20 or so states that eventually allow them to become a model for fossil fuel interests to scuttle future projects of renewable energy, even though they have been licensed and are under construction.
This was the concern of former US Environmental Protection Agency administrator William Reilly, whose fears in a recent Washington Post column largely reflected the arguments of the CMP.
Moffa, who worked for the EPA for the last two years of the Obama administration, says such concerns, while valid, are likely overstated by the CMP and its allies.
“It has the potential to set a bad precedent, but not as broad as the campaign wants it to be,” he said.
But the countryside is nothing if not hyperbolic.
The battle for Question 1 has just surpassed $ 87 million in spending, more than quadruple the previous record for a polling initiative in Maine.
And because this is not a partisan issue, voters are more likely to be swayed by exaggerated and often misleading messages from both sides.
Franz says it might affect the outcome of question 1.
âI suspect that while we don’t have a lot of polls on it, the post probably had an impact. And that’s why we see a lot of ads, to see if either side can find a message that really resonates and works, âhe said.
In other words, whether your problem is with guns, healthcare, or something else, expect more ads trying to convince you that its fate depends on the outcome of question 1.