Update From Augusta
I had already written another column dealing with more mundane matter in the State Legislature when, with a strange sense of disbelief last weekend, I started following with interest and concern the unfolding story of
Rep. Frederick Wintle.
Rep. Wintle, a freshman legislator from Garland, spent a good bit of the weekend in the Kennebec County Jail after having been arrested and charged with violation of firearms laws -- including criminal threatening. Our system of justice
presumes the innocence of anyone accused of a crime, so I will withhold any judgment on his behavior, his motivations or the legal consequences until the justice system has had an opportunity to do its work.
That being said, the Speaker of the House has suspended many of Representatives privileges as a legislator based on what a spokesman for the Speaker described as “increasingly erratic behavior.” This unfortunate incident throws two very different issues into sharp relief.
First, there is pending legislation that would make it legal for individuals other than the Capitol Security force to carry firearms inside the Capitol building. This recent event will certainly impact the debate on that proposal and people are already starting to line up for the debate.
Those with the strongest interests in this agenda are already claiming that this series of events involving Rep. Wintle underscores the need to (a) Allow firearms in the Capitol, or (b) Prohibit firearms in the Capitol. I am sure the debate will be lively, and I will follow the arguments closely and listen to the citizens of District 92 while I decide how to vote on this matter.
More importantly is the matter of representation in the Chamber. If Rep. Wintle’s privileges have been suspended, it may be very difficult for him to represent the people of District 24 who voted to send him to Augusta.
Should he resign as a result of these incidents, a special election will be held in the District to identify a replacement. However, should Rep. Wintle decide to remain in his seat, even with his privileges suspended, the people of his District will effectively have no
representation in the Maine House.
In March, the Maine House briefly entertained the idea of introducing a bill to enable citizens to recall elected officials.
The Joint Order was tabled by Republican leadership. I hope this Joint Order comes off the Table before the end of the session for a vote so that I can cast my support for this important initiative.
The Joint Order was presented by Rep. Cynthia Dill (D-Cape Elizabeth ) -- now Senator Dill, having just won a special election. That Joint Order would direct the Joint Standing Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs to report out legislation that would create a citizens' recall process for state legislators, constitutional officers and the governor.
Currently there are 18 states that have a recall process. Maine's constitution allows for the impeachment of state civil officers -- a legal process whereby the House votes on an indictment, and the Senate acts as jury and votes to convict or not.
The recall process that the Joint Order would seek to create would be in statute and be a political process that citizens would engage in similar to the citizens' veto and petition.
I supported that initiative and now I believe even more strongly that it is a simple matter. Maine people expect
accountability for the actions of the people they elect to represent them. I am accountable to the voters of District 92, and I am happy to have that accountability increase -- because I think it encourages me to continue to constantly do a better job. This initiative is nothing more than a matter of consistency with existing policies.
• Here in Maine we have one of the easiest to access citizen initiative processes in the country, and as a result we have ballot measures in almost every election cycle -- accountability;
• We have a provision for a people’s veto and that has been exercised with increasing frequency -- accountability;
• We are required by the Maine Constitution to seek voter approval of certain types of long term debt obligations -- accountability;
• Our new State Treasurer wants to expand the involvement of voters in approving even more of the state’s financial
transactions that have long term implications -- in the name of accountability;
• Some legislators are proposing that any initiative that would raise taxes and even certain fees must be approved by voters before they can become effective -- again, in the name of accountability.
We affirm constantly that accountability is a good thing and in order to be consistent, we need to facilitate the ultimate accountability tool -- the power of Maine voters to recall their state elected officials. I am happy to submit to that continuous accountability, and I have been encouraging all of my colleagues to support the initiative.
The unfortunate incident with Representative Wintle highlights the issue. The people in his District deserve to be represented, and if he will not step aside, or if the Legislature fails to undertake an impeachment process, the voters in his District have no alternative.
It is time to change that and introduce a provision in Maine statute that will allow voters to recall elected state officials -- including legislators and members of the executive branch.
As always, I appreciate your ideas and opinions. Contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me at 776-8051.