EDITORIALS

Wrong issue, wrong messenger

Posted Nov. 09, 2011, at 5:26 p.m.

It was the wrong position argued clumsily and offensively by the wrong messenger.

After four decades in the minority, Maine Republicans triumphantly took control of the state House and Senate and the governor’s office a year ago. That leadership — and its laudable plans to reduce government spending, lower taxes and streamline government regulation — is in jeopardy if the party doesn’t regain its focus.

The public’s strong repudiation of the party’s attempts to end same-day voter registration highlights how far off track the GOP has gone. Sixty percent of the state’s voters favored Question 1, a people’s veto of a new law that ended the 38-year-old practice of allowing people to register to vote on Election Day.

The campaign against same-day registration began with a witch hunt against college students and ended with an all-too-familiar GOP gambit — trying to frighten voters about a homosexual bogeyman. It is time for the man behind these tactics — GOP Chairman Charlie Webster — to step down.

Republicans may have been giddy at taking control of state government in January, but sober, pragmatic goals should have been set after the celebration ended. They should have been mindful that their tenure could be fleeting, as short as two years for the Legislature.

Instead of taking up the list of national GOP pet projects, such as weakening unions and closing the door on illegal immigration, Maine’s Republican majority should have focused on its vision for growing the private sector and shrinking the public sector, streamlining business regulations, getting more bang for the buck in education and cutting tax rates.

The Election Day registration issue was a frivolous political flourish, and voters saw through it. If Maine Republicans truly believed it was a problem, they should have worked to achieve consensus with — or at least make some concessions to — minority Democrats. Instead, they gleefully carried water for their national counterparts, who no doubt believed easy ballot access helped elect President Barack Obama.

Along with fatally wounding Mr. Webster’s credibility, the registration issue should make legislators reluctant to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Maine Heritage Policy Center. MHCP, which describes itself as advocating “free enterprise, limited, constitutional government and individual freedom,” stepped well outside those core principles by fighting to make voting more difficult.

In fact, nationwide on Tuesday, voters opposed over-reaching proposals, such as the union-busting effort defeated at referendum in Ohio and the Mississippi initiative that would have defined life as beginning at conception.

The clock is ticking. A year from now, Maine’s GOP could lose control of one or both state legislative bodies. A new leader and a shorter, more pragmatic agenda would be wise choices.

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