Republicans in the Legislature let their libertarian flag fly earlier this year by lifting the state’s ban on fireworks sales, possession and use. It may not have been the most substantive change of course for the GOP, which is yearning to breathe free after decades of Democratic “nanny state” dominance, but it was emblematic enough to warrant Gov. Paul LePage holding a ceremonial signing of the new law in Bangor.
So what do these Republicans — can we call them “light and run” Republicans? — make of the push-back in Portland, South Portland, Augusta, Bangor and other communities against the new law? Such a quick response, heading off the new law before it takes effect, suggests the fireworks law does not sit well at the street level.
More fireworks being lit off at more homes and camps and in more streets and parks does not make Maine a better, more prosperous place. It does put more Mainers at risk for finger and eye injuries. It will disrupt many people’s sleep and the peaceful enjoyment of their homes. It will make more pets cower and shake. And it will cause more woods and even structure fires.
Let freedom ring!
At the Maine Municipal Association conference this week, the actual fireworks that will be legal in Maine starting Jan. 1 were demonstrated, and those that will remain illegal also were shown. The demonstration, which came at the end of the day, must have been the highlight of a conference that included such meetings as “Microsoft Excel Training: Tips and Tricks” and “Wrongful Termination & Harassment.”
A demonstration of what will be legal and what will not be legal is serious business. As a town official in Westbrook noted at a meeting last month, the impetus in some municipalities to ban fireworks will result in a patchwork of communities allowing fireworks sales and use and those banning them. The towns that ban use will have limited success if the next town over allows sale.
Maine has a long tradition of local control trumping mandates handed down from governments far away. This allows larger, more urban communities like Portland and Bangor to ban something like fireworks which would be less appropriate in those settings than in, say, the rural environs of Cooper, Milo or Solon.
Republicans may have seen legalizing fireworks as something as common sense-based as raising the speed limit on I-95 north of Old Town. But it’s not. Like the higher speed limit, it carries risks of bodily harm, but unlike the faster highway speeds, there is little if any practical gain.
To be fair, the libertarian impulse cuts across party lines. The argument for government treating residents like grown-ups is appealing; let people make their choices, and if they suffer from those choices, let them also pay the cost. But that’s where the fireworks approval argument falls apart — we all will pay the public safety cost and suffer the noise.