June 03, 2020
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Taking back our democracy

The following remarks will be made at the rally to fight back against big money in politics, held at the State House on Jan. 22:

I’m from Bar Harbor. If there’s any place that might be insulated from the influence of politics, you’d think it would be our little paradise on Mount Desert Island.

So why do I — and the 25 others who rode the bus with me this morning from Hancock County to the State House in Augusta — care enough to spend our day on this issue of money in politics?

Because there is, in fact, no place, no issue in the United States that is not threatened by the shadow of money.

Our ability as citizens, as voters to set the course of the nation, to set the tone of political discourse, has been compromised by the Supreme Court’s equation of money equals speech. They have allowed corporate interests and the super wealthy to drown us with the messages only they want us to hear.

When it comes to health care, the ones defining the terms of the debate are the pharmaceuticals and big insurance companies. Is it any wonder we pay more for health care than any other developed nation? Here in Maine, these vested interests wrote the health care reform law passed in the last session of the Legislature. Are we surprised that most people are paying more than ever?

Why haven’t any of the bankers and corporate raiders who caused the recent economic collapse been sent to jail? Why haven’t the root causes of the current recession been seriously addressed by Congress?

Even the very weather, the intensity of storms that ravage our coastlines can be attributed to the corporate greed and control of our political process that prevents climate change from being a serious topic in the recent presidential election.

As a Bar Harbor town councilor, I am concerned that our property taxes will increase this year at rate higher than the cost of living. I believe this is because the rich have convinced our legislators that the only way for Maine to succeed is to race to the bottom in income tax rates.

They have forced a reduction in taxes for the richest Mainers, to be paid for by:

1. Shredding the safety net for the most vulnerable.

2. Transferring the burden onto those who can least afford it, through the most regressive form of raising revenues — property taxes.

When money talks, democracy walks.

I know that not everyone agrees with me on taxes, health care and the other issues cited here, but people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum agree on this: We need to get big money out of our elections.

On Election Day, statewide ballot measures calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United passed by 3-to-1 margins in Colorado and Montana. And volunteers in Maine collected more than 10,000 signatures on postcards to our elected officials calling for a change.

It’s time to take back our electoral and lawmaking processes. It’s time to establish campaign finance rules that level the playing field. It’s time to stop the flood of money that’s drowning citizens’ voices.

Eleven states have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment — and they are red states and blue. Let’s make Maine the 12th. We know that many of our legislators are sympathetic, Democrats, Republicans and independents, and they need to hear from you today. We need their co-sponsorship of the resolution and we need their votes.

Some say that a constitutional amendment is too hard to accomplish, that it cannot be done. Well, it has been achieved 27 times before, including 12 times in the last 100 years. That’s an average of one every 8½ years, and since the last one — the 27th – was ratified in 1992, we’re now about 12 years overdue for the Constitutional Amendment that will get the big money out of our elections.

We Mainers care deeply about our democracy, and we have done hard things before. We initiated and passed the groundbreaking Clean Election Act, and we are here today to stand firm for this essential law. The Supreme Court damaged it, but Maine people will strengthen it once again. We stand firm for greater transparency in elections, too. We must insist on these improvements while we push for a longer-term solution: a Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Finance.

In a time of political polarization, there is one thing we hold in common — our democracy is precious and important to all of us.

Gary Friedmann is a resident of Bar Harbor and serves on the Bar Harbor Town Council.

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