When I think of what it means to be a Republican, the many values that we, as members of Lincoln’s party, stand for and fight for on a daily basis come to mind. As a Republican, I believe in liberty, individual responsibility and a government that is accountable to its citizens. I believe in the guiding principles set forth by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is with those values in mind that I support restoring and strengthening Maine’s model Clean Election Act.
Conservative values draw me to a cause greater than my own political future: preserving democracy. But this isn’t an issue that we need to politicize. It is one that all Mainers, progressives and conservatives alike, stand for. Our democracy is stronger when money does not have such great influence in shaping it.
These beliefs led me to run as a Clean Elections candidate and to ensure that future candidates are able to do the same. Thanks to Clean Elections, I was able to run my campaigns without soliciting funds from a small group of big donors, who, once I had been elected, would begin to expect favors from me when I got to Augusta. The only people I should ever owe any favors are my constituents. It’s better that candidates run campaigns free of special interest money and focused where they should be — on the voters.
This is not some radical idea in Maine politics. The state’s citizen-initiated Clean Elections program has served as a national model for many years, but recent Supreme Court rulings and chronic underfunding have undermined it. That’s why Maine people are once again mobilizing, to collect the signatures necessary to place a question on the 2015 ballot to restore and fully fund the law. Polling shows that three out of five voters would support such a ballot measure. They also support new provisions requiring that dark money groups disclose their donors. Ending wasteful corporate tax loopholes, another measure with broad public support, can easily fund this bill.
We need Clean Elections now more than ever. As money in politics increases, the role of the general public in our democracy diminishes, more and more citizens feel their vote does not matter, and fewer are compelled into public service. That’s why I will be at the polls on Election Day, asking fellow voters to sign a petition to restore the law through a new Clean Elections Initiative.
I don’t want an America where people are so cynical that they have lost faith in the political system. That they simply stop showing up to vote and stop taking action on issues they care about. Or, that they stop following the lead of Margaret Chase Smith, Ed Muskie, George Mitchell or Olympia Snowe by serving this country in elected office. But that’s where we are headed. Many Americans already think their voice and vote do not count and that they cannot compete with big-money special interests. That feeling only increases with each passing, record-breaking election cycle.
The America I know and the America I believe in is not one where the public sits back and lets injustice rule the day. Had that been the case, women would not have the right to vote, and the civil rights movement might never have happened. Just as those trailblazers saw an injustice and took action, so too do I. I take action for Clean Elections and government accountability. I take action to fight for the voice of the people and ensure that the days of “pay to play” politics are numbered.
The Constitution and Bill of Rights are intended to ensure that every American citizen has a guaranteed right to equal participation in the political process. It’s against the foundation of our republic when the money of the few holds disproportional weight over the collective voice of the public. Restoring the Clean Election Act is just one way to right this wrong. This critical step can help end cynicism, encourage a new generation of leaders, and maybe, just maybe, clean up our politics. The Clean Election Act worked well for years, and as we Mainers say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But our law is broken, so fix it we must.
Drivers arriving in Maine are greeted by a sign stating, “The Way Life Should Be.” I say we hold true to that sentiment by supporting the Clean Elections initiative and keeping Maine’s government of, by, and for the people.
Sen. Edward Youngblood, R-Brewer, represents District 31 in the Maine Senate.