Gov. Paul LePage took a verbal swing at Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling Wednesday, calling his proposal to allow some noncitizens to vote locally a “politically correct boondoggle.”
LePage, a Republican, claimed during his weekly radio address that Strimling brought the measure forward as one of “his constant attempts to attract media attention,” and suggested that the Democratic mayor is neglecting the “real issues” facing Portland.
Strimling rebutted that LePage’s comments are merely an effort to “drum up the base and raise money” as the race to select his successor heats up.
“It’s right out of the Republican playbook — scapegoating immigrants,” Strimling told the Bangor Daily News. “It happens in every election cycle, and you see it from the president on down.”
Over the summer, Strimling and Councilor Pious Ali have been pushing to send voters a question on whether to allow noncitizens living legally in Maine’s largest city to vote in future local races. But the initiative won’t appear on the November ballot.
Earlier in August, the City Council declined to send the proposed City Charter change along to voters, instead referring it to a committee for further study.
The measure appeared to have some support among councilors, but some also expressed concerns over implementation and protecting immigrants from potential ramifications of illegally voting in state or federal races.
On Wednesday, LePage reiterated his administration’s position that allowing noncitizens to vote locally would violate state law.
A judge has not weighed in on this question and legal opinions differ. Strimling and Ali have, however, acknowledged that city would likely need to persuade a court that the measure is permissible, or convince lawmakers of both parties and the governor to change state law, something that was rejected in 2009.
LePage also argued that giving noncitizens the vote in local elections would remove “a major and compelling incentive to become a citizen.” But LePage will be out of office before the question could again be sent to Portland voters, and Strimling was skeptical of the outgoing governor’s power on the matter.
“He’ll be long gone before this is an issue that the Legislature might ever need to look at,” the mayor said.
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