Ballot initiative insanity!

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Steven Biel: It's been a busy day at the Secretary of State's office. Progressives are submitting signatures for five—count ‘em FIVE—ballot initiatives.

We've got background checks for guns, school funding, marijuana legalization, ranked choice voting, AND minimum wage.

Lance: This is no way to run a state. Referendums are simply a way for big-moneyed interests to circumvent the elected will of the people. And it happens on both sides of the aisle.

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group MoveOn.org. He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.
www.StevenBielStrategies.com

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.
www.RedHillStrategies.com

Well, let me correct that. It *usually* happens on both sides of the aisle. This year the train wreck that is the Maine Republican Party squandered huge amounts of money and failed to do the very basic task of getting their ill-conceived measure on the ballot.

Steven: Why are you afraid of democracy, Lance? With all the gridlock we have in Augusta, ballot initiatives are the only way anything can get done.

Lance: I think I share the same fear of mob rule that the founders had, thus the whole "representative republic" thing.

But when all it takes is one special interest to pay petition gatherers $200,000 to force a vote on something, we've really skidded off into some pretty un-democratic territory.

Steven:
I'd argue that if anything ballot initiatives are less influenced by money. On the ballot, voters always get the last word.

As for the founders, they also thought only white male property owners should be allowed to vote. Thankfully we've made progress on the whole "democracy" thing since the 18th Century.

Lance: So what's your take on the initiatives themselves? One of the referendums, Ranked Choice Voting, is looking to rig the way we count votes. Is this more of the democracy you're looking for?

Steven:
I'll vote for ranked choice voting because I think it'll open up the debate to more voices.

That said, a lot Democrats are supporting this because they have Eliot Cutler sour grapes, and I'd way rather they focus on recruiting better candidates and running better campaigns, not changing the rules on vote counting.

How about background checks for guns? Only about 90 percent of voters support that. Can the GOP get on board?

Lance: I don't think you'll see a strictly partisan divide on this one. Background checks are very popular in Maine with Democrats and Republicans. I think most people want to see some common sense measures taken to help protect against these terrible tragedies we've seen in other states.

If you want to see the real left vs. right fight though, watch the minimum wage battle.

Steven: If so, I think it's a fight your side will lose. In 2014, minimum wage increases passed on the ballot in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Not exactly Blue America.

A gradual increase to $12 will help our economy by boosting consumer spending and get more people off food stamps. Unless you're ideologically opposed to even having a minimum wage, it's a no-brainer.

Lance: I think the government needs to learn that waving a wand like minimum wage won't magically make jobs appear. In fact, basic economics shows the opposite will happen.

Politically speaking, I'm not sure it makes sense for the GOP to go all-in on the issue this time around, unless they can get a significant amount of cover from the business community.

Speaking of big business, is Maine going to be the next state to allow the cash crop of marijuana to bring our economy to new highs?

Steven:
I'm honestly torn on this one, and I'm going to get hate mail from my lefty friends about it.

On one hand, the War on Drugs is an abomination. Under our current criminal justice system, one in three black males born today will go to prison at some point, and that's mostly about the failed drug war.

That said, I just don't think it's good for our society to have more people getting high more often. This is one of those rare times where I'm an undecided swing voter.

What about you? How much do you really believe in freedom?

Lance: I'm not psyched about signaling to young people that using pot is an acceptable life choice, but honestly I don't think it makes sense that it's illegal.

Freedom is freedom, and frankly the illegal status of pot drives most of the negative life implications users experience. Take the stuff off the black market, regulate it to make sure it's safe, and quit throwing people in jail for joints. That's what makes sense to me.

Steven: That's a good argument. You might be turning me around.

Which brings us to my favorite ballot initiative of the cycle, Stand Up for Students.

The only thing that gets me more fired up than poorly funded public schools is Maine's regressive tax system. This gives us a chance to address both problems by funding our schools through a reasonable 3 percent surcharge on earnings over $200,000.

Lance: I agree that failing to fulfill the 55 percent mandate is a travesty, and I don't understand how, starting in the Baldacci administration, we've been able to simply ignore it.

And I know that sticking it to the rich is a very popular solution to everyone's problems. However, Maine is in a position right now where we need to be helping job creators, not hurting them, and I don't think it helps our economy to put class warfare on center stage.

Steven: Currently, people making over $200,000 pay less than 8 percent in total combined state taxes. The middle class pays over 9 percent. How is that good policy?

Then again, if the GOP wants to explain why the middle class should pay even more, go for it.

OK last point before we wrap—last week we promised predictions on the GOP caucus. They say there are three tickets out of Iowa—who are your top 3?

Lance: I think it's Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. After Iowa I think we see the Herman-Cain-ization of Cruz though, he's ridden a wave that is going to crash on the beach once people get to know how unpleasant a fellow he is. But I think he's done well on the ground in Iowa and he'll be competitive.

Rubio's ticket doesn't come automatically for coming in third, though. He needs it to be a strong third, or else we're looking at a Trump-or-bust primary season.

Steven: Great minds think alike--though I think Trump and Cruz could be very, very close.

One thing's for sure: Trump will give the most memorable speech since the Dean Scream, and we'll all be watching.