Maine braces for bruising statewide referendum ballot measures

By the time you get your spring tires set on, the waiting around home of your regional automotive store could possibly be embellished with political signage.

You could not imagine who is allowed to fix a motor vehicle could be a political dialogue, but it will be a person of the four probable ideological skirmishes waged on the airwaves and roadside signals as Maine gears up for a referendum-large calendar year.

In contrast to 2021’s bruising marketing campaign around no matter whether Mainers should block Central Maine Power’s hydropower transmission line from Canada from coming by way of the Kennebec Valley, numerous ballot queries will be up for debate in 2023.

A query asking if Mainers want to build a consumer-owned utility, and buy out CMP and Versant Power, has been authorised for the November 2023 ballot. Opponents have a counter referendum aiming to hobble the shopper referendum by making govt bonding in excess of $1 billion subject matter to voter acceptance. That one particular is also probable to make the ballot.

Competing for focus with people two superior-profile fights will be an energy to prohibit businesses with overseas possession from paying in referendum strategies, which has been qualified, and a discussion on who should get accessibility to telemetric facts from your car for repairs, which is likely to make the ballot.

If all four are voted on in November, it will be the most queries on the ballot considering the fact that 2016, in accordance to condition documents.

Developments and fights in other states over identical actions show subsequent year’s battles, if they do make the ballot, will expense thousands and thousands and flood the airwaves with commercials. In this article is what you will need to know about the 2023 referendums.

The suitable to repair: nearby stores compared to buyer privacy.

The principle of “right to repair” has been around for decades, but one particular of its to start with key battles took position in Massachusetts a 10 years back. A correct to repair service coalition – a group of automotive aftermarket providers that create, distribute and promote vehicle parts or conduct automobile expert services — brought forward a ballot measure to have to have motor auto makers to grant obtain to vehicle diagnostic and repair information to unbiased fix shops.

That referendum handed with 88 percent of the vote in Massachusetts. And car or truck brands, alternatively than struggle the same struggle in 50 states, chose in its place to generate a memorandum of comprehension concerning by themselves and the aftermarket sector to make that facts out there nationwide.

But Timothy Winkeler, the president and CEO of VIP Tires & Services and the lead proponent for Maine Right to Repair service, explained the memorandum does not cover the wi-fi diagnostic information typical in more recent autos. The Massachusetts suitable to restore marketing campaign took the difficulty to the ballot box once more in 2020 and gained, and Winkeler hopes Maine will be the next condition to make this facts obtainable to independent repair shops.

“This is about consumer option,” he reported. “It’s about your potential to pick out who repairs your auto.”

Winkeler explained there has not been a lot strategizing on how to concept about the referendum, but imagines after it is accredited by the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, which he expects in January, posters will start out popping up in repair and sections shops advocating for the measure.

It is sure to fulfill resistance from the car production market. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, one particular of the major opponents of the Massachusetts referendum, sent out a memo outlining its arguments in opposition to the proposed Maine evaluate. It accuses the aftermarket field of going for a “data grab” that would allow for it to create qualified adverts toward car entrepreneurs. It also stated the evaluate is unwanted and could open cars up to cybersecurity threats.

The alliance’s resistance was so robust that automakers have been battling it in court for two yrs.

The Maine campaign could be highly-priced: The Massachusetts marketing campaign finance internet site reveals a collective $51.6 million on the referendum in 2020, with opposition somewhat outspending guidance. At the time it was projected to be the solitary most expensive ballot initiative in the state’s history, the Boston Globe documented.

A movement to block referendum paying out by firms with foreign backing has no organized resistance nevertheless.

One more referendum also will tackle an challenge gaining nationwide traction, but has roots in one of Maine’s most pricey ballot initiatives.

Avangrid, CMP’s parent company and subsidiary of Spain-dependent company Iberdrola, fueled most of the $17 million spent in the initial marketing campaign to block CMP’s hydropower corridor right before it was quashed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court docket. They and Hydro-Quebec also led opposition paying for the 2021 marketing campaign. NextEra, Calpine and Vistra — competing power providers — lead guidance expending.

Voters will possible be questioned to think about a evaluate that would ban foreign governments — like Quebec — from expending on Maine ballot initiatives. But supporters of the referendum will inform you the evaluate has minor to do with the corridor battle and much more about who must have political speech in Maine elections.

“I imagine Maine persons imagine their elections are for Mainers and for People to be concerned in,” stated Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, a main member of the ballot motion committee advocating for the referendum, Safeguard Maine Elections.

Bennett stated the referendum is aimed at closing a Maine campaign finance loophole that prevents organizations with overseas ownership from investing in candidate campaigns but not ballot initiatives. It is also an try to minimize the darkish cash — spent by particular nonprofit concern groups who are not essential to disclose their donors — in elections that make it more tough for voters to know who is influencing the messaging. 

Other states, together with California, Maryland and Colorado, have related laws. And Maine approximately handed the initiative in 2021 by the Legislature, but it was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills.

This marketing campaign has been rather quiet: Marketing campaign finance documents clearly show Guard Maine Elections has used about $467,000, with the lion’s share heading to staff prices. Its most important contributor is American Assure, a nonprofit advocating for additional regulation of political paying out. No committees have been fashioned to oppose the referendum.

There may not be structured resistance, but strong pursuits voiced opposition to the reform when proponents tried out to move a comparable measure by means of the Legislature. Main between them ended up Versant Ability, which is owned by a Canadian company, Hydro-Quebec, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Forest Solutions Council.

Quite a few of those entities will be major players in those referendums. Irrespective of whether they invest their electrical power on this 1 is nevertheless to be identified.

Pat Strauch, the executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, mentioned his group even now remembers the battles more than competing clear-cutting referendums in the 1990s, when environmentalists and forest products teams fought more than how to harvest timber in the North Woods. Neither possibility handed.

Strauch explained he does not strategy to be a guide opponent on the campaign finance issue yet, but noted the council’s membership is produced up of several entities with international possession who are investing in the field. How anxious they are about the referendum’s prospects might spur in their involvement, he reported.

“We want to make sure they have the means to guard their company interests,” he claimed.

Mark Brewer, a political scientist professor at College of Maine, mentioned all those passions may well not acquire out towards a message of trying to keep exterior political revenue out of politics, specially when some of individuals pursuits are not notably preferred.

“If you ended up likely to check with folks if overseas income ought to affect elections, they’d say no,” he mentioned.

A buyer-owned utility would improve Maine’s vitality landscape. Opponents want to defeat it or at minimum place up roadblocks to the sale.

As Mainers go on to see electrical power rates improve and their disappointment with their utilities carry on, a question of whether to build a purchaser-owned utility will probable be the most high-priced campaign this year.

Opponents and supporters of building a consumer-owned utility formed in early 2021, when previous Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, released a invoice to make that come about in the Legislature. The monthly bill handed as a result of both chambers but was vetoed by Mills. The investing kicked up in earnest last tumble, according to marketing campaign finance files.

Because then, $341,976 has been spent to help and $6.9 million to oppose the creation of the Pine Tree Electric power Company. Opposition paying is overwhelmingly coming from Avangrid and Enmax, Versant’s proprietor.

Also in participate in is a counter ballot evaluate that would involve voter acceptance for any govt bonding over $1 billion. Signatures for that have been submitted in late December.

But Willy Ritch, who helms No Blank Checks — a committee dedicated to selling that question — said that referendum is not nearly as large a priority as advocating towards the shopper-owned utility as a result of Maine Cost-effective Electricity Coalition, the Avangrid-funded committee Ritch also sales opportunities. No opposition has been formed versus that initiative.

“It’s just frequent sense,” Ritch reported. “Mainers need to be able to have the final say on how significantly money they are likely into credit card debt for.”

The client-owned utility dilemma is unquestionably high stakes: A certainly vote would generate a nonprofit run by a board of elected officials who would seek funding to get out CMP and Versant. The measure would very likely be challenged by these companies and be tied up in lawsuits for a long time.

That uncertainty could build issues for energy investments in the prolonged run, opponents say. It has brought with each other the Maine Point out Chamber of Commerce, a number of unions and mayors in opposition. 

BJ McCollister, a spokesperson for Enmax’s opposition committee, Maine Energy Progress, explained the coalition will be a solid asset going into the following calendar year. But the selling price tag related with the buyout is also a primary argument.

“There’s many good reasons to oppose this takeover, but we’re incredibly concentrated on the actuality that it is a $13.5 billion takeover,” he explained.

Supporters have argued the utilities are worth a quarter of that determine. They also say the No Blank Checks referendum will not have an affect on Pine Tree Ability simply because it will seek a various variety of bonding focused in the other evaluate.

But price tag is an important part of their argument, far too — Andrew Blunt, the government director of Our Energy, reported acquiring a nonprofit-run utility would eliminate the income motivations standard utilities have as aspect of their functioning needs and retain customers’ dollars inside of the state. He also said possessing a board with public meetings will continue to keep Pine Tree Energy extra transparent and accountable to prospects about their price, and allow for for superior financial commitment in electrical infrastructure.

And even though the superior expense of heating oil and electric power is hurting Mainers — a fee hike for the two Versant and CMP went into outcome this month — Sen. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, stated the economic climate drives that information household.

“The superior strength charges we’re experiencing are taking place now, not down the road,” she explained.

How a great deal the economic scenario improvements in the next year could drastically have an affect on voters’ look at on the referendum, Brewer stated. It could be ample, compounded with people’s continuing aggravation with Maine’s major utilities, to cinch a victory. But the complexity of the question — its laws is 15 web pages very long — could also operate against them in a referendum campaign.

As for no matter whether funds will make a distinction, Brewer said the lopsided investing in the CMP referendum demonstrates ad purchases can only go so considerably in successful public assist.

“Simply outspending your opponent doesn’t normally necessarily mean you are heading to acquire,” he explained. “If you are facing a circumstance in which just about every side is sufficiently funded to do what they require to do, it doesn’t make any difference who is investing far more at the conclude of the day.”


Caitlin Andrews handles point out govt for The Maine Monitor. Reach her with other story thoughts by e mail: [email protected]

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