By Barry Matulaitis, Staff Editor
FARMINGTON — Instead of getting caught up in continual turf wars, the next governor of Maine must be proactive, said Sen. Majority Leader Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon) at a business roundtable Monday at Mt. Blue High School.
“In reality, we have to get over fighting over welfare,” he said. “It needs to be fixed, no question about it, but there’s so many other issues out there.
“The long and short of it is this: You need to be able to look at things from a new perspective. Stop fighting over scraps and look outward.”
Mason, one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, talked about various issues impacting the community with staff, students, and local business owners. He spoke of the citizen’s initiative process, and how he believes it is being used irresponsibly.
“We have put anything and everything on the ballot,” said Mason. He said if elected, he’d change the criteria for gathering signatures to make it more difficult to put a referendum question on the ballot.
Part of the problem as well, he noted, is that the lawyers wording the questions may not have looked at state laws or studied the issue at hand. The end result is often a question that asks legislators to enact an unconstitutional measure.
However, said teacher Dan Ryder, there are those defending the referendum system because they feel government isn’t hearing their voice any other way. Mason responded that at the ballot box, what people are voting on when they decide a referendum is a bill.
“There’s underlying legislation that you’re voting on that cannot be changed,” he said.
As an example, Mason pointed to ranked choice voting, which is unconstitutional in Maine. Yet, citizens passed a referendum in 2016 approving it.
“I voted no on ranked choice voting not because of my personal beliefs, but because it’s unconstitutional,” he said.
Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Wilton) pointed out that the driving force behind the ranked choice voting question was Gov. Paul LePage being elected two elections in a row with less than a majority of the vote.
“When you go through the normal course of legislation, you can change it until it’s palatable. You can’t do that with citizen’s initiatives,” said Mason.
He added, “I don’t think we should ban the citizen’s initiative process. It’s a worthy tool to fix legislative action or inaction. What I’m saying is it’s wrong the way it’s set up.”
The gathering discussed the recreational marijuana referendum that Maine voters passed in 2016. One of those who helped developed the referendum, John Black of Wilton, explained, “It’s getting everyone on the same page and regulating it (marijuana), which we should have done from the beginning.”
Mason referred to the current marijuana law as “a mess” and noted that the Maine Legislature’s action on it will depend on what happens with the federal government. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last week that the government will be cracking down on states that legalize recreational marijuana.
“To boil it down to a simple yes or no question on the ballot was the biggest mistake,” he said.
Mason said he didn’t thing the federal government should be regulating marijuana, that it should be a state issue.
“I think we need to have a broader discussion around taxation before we start implementing something like that,” he said. “This is a law that reaches its tentacles into so many areas of our government. Also, how are you going to run it parallel with the medical marijuana program?”
He pointed out that the opposition or approval of recreational marijuana use didn’t necessarily depend on what party someone was from.
Reducing regulation is one of Mason’s goals.
“I think some of the school construction laws are non-sensical and have a lot of nuance that’s unnecessary,” he said. “I think it needs to be looked at way closer than it already is.”
When asked about what state government could do to be more transparent, Mason pointed to www.maine.gov, which he said has done an “incredible job” of informing people about what’s going on with state government. “As technology grows, and as a state we get better at retaining digital information, that’s going to come naturally,” he said.
Mason noted there are some paper documents that are unique and can’t be converted to digital copies.
He said he was dismayed at the adversarial relationship between the governor’s office and the press. As governor, Mason said he would “just be approachable, be willing to carry a conversation and be respectful of your ability as a member of the press to report things accurately.”
Addressing Maine’s opioid crisis, Mason said the government can provide treatment and help, “but the real problem is there’s a hole. People are searching for something.”
He said, “We’ve become insular as a society, attached to a phone. You have to change societal norms and how people see each other. That needs to start locally and in the family structure itself.”
Mason mentioned drug use tends to increase in regions that are economically depressed.