The Universal Notebook: King Paul v. Queen Janet

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Just as I had to hold my nose to vote for Mike Michaud for governor in 2014 because of his history of voting against gay rights, I will probably have to choke down a vote in 2022 for Gov. Janet Mills.

She is giving liberal Democrats lots of reasons to stay home. 

In 2019, Mills vetoed three bills aimed at keeping Central Maine Power Co. from ramming its so-called Clean Energy Corridor through the Maine countryside and down the throats of Maine consumers: 

• LD 1363 would have required electric companies to secure the approval of two-thirds of municipalities along the path of a proposed transmission line. Local control is a Maine virtue.

• LD 1383 would have required local government approval before a power company could take property by eminent domain. Ditto.

• And worst of all, Mills vetoed LD 640, which would have required an independent environmental impact study of CMP’s New England Clean Energy Connect, a project to bring dirty hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts through Maine. 

Former Gov. Paul LePage would have vetoed all three of those bills, too. Very scary.

Of course, the whole idea of a veto is wrong. There is nothing democratic about allowing one person to thwart the will of the people. Neither LePage nor Mills knows better than the Maine people what Mainers want or need.

LePage, who ruled by force, vetoed a record 642 bills – 173 more than the previous 23 governors combined. He didn’t care what the people or their elected representatives wanted; he was the boss and a lousy one at that.

LePage, however, was largely vetoing bills his supporters opposed. Mills, on the other hand, has vetoed bills passed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature. Lots of Mainers who voted for Mills, for instance, also signed petitions to put public power on the ballot.

In keeping with her pro-CMP corporate agenda, Mills just vetoed LD 1708, a bill that would have allowed us to vote on whether to replace CMP with Pine Tree Power, a public utility. I have no problem with the governor coming out in opposition to Pine Tree Power, but for her to say that the people of Maine, 75 percent of whom support public power, cannot even vote on it could cost her votes, and maybe the 2022 election. 

In her veto letter, Mills acknowledged that “the performance of our investor-owned utilities in recent years has been abysmal” and that “change is necessary,” but she found LD 1708 poorly worded.

“It has been said to me that this is not truly a question of whether Maine needs a consumer-owned utility,” Mills said, “but rather, of whether I will let the voters decide.”

Bingo! While Mills believes Mainers elected her “to evaluate policy matters in a fair and thoughtful way and to take steps (that) are in the best interest of Maine people,” I do not believe anyone elected Janet Mills to be queen, ruling by fiat. Her new Office of Policy Innovation and the Future should be developing a plan to create Pine Tree Power.

If her veto of LD 1708 were an isolated action, I might buy some of her veto rationale, but Mills’ consistent support for CMP and opposition to the will of the people is deeply troubling. If every referendum question had to be perfectly written public policy we wouldn’t need the executive, the Legislature, or the judiciary. 

Whether we end up being ruled by Queen Janet or King Paul, we will be voting on public power one way or another.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.