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Maine GOP Platform Rejects Same-Sex Marriage, Public Campaign Financing

At their convention in Bangor, Maine Republicans are supporting a petition drive to force a vote on legislation reforming the state’s welfare system while reducing taxes. Their platform also rejects two ballot initiatives that Maine voters have already approved.

The party launched the welfare reform petition drive last fall but fell short of the nearly 62,000 signatures needed to force lawmakers to consider it this year. The petition drive is continuing, with a goal of getting the question on the ballot next year.

Party Chairman Rick Bennett, House Republican Leader Ken Fredette and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew held a round-table to talk about the proposal. Bennett says the petition drive will be part of many candidates’ campaigns.

“You start circulating petitions with statutory changes on them you’ve got to be able to talk about them and tell them why that’s important,” says Bennett.

The first part of the proposal would ask voters to gradually reduce the state’s top income tax rate to 4% over four years. The second part calls for a series of changes to welfare policy such as requiring drug testing for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and instituting stronger work requirements. Bennett notes that under the process lawmakers would consider the changes, and if they reject them, then voters get to decide the issue.

Says Bennett, “We hope that we will elect a Republican majority in the House and Senate and they will enact these common sense reforms and we won’t need the referendum, but it is there as a backstop and to remind people, in all candor, that Republicans and Democrats differ.”

That point was underscored when the party changed its platform to oppose public financing of elections, under the so-called clean elections system. Several delegates, including state representative Larry Lockman of Amherst spoke against the current law.

“Limousine liberals like Justin Alfond can help themselves to candidate welfare and it’s time for the Republican party to shut it down,” Lockman says. Alfond is the senate minority leader, a Democrat representing Portland.

Others in the party noted that many Republicans have used the clean elections system. In fact over half of all GOP candidates this year are getting public financing. Timothy Lawrence, a delegate from Pittston, says, “We need to understand the Maine Clean Elections Act did not come down from the ether, it was passed by Maine voters 56% – 20 years ago.”

Lawrence notes that they approved it again with some changes last November.

The convention also stood by language in the platform defining marriage as between one man and one woman, ignoring Maine voters’ approval of gay marriage and the United Sates Supreme Court ruling last year upholding same sex marriage. A group of delegates tried to remove that language from the platform.

One of them is Amanda Allen, from Penobscot County. Allen says, “I oppose this amendment because I think people should be able to marry who they love.”

But supporters of the one man one woman definition argued that it is ‘the foundation of civil society’ and delegates agreed.

Rep. Ken Fredette, the convention chair, called for a voice vote, saying, “All those opposed will do so by saying nay. In the opinion of the chair the nays have it.”

Party Chairman Bennett downplayed the two votes saying the platform is not binding on any Republican and that Republicans have differing views on both of the issues.

“I don’t expect all republicans as you heard on the voice votes there was some significant dissensions on both of those issues,” says Bennett. “Our party is a broad party; we’ve got people with a wide spectrum of views.”

The party convention continues Saturday with a formal election of 12 delegates pledged to Ted Cruz, 9 to Donald Trump and 2 to John Kasich. Nearly 200 signed up to run for those positions. Delegates will also hear from Sen. Susan Collins, Congressman Bruce Poliquin and Governor Paul LePage.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.