The hold-back of land bond funds defies a voter mandate, say a former commissioner and deputy commissioner.
By Richard B. Anderson and Mark Sullivan
Portland Press Herald op-ed
Next to its people, Maine’s bounty of natural resources is our state’s greatest asset. For more than a quarter-century, the Land for Maine’s Future Program, with overwhelming public approval, has successfully protected over half-a-million acres of our most precious lands for recreation, conservation and agricultural uses. It has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government and private donors with state bonds that Maine voters have approved by wide margins.
But in recent years, Gov. Paul LePage has defied that voter mandate by refusing to release bond funds and interfering in the nonpartisan process that the Legislature established to manage LMF decision-making. His actions threaten to undermine one of Maine’s most successful, revered conservation initiatives and, perhaps of even greater significance, upend our state’s democratic process.
We must confess that we are more than disinterested bystanders. Under Democratic Gov. Joseph Brennan, we both worked on the 1986 commission that recommended LMF’s creation and the first bond issue to provide funds for the program. The next year, Republican Gov. John McKernan signed the law establishing Land for Maine’s Future, and on Nov. 3, 1987, 65 percent of Maine’s voters approved a $35 million bond issue, the first of six all approved by 58 percent or more of the voters.
Over the next 28 years, LMF provided funds crucial to the protection of some 560,000 acres of conservation and recreation lands, including 315,000 acres of working lands that remain in private ownership with permanent conservation agreements. A 2012 study showed that every $1 that LMF invested in land conservation returned $11 in goods and services to Maine’s economy.
Angus King, now a U.S. senator, was a member of the 1986 commission, one of the most outspoken advocates for its recommendations and, as a two-term independent Maine governor, a tireless promoter of LMF’s mission. Reflecting in 1998 on one of LMF’s most extraordinary conservation projects, he eloquently summed up what the program says about Mainers’ connection with and commitment to our natural heritage:
“Someday, 50 or 100 years from now, a family will come ashore at Mount Kineo, camp, spend the night, see the sun rise over that remarkable feature, and they won’t know us, they won’t remember our names, but they will experience something that is – to say ‘uplifting’ is an understatement – it’s the essence of our humanity and our relationship to the land and to nature.”
In a recent Bangor Daily News op-ed, former Maine Conservation Commissioner Dick Barringer, also a member of the 1986 commission, and former state Rep. Sherry Huber, R-Falmouth, summed up LMF’s accomplishments over the past nearly three decades.
They also made a most compelling case about why the governor’s persistence in ignoring the voters’ will is about more than his determination to undermine LMF:
“What is at stake is the kind of government we wish to have in Maine, the standard of conduct we expect of our political leaders, the question of whose abiding will is to prevail in Maine politics – that of the citizenry and voters, or that of a temporary occupant of the Blaine House? Governors learn from one another. If this is what we want and will allow, this is what we will get – only more of it down the road.”
Envisioned under a Democratic governor, brought to fruition under a Republican governor and championed by an independent governor, LMF has a remarkable political pedigree. But more important, it is an extraordinary exemplar of our democratic process working at its best.
As Republican state Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta said at a news conference introducing bipartisan legislation to override the governor’s use of LMF as “political bargaining chips”: “No one, including a governor, ought to have the right to be able to veto what the citizens of Maine do at the ballot box.”
About the Authors: Richard B. Anderson, former commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, chaired the 1986 Governor’s Commission on Outdoor Recreation in Maine. Mark Sullivan, former deputy conservation commissioner, was executive director of the 1986 commission.