Lynne Williams Interview

Lynne Williams on clean elections, tax reform, and Maine’s Green Party

Recently the
Maine Green Independent Party came out in opposition to House Speaker Hannah Pingree’s bill that would add new requirements to receive Clean Election Fund money. Proponents of the bill have said it keeps the system from becoming a “system of losers” and that a candidate is not viable if they “can’t raise $40,000”. Statements from Anna Trevorroe and yourself have categorized the bill as unfair and paradoxical. Could you please address some of the comments made by the bill’s supporters and those of the Green Party?

Anna’s and my comments speak for themselves. The paradox comes from the fact that the goal of passing Clean Elections was to open up the opportunity to run for office to a broader spectrum of candidates than just those who are either independently wealthy – we still get those, as you can see from the currently declared candidates – or connected to special interests and individuals with money – and we get those too. Yet Hannah Pingree herself admits that this “opening up” was not meant to include Greens and Independents when she “says the move was intended “to make the system more attractive for major-party candidates.”” The facts stated by the reporter, following this comment, are indicative of the hypocrisy of the Maine Democratic party and their leadership – “of the six gubernatorial contenders who have used Clean Election funding since the system was set up, three have been Republicans; one was an independent and two were Greens. No Democrats have used the system to run for governor.” Furthermore, it is the height of hypocrisy for Pingree to be testifying in Congress in favor of “clean elections,” when her own party does not even participate in the system at the statewide level.

That said, however, the statute has been changed and I will raise the required $40,000 of in-state funds and utilize that to continue to create the top-notch grassroots operation that we are putting together.

If everyone is not required to run as a clean election candidate is the system fair to begin with? Would it level the playing field or make it more uneven to make Maine elections 100% clean funded?

I am intrigued by your question about making everyone run as a Clean Elections candidate although I have not researched if that would pass muster on constitutional grounds. Campaign limits have been upheld, as have spending limits for publicly funded candidates and bans on corporate contributions, but I do not know where the courts would come down on requiring all campaigns to be publicly funded, and whether that has been tried before.

The term “clean election” gives a negative connotation to private funding. Even in this age of transparency, where any citizen can view a candidates fundraising reports, do you believe private funding is prone to outside influencing?

The current transparency level does make traditional funding less of an influence factor. What concerns me, however, more than the possible influence that one contributor alone could curry from the relatively small private contributions that are allowed is the “bundling” that goes on, in which a connected individual can make his or her individual contribution as well as collecting contributions from employees at his or her business, who often feel pressured to give. Also of concern is the fact that any time spent raising money takes the candidates away from meeting the voters, which should be the main activity of the candidate.

This week the Green Party join with Maine’s GOP in opposing the current tax reform plan, LD 1495. The MGIP has labeled the bill less progressive and likened it to a flat tax, launching a “No Flat Tax for ME” campaign. Maine Democrats responded to the Green Party’s move by saying, “Beginning in 2006 when John Eder’s reelection campaign accepted the help of Republican leader Josh Tardy, the Greens in Portland have moved closer to the Republican Party.” In the Portland Press Herald, House Majority Leader John Potti was quoted as saying, “The fact that we’re getting hit on both the right and the left confirms it’s good middle-of-the-road policy.” What is your opinion of the current tax reform plan? What do you make of the Democrats anger at the Green Party’s opposition? Is the Green Party cozying up the Maine GOP, moving further left, or do the Dems just not have the Green Party pegged?

With regard to the people’s veto campaign against the Tax Reform Bill, it is not surprising that my party supports the repeal. We support progressive taxation, and increasing the sales tax, particularly on activities that are neither discretionary nor mostly engaged in by out-of-staters, is not progressive. Likewise, the decrease in the highest marginal tax bracket does nothing to help those same folks who will be most hurt by the sales tax increase, since few of them are in the highest marginal tax bracket and many of them pay no state income taxes at all. This so-called “tax reform” is in actuality a tax increase for those who can least afford it.

There was one aspect of the original bill that I supported and that was the increase in the real estate transfer tax. Yet that tax increase, which was small and usually paid only a few times by any given individual, when they buy or sell real estate, was removed from the final bill. It was at that time that I personally decided that I could not support the bill.

John Piotti’s comment suggests that he does not know the nature of coalition-building. Coalitions are frequently temporary arrangements whereby various coalition members work together towards a common goal. The Maine Green Independent Party worked with the Maine Heritage Policy Center on the signature drive to repeal forced school consolidation. Now we find ourselves once again agreeing on our opposition to the so-called tax reform bill, although our reasoning may be different. Mr. Piotti’s statement says more about who the Maine Democratic Party considers to be its constituency and that is certainly not the working people of this state. If my party and the Maine Republican Party agree on this issue, great. There will be many things coming up that we will disagree on. There is a reason that the word “Independent” is included in our name.

My last comment segues into my next. The Green Party throughout the country, including our Maine Green Independent Party, operates according to our Ten Key Values – Social Justice, Ecological Wisdom, Non-violence, Decentralization, Community-based Economics, Feminism, Diversity, Responsibility, Future Focus. Those values guide our decisions about what issues to support, what to oppose, what to propose, and what candidates to support. Unlike the major parties in this country, we take no PAC money, so we are free of corporate pressure. Just a cursory reading of the struggles to pass health care reform on a national level shows that the impact of corporations, and corporate contributions, is tremendous and can stall any reform that suggests to these corporations that they will lose power and influence, along with profits.

Coinciding with the Green Party’s statement on tax reform, former gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche published an editorial in the Bangor Daily News asking people to reconsider voting Green. All of these recent maneuvers seem to be part of a concerted effort to bring the Green Party to the forefront of state politics. Third parties in general have struggled to provide a viable alternative and combat the “spoiler effect” many voters feel third parties create. Is the Maine Green Party a viable alternative to Maine’s Democratic candidates? Can we say that the Green Party is trying to out-progressive the progressives?

We are fighting the power structure in this state. Democrats who consider themselves good liberal environmentalists are forcing huge industrial developments on rural Maine communities. The Democratic-controlled legislature recently tried to pass numerous bills that would have stripped local communities of their authority to even approve, much less site, such projects. The Democratic-controlled legislature passed forced school consolidation in the dark of night without any public hearings throughout the state, and our rural communities are suffering financially from this ill-advised legislation.

Our goal is to present the Maine Green Independent Party as a viable alternative to the major parties – we are not left or right, but out front. Some of our ideas may sit well with conservatives, and some will sit well with liberals. We are developing an extensive grassroots network throughout the state and my campaign is focusing heavily on the rural communities. I have been working with these communities to fight back the power establishment in this state, which is heavily tied into the Democratic party. Most importantly, my campaign and our party stand for a philosophy that believes that people are more important than profit. That is what will eventually bring us to the forefront.

Lynne Williams, a resident of Bar Harbor, is running for the Maine Green Independent Party’s nomination for Governor. Williams is also an attorney and serves on the Bar Harbor planning board.

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