Mainers have been justly proud of their political culture which, compared to other parts of the country, has been remarkably civil, featuring lawmakers who often seem more interested in finding solutions that help the state's people, than getting caught up in partisan death matches, hyperbolic assertions, outright lies, and appeals to humanity's worst instincts. Augusta has many problems, to be sure, but nothing like those in Albany, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C.
But in recent years the worst pathologies of national politics -- elections awash in a sea of soft, difficult-to-trace soft money, the drafting of bills and gubernatorial policy being outsourced directly to corporate lobbyists and special interest think tanks, legislative initiatives that represent the interests of campaign donors rather than voters -- have infected the state. Gov. Paul LePage's administration has been a vector for some of the worst viruses, but plenty of others were quietly metastasizing in the body politic during the Democrats' long watch. Read more »
What is left, then, is immigration, both from within the borders of the U.S. and from outside America. Strip away any other humanitarian and ethical reasons for Mainers to become more welcoming and engaging toward American and foreign immigrants and you get perhaps the most appealing argument to beat back the paranoia and fear that is unbefitting for a state and country that have such a good track record of assimilation: It's in our collective self-interest that those "from away" are successful. And it seems to me the best way to encourage success is engagement, not ostracism.
The League of Young Voters has succeeded in placing a referendum on the ballot on whether to allow legal, non-citizen immigrants to vote in Portland's municipal elections.
This is a big accomplishment for The League, and the time and effort that went into gathering more than 4,500 verified signatures is impressive.
For the fall campaign, the main factors they'll be working against are general anti-immigrant sentiment, confusion over documented vs. undocumented immigrants (the law would only apply to those in the country legally) and some misconception about how our immigration system works.
Many will ask "Why don't they just become citizens if they want to vote?" But the way our immigration system is structured, that's not nearly as easy as it sounds.
Here's a flowchart from Reason Magazine that lays things out pretty well (click to enlarge):
Even if you're the spouse of a U.S. citizen and are living in this country, your best case scenario for gaining citizenship is a wait of six or seven years.
If you came to this country because you're a highly-educated specialist and have a U.S. employer willing to pay up to $10,000 in legal and other fees to gain entry for you (and everything else goes right), your time to immigrate and gain citizenship will be 11 to 16 years.
So, even if these people are taking the quickest routes possible towards citizenship, for most of these extended periods they are living in, paying taxes to, and sending their kids to school in municipalities where they don't have a voice in their government.
A final misconception is that this referendum would give new immigrants a vote in state or national elections. It won't. If the law passes, non-citizens aren't going to be voting on issues of war and peace, they'll be involved in local zoning regulations and school board elections, areas that are often cited as not garnering enough civic participation.
It will be interesting to see what kinds of messages come out of this campaign. The level of discourse will tell us a lot about the state of immigrant and racial politics in the city of Portland and the state of Maine.