2013-11-22 / Columns

Politics & other Mistakes

Divided hearts
By Al Diamon

Warning: The following proposal is probably unconstitutional. Implementing it could have unpleasant consequences, including, but not limited to, electoral irregularity, inability to digest change and death at the polls.

It’s also possible it could have no impact at all. If, after reading this column, you experience an erection lasting more than four hours, you probably have a pathological attachment to political speculation and should get psychological help.

Unless you’re female, in which case you have an altogether different problem.

Given the dire consequences associated with this idea, it might be wise to discuss the issues it’s intended to address, before laying out the radical treatment that may be needed to mitigate the damage.

To put the matter as simply as possible: people who live in urban areas have little understanding or interest in the difficulties confronting folks who live in rural places.

Conversely, rural residents have no sympathy for their big city counterparts’ tendency to embrace sweeping solutions to dilemmas that don’t affect less populated regions.

For these reasons, there have been longstanding and growing tensions between city slickers and country bumpkins that have led to unwise and unworkable attempts to separate the two factions.

In Colorado, five counties voted this month to secede and form their own state, which would be the size of Vermont, but with a population smaller than Bangor’s.

In Arizona, the state’s south wants to break away from the Phoenix-dominated north. California has seen moves to split itself into as many as four states. In Florida, Michigan and New York there have been serious attempts at division.

Here in Maine, numerous divisive initiatives have surfaced, starting in 1820 when the entire territory split from Massachusetts. In 2005, a guy in Lewiston proposed making Maine an independent nation.

In 2007, then-Mayor James Soule of South Portland (later revealed to be a Zumba enthusiast) called for Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties to secede and form their own state. In 2010, then- state Rep. Henry Joy of Crystal introduced a bill to spin off the southern third of the state and christen it “Northern Massachusetts.”

In reality, a divided Maine would result in two states with limited options and lousy economies. To survive, the north needs the south’s tax base and growing business sector. To proper, the south needs the north’s raw materials and recreational opportunities. But neither one needs the other imposing unworkable, outdated or expensive mandates, something both southern liberals and northern conservatives are wont to do more often than either will admit.

At the moment, the south has the edge in this power struggle. Because the Legislature is apportioned by population, there are a lot more senators and representatives elected from the area between York and Augusta than are chosen in the vast territory between the state capital and Canada. As a result, policies on education, environmental protection, economic development and social services reflect the priorities of the south more strongly than those of the north. This means that one of the few indicators that’s on the rise in rural Maine is disgruntlement.

It wasn’t always that way. For the first century and a half of the state’s existence, the rural north ran the show thanks to a state constitution that gave each of Maine’s 16 counties, regardless of population, two state senators.

That put places like Piscataquis County (population: rapidly approaching zero) on equal footing with Cumberland County (where Styrofoam may soon be illegal and pot may not).

Then came the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1964 “One Man, One Vote” ruling that said all electoral districts (except, notably, those for U.S. senators) had to be of equal population. Overnight, the south seized control, and the north became increasingly alienated.

It’s time to partially reverse that process.

Maine should amend its constitution to grant each county one state senator. The remaining 19 senators would be chosen from districts apportioned according to the number of people living there, just as they are now.

This would result in a subtle shift of the state’s power center from the south to the north, with perhaps four or five more senators representing the interests of rurality than we have now.

If this came to pass, northern Maine would feel more respected. Southern Maine would feel less entitled. For anything to get done, there’d have to be more cooperation.

Change would occur more slowly, which – given our experience with school consolidation, jail consolidation and Dirigo Health – might not be such a bad thing.

Of course, the feds will probably have a few legal qualms about this arrangement. If the bureaucrats in Washington get too pushy, we’ll need to find that guy from Lewiston who wanted Maine to become an independent nation. His time may finally have come.

Comments, divisive and derisive, can be emailed to me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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