The DI Report: On the Ground in Maine Vol. 2: Organizing for Accountable Elections in the Pine Tree State

Monday, November 2, 2015

“We have the opportunity to show the country that getting money out of politics is a moral issue; that ordinary people deserve the opportunity to run for office without having to rely on wealthy donors and special interests.” —Joan Saxe, Sierra Club Maine Chapter





Joan Saxe (left), Sierra Club Maine Chapter volunteer leader, and a volunteer speaking to Mainers about accountable elections.

Next Tuesday, November 3rdcitizens across the state of Maine will head to the polls and vote on Question 1 to restore and re-establish accountable elections to counteract the role of big money in state races, while putting Mainers in control of their elections and giving them an equal voice in the political process.

The Democracy Initiative recognizes that working to restore Maine’s clean elections could provide a crucial win in our efforts to build a strong, healthy democracy. Working with the Yes on 1 Campaign we recruited Democracy Initiative endorsing organizations to lend their resources to the effort. The Sierra Club answered the call, encouraging their local members and activists to join the tele town hall and enlisted their help with canvassing, organizing, and other activities throughout the state over the last couple of months.

Last week, we spoke with CWA organizer Serina DeWolfe of CWA Local 1400 about her reflections on the work to restore accountable elections in Maine. In this week’s installment of the DI Report, we had the opportunity to speak with Joan Saxe, Sierra Club Maine Chapter volunteer leader about her on-the-ground efforts. Continue reading for Joan’s reflections on the campaign in its final week before the election.

Democracy Initiative (DI): Why are accountable elections important to the Sierra Club? Why do you care about passing the ballot initiative?

Joan Saxe (JS): Fair elections counter big money from fossil fuels, polluters, and lobbyists who all overshadow the interests of real people protecting the environment. Voters need to know where the funds are coming from so they can be better informed. Special interests are able to have outsized control over the legislature, not just on environmental issues, but on all issues that are affecting our citizens. We need to know who is influencing our vote and our elected leaders.

DI: Why do accountable elections matter for our democracy?

JS: Our founding fathers intended for government to be of, by, and for the people, and all citizens must have the opportunity to be heard. We need to know who is paying the bills and hold politicians accountable for their actions. If we have the opportunity to know where campaign money comes from, it makes a huge difference.

More and more, Mainers have been able to run for office representing all citizens, not just big money, which will allows us to have better environmental and health policies. There are great examples where we have been able to pass great legislation on environmental and health issues since 1996, when the first accountable elections bill was passed. We are extremely proud of our citizens’ legislature and ordinary people are able to run as a result. That’s the way it should work.

DI: How does it help your organization to work with other Democracy Initiative organizations on issues like accountable elections in Maine? 

JS: As John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” and we can apply his strong sense of interconnectedness to building this cross-cutting movement. When we march in New York, we heighten the value of this effort in Maine, and when we pass clean elections in Maine, it will prove to be a model for other states. This is a great opportunity for the Sierra Club to help unite movements across the country. It’s all connected.

DI: How does the campaign in Maine impact other states and America as a whole?

JS: The whole country is watching us – Maine is the model for clean elections. We hear the candidates for president talking about the need for clean elections. Americans are concerned and aware of our crisis. We have the opportunity to show the country that getting money out of politics is a moral issue, that ordinary people deserve the opportunity to run for office without having to rely on wealthy donors and special interests.