I’m in favor of politicians telling lies.
Wait, that didn’t come out quite right.
While it’s true that candidates’ falsehoods, fibs, and fabrications make a columnist’s job easier, I could still eke out a living even if every pol in Maine suddenly became a fountain of factuality. That’s because most campaign discourse would still be laced with enough stupidity, ignorance, and arrogance to fill several volumes the size of the state budget.
Which, come to think of it, is itself a decent source of falsehoods, fibs, and fabrications.
So it’s not as if I’m defending untruthfulness simply to provide myself with job security. I have embarrassing video of the editor for that.
What I’m in favor of is letting candidates say whatever they want — true, false, or impossible to determine — and allowing voters to decide on its validity. It’s an odd concept found in the Bill of Rights called “freedom of speech.”
For more than a century and a half, this method of sorting the scummy from the scummier was standard procedure in Maine politics. It produced public servants such as Percival Baxter and Ed Muskie, as well as an entire political party whose name made it clear what it was offering: the Know-Nothings. Although today, I think they’re called Green Independents.
This system also gave us some schlubs, which is why the Legislature created the Joint Standing Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs, so the clunkheads would have someplace to play where they couldn’t hurt anyone.
That setup worked well enough, until the latter part of the 20th century, when somebody (possibly the Joint Standing Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs) decided that what this state needed was “ethics.”
At first, it seemed like an attractive concept. After all, who isn’t against stealing, cheating, and having sex with interns?
Aside from members of Congress, former presidents, and the occasional Clean Election candidate.
To make sure Maine had all the “ethics” it could stomach, the Legislature created the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and empowered it to enforce all kinds of silly laws.
In this way, the innocent voters were protected from Michael Mowles. In 2006, the ethics commission ruled that Mowles, a candidate for a state House seat in Cape Elizabeth, had violated the law by using two endorsements without the written consent of the endorsers.
Shocking, I know.
Mowles was running in the Republican primary against Jennifer “Fuddy” Duddy. He produced a campaign brochure, which included complimentary quotes from several people, among them GOP US senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Their statements were left over from Mowles’s 2004 run for the Legislature, and he added a notation (in small type) to that effect.
Duddy complained to the ethics commission that Mowles had re-used the quotes without getting fresh permission from Snowe and Collins, who don’t normally endorse candidates in primaries. The commissioners agreed and fined Mowles a buck. He appealed to Superior Court to overturn the commission’s ruling, but to no avail. Mowles, who had by then lost the primary, next took his case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that his free-speech rights had been abridged. On October 21, the court agreed and declared the law restricting the use of endorsements unconstitutional.