States Set Ballot Fights: Maine to Vote on Casino

 

In a vote that both sides say could shape the future of Maine's failing economy, residents will say go or no to letting two Indian tribes build a casino. A Nov. 4 ballot question has sparked a debate over whether Maine's image should be about green or greenery.

Think About It, a pro-gambling group, promises the casino will create 10,000 jobs, boost tax revenue and help reduce a state budget shortfall of $100-million plus. The Passamaquody Tribe and Penobscot Nation want to build the multi-million dollar casino in Sanford, an industrial town 90 miles north of Boston.

Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Casinos No!, a group that has raised $2.5 million to fight the casino initiative, said, "It may produce some jobs, but these jobs come at a high cost to Maine's reputation and image, with the crime and corruption they'll bring. I don't buy the argument this will be our economic savior. It will be even harder to attract the types of jobs we need."

Recent polls make it look like those rolling the dice on the casino are about to crap out. A public opinion poll conducted Oct. 20-23 by Portland's Strategic Marketing Services found 63.2 percent opposed the casino plan.

Approving the casino would signify a departure from Maine's manufacturing roots and its image as an environmentally-friendly bucolic state, said Amy Fried, a political scientist at the University of Maine.

Maine's economy has suffered the flight of manufacturing jobs overseas this year. Unemployment rates have held steady at 4.9 percent since July with largest job losses in the manufacturing sector, state officials said.

The gambling debate has divided residents based on their age, income and how long they've lived in the state. Newer Maine residents are more opposed to the casino, said pollster Patrick Murphy of Strategic Marketing Services.

Also opposed are older, high-income and highly-educated people. Residents of northern and central Maine have shown more support for the casino than other regions, based on the random survey of 400 voters statewide with a margin of error of plus or minus four.

Maine voters also will consider whether to approve slot machines at horse racetracks with proceeds going toward lowering prescription drug costs for the elderly and disabled.

A statewide gambling referendum in Colorado, on allowing video lottery machines at dog and horse tracks, has set a record for most expensive ballot measure in state history. Campaigns on both sides have raised $7.5 million combined.

A list of Nov. 4 statewide ballot measures is available in this document.

Voters' decisions on ballot questions will translate into new state laws and constitutional changes, with consequences for water projects and criminal proceedings.

Pennsylvania's ballot questions are aimed at letting children testify through videotaped statements or closed-circuit televisionwhich is already the law in 35 states.

Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, a former Allegheny County prosecutor, said she saw firsthand children's trauma in facing their abuser in open court and has urged voters to support the constitutional change. Defense attorneys have sued to stop the Nov. 4 vote, saying the measures' effects would be too broad and cover even adults' testimony.

Voters passed a similar measure by a 3-to-1 margin in 1995, but it was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which advised the legislature to break the issue into two questions.

Every state has some form of legislative referendum process which lets the legislature place issues on the ballot, but only 24 states allow an initiative process in which citizens can collect signatures to place advisory questions or constitutional amendments on the ballot. Twenty-four states allow popular referendum, when the people can refer, by collecting signatures on a petition, legislation enacted by their legislature for the people to accept or reject.

Off-year elections usually lack a large number of ballot measures, and this year only 19 will be decided. Odd-year ballot questions are only allowed in five of the 24 states that have an initiative process: Mississippi, Ohio, Washington, Maine and Colorado.

On Nov. 4, Ohio voters will consider a ballot question on supporting biomedical research and New Jersey residents will decide whether to pay for repairing dams. Washington voters will choose whether to repeal an ergonomics rule in place since 2000.

 
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