Guns and money and bears … and pot … oh my!

Phil: Have you noticed there seems to be a high number of possible referendums coming down the electoral pike?

Ethan: I have. From guns, to bear trapping, to Clean Elections funding, to legalizing marijuana, Mainers will likely be debating many questions in 2014.

Phil: How about we get started on the debate? I assume you’re in favor of the possible referendum question to eliminate concealed carry permits?

Ethan: I’m with law enforcement on this one, no way.

Phil: The distinction here is important. Citizens don’t need a permit to carry a gun; they only need a permit to conceal it from public view. Like you, I’m not supporting this referendum because law enforcement needs the ability to assess if someone seeking a concealed weapon permit has a criminal background or mental health issues.

Ethan: Agree with you there. If you want to carry a gun, don’t hide it. If you want to hide it, get a permit. How about bear trapping? Animal rights groups are trying to stop the use of bait, dogs, or traps to hunt bear.

Phil: This is a re-run campaign from 2004 when it lost, 53 to 47 percent. Sportsmen will have to dispel the perception that attracting bear is un-sportsperson like. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t see referendums regarding attractions or traps for coyote or fish?

Ethan: Having never been a hunter, it is beyond me how someone sees it as a challenge or thrill to trap a bear or tree it with dogs and then simply shoot the animal.

Phil:  I’m not a bear hunter, but perhaps listening to sportsmen would be enlightening.

Ethan: Those who support bear trapping unfortunately did an incredible job in 2004 convincing everyone that ending the practice was a safety problem for southern Maine and would cost jobs in northern Maine. Although neither was true, those opposed will have to find an answer to counter those arguments.

Phil: How about the likely referendum on welfare for politicians?

Ethan: You mean “Clean Elections.”

Phil: No, I mean welfare for politicians. It hasn’t made our elections any “cleaner” since it was put into law in the 1990s.

Ethan: Well, then you should support this referendum. It will strengthen the law by banning those who use Clean Election funds from having privately funded political action committees.

Phil: Actually, all it will do is open up the state checkbook to bigger taxpayer subsidies. You know how the game works: so-called “clean” candidates take taxpayer dollars to run their campaign, and then they raise money from special interest groups to spend on other campaigns. What an insult to taxpayers.

Ethan: Well, as I said, this referendum ends the practice of having a leadership PAC while also getting public funds. What’s your answer to getting big money out of politics?

Phil: For me, “big money” would include troops of “volunteers” knocking on doors in support of or to defeat a candidate. It would also include “in-kind” services like political analysis and computer data mining. How do you account for these assets that also influence election outcomes?

Ethan: Same way. If money is used to buy them, limit the money. How about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana? There is talk of doing a statewide referendum.

Phil: Perhaps we should demand that our congressional delegation bring a bill to the floor of Congress to legalize marijuana? For Maine to pass a law in direct conflict with federal law is not a law people should live by with certainty.

Ethan: To be honest, I am a little slow to the table of acceptance on this issue. Many of my progressive friends disagree, but I see so much abuse and addiction among friends, family and the students I serve that I am hard pressed to think it’s a good idea to make it more accessible.

Phil: Whether it’s your students or baby boomers, the facts are marijuana is being consumed in mass quantities and enriching people who get paid in cash and pay no income taxes. Meanwhile people like you and me are paying their share of operating our debt-ridden government.

Ethan: I get the sense that you are in favor of legalization?

Phil: I’m not sure, but I do know that a debate might bring us to a place where it would be outlawed across the land or made legal and regulated. It’s time we had that conversation.

Ethan: Fair enough. Another gun referendum that might get on the ballot is requiring background checks on the purchase of firearms. This one has about 85 percent support.

Phil: I’m trying to figure out a way to make this universal, so a background check can be easy and inexpensive whether you buy a gun at LL Bean, through Uncle Henry’s or from a relative. Unfortunately, I believe people with criminal intent will find a way to avoid the law, no matter what.

Ethan: By definition, criminals avoid laws. But the answer to that problem isn’t getting rid of the law. “Since people rob banks, I guess we should eliminate laws against bank robbery!”

Phil: I get your point. The difference here is that law abiding citizens honoring their constitutional rights are impacted by your well-intended law. Meanwhile criminals will carry on.

Ethan: Well, if by “impacted” you mean I need to go to my local gun dealer to make sure the person who wants my gun passes a background check, I guess that is an impact I am willing to bear to make it harder for criminals to purchase guns.

Phil: Well, suffice it to say, there will be a lot to talk about in the coming year as we get to debate all these issues and more. If nothing else, these folks are keeping political analysts like us relevant on the opinion page.