Down East 2013 ©
There’s a bigger threat to Maine than even the current state of the economy and the job market. Even if the economy improves quickly, Maine’s slow population growth and aging demographics portend a future of increased costs of social services and a declining workforce to pay for them. Unless all the old folks to move out (I hear Florida is nice), we'll likely need more immigrants.
State Senator Justin Alfond recently submitted a bill that could help.
LD 1195 is a bill that will allow towns and cities in Maine to choose to allow immigrants who are not yet citizens to vote in local elections, giving them more of a stake in their community and making it more likely that they’ll become involved in a positive way in their town and our state.
I have a bit of personal experience with this issue. During the six years I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was deeply involved in community issues. I helped found a 20,000-member municipal interest group, drafted policy on crime, violence, transportation and housing and met frequently with the mayor and city councilors. My ability to participate ended at the ballot box, however. Not being able to take part in the most fundamental aspect of local decision-making was always a reminder that my real home was elsewhere.
My girlfriend is a Canadian citizen now living in Maine and is one of those health care professionals our state needs more of. She was heavily recruited to come to this state and cares a great deal about her new neighborhood and community. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to let her vote for the school board.
Opponents of this legislation have been very vocal, and their arguments against the bill come from a legitimate sense of the importance of American democracy. I would join them in opposition if this bill was to allow foreign nationals to vote on issues of defense or foreign policy, but it’s not. It’s about allowing an underrepresented group of Maine residents to have a voice in whether they can walk their dog on the beach after 7pm or whether the school their children attend will be consolidated with a neighboring district.
Some argue that those who want to participate in local democracy should first become American citizens. That’s something that’s easier said than done. Even if you’re a spouse or child of an American citizen, the best case scenario is a wait of six or seven years, according to the Foundation for American Policy.
If you don’t have a close relative that's a citizen or a lawful permanent resident, the process is much more difficult. Even if an immigrant is highly educated and has an important skill that Maine could use, he or she must find an employer that's willing to offer them a job as well as pay $10,000 in legal and other fees and might have to be willing to wait six to ten years before their new employee is actually cleared to start working. Even if all that falls into place, the total time for a motivated, skilled immigrant to become a citizen is 11 to 16 years.
Those are the best case scenarios. Without a close American relative or a highly marketable skill, citizenship is almost completely out of reach.
Mainers are proud of our fabled history of town hall meetings and our unique focus on local civic participation, and yet we've fallen behind other jurisdictions like Chicago and Maryland in including new immigrants in the local democratic process.
We need immigrants to survive as a state. We need local participation in order to have strong communities.
In other Maine political news this week...
Get ready for some political gamesmanship and some difficult policy decisions as the legislatures seeks to close a giant new budget hole .
TABOR is back and as contentious as ever .
Anti-tax tea parties  were held all over Maine.
Groups of activists brought blueberry pies  to congressional offices.
The medical marijuana measure is headed to the ballot  in November.
All eyes will be on the same-sex marriage hearing  this Wednesday.
Legislators still haven't figured out how to pay for Dirigo Health .
Susan Collins was declared the Senate's "greenest Republican ."
She spent the week jetting around Europe and Russia .
Peter Vigue is continuing his shadow campaign  for governor in 2010.