The past several months on campus have been abuzz with talk of local Maine elections and get-out-the-vote initiatives. On November 7, Bates students and Maine residents rushed to the polls to vote on the local mayoral election, an initiative to merge Lewiston and Auburn into one city, along with other statewide initiatives.
One of the most significant statewide ballot initiatives, which was ultimately passed, was Question 2, titled “Medicaid Expansion Initiative.” Since being approved by the electorate, this measure will “require the state to provide Medicaid through MaineCare for persons under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line,” according to Ballotpedia.
The New York Times reports that this initiative will make over 70,000 Mainers eligible for Medicaid and will specifically help hospitals and patients in rural areas of the state. Maine is the first state where the expansion of Medicaid was decided by a referendum vote and not by legislators or governors. The success of the ballot question is particularly pertinent given the ongoing efforts of Republicans and the Trump Administration to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act.
According to the Sun Journal, the ballot question received a comfortable majority of nearly 60 percent, yet there is reason to believe its implementation may be stagnant. Governor Paul LePage, who spoke against the initiative from the beginning, immediately said he would not implement Medicaid expansion until it received full funding from the Legislature. This statement has prompted Democrats in the Legislature state that they will tirelessly fight any obstruction to implementing the referendum. Republicans in the Legislature, meanwhile, have stated that they will respect the decision of the voters but will neither increase taxes nor dip into Maine’s rainy day funds to pay for the initiative.
According to the Beacon, it was Governor LePage’s vetoes on past health care legislation that prompted Mainers for Health Care, the organization who spearheaded the “Yes on Question 2” campaign, to go out and collect signatures to put the question of Medicaid to a popular vote.
Here at Bates, many students and faculty alike have had mixed reactions to seeing this initiative passed. Megan Currie ’19, President of the Bates College Democrats, said it “was heartening to see Question 2 pass so convincingly on Election Day this year. Medicaid expansion is an important step forward, and it is particularly exciting to know that Bates students were able to have a voice in this decision.”
James Erwin ’18, president of the Bates College Republicans, was much more skeptical. According to Erwin ’18, “Medicaid expansion fifteen years ago resulted in a succession of budgetary crises, mounting hospital debts, and stop-gap measures such as selling the state liquor industry or consolidating Maine schools to find money to pay for it. The number of uninsured people in Maine barely declined at all… The State of Maine has been struggling economically and demographically for years; we simply do not have the money for this.”
Among Bates faculty, I spoke to Peggy Rotundo, Director of Strategic and Policy Initiatives at the Harward Center, who was ecstatic to see Question 2 passed. Rotundo shared with me a letter she penned to the Sun Journal on November 1 to express her support for the soon-to-be-passed ballot question. During her sixteen years serving in the Maine state Legislature, she heard stories about people without health care that haunt her to this day: “the working woman in her 50s that was diagnosed with cancer, but had no insurance; the student who lost her insurance and couldn’t continue with her college education without the drugs necessary to treat her mental illness… The list goes on and on.”
For now, we must wait to see how the politics play out. For those interested in local elections, Lewiston is having a runoff mayoral election on December 12 between candidates Ben Chin and Shane Bouchard. Early voting at Lewiston City Hall has already begun.