Voter Education Brigade Announces Endorsements for June Elections

Press release from the Voter Education Brigade:

Grassroots Group Announces Endorsements for June 10 Elections

Portland, Maine — Portland’s Voter Education Brigade, a new grassroots organization working to engage community members in local politics, announced today that it is endorsing a YES vote on the Parks Protection Ordinance (referendum Question 1) and offers NO ENDORSEMENT for the Cumberland County Sheriff Democratic Primary election for the June 10th vote. The Brigade is also taking the unusual step of formally endorsing a citizen’s petition on clean elections that voters will be asked to sign at the polls.

Complete explanations of the Brigade’s positions on Question 1, the sheriff’s race and the clean elections petition can be read on its website.

Yes on Question One
The Brigade met with advocates on both sides of Portland’s Question 1 and researched the referendum’s implications extensively.  Protect Portland Parks members Herb Adams and David LaCasse provided the Brigade an argument in favor a YES vote and Forward Portland members Ian Grade and Lauren Wayne explained to the Brigade why they believe a NO vote is best for the city’s future. The Brigade ultimately decided to endorse a YES vote at its Project Vote event, during which it’s members discuss and vote on every contested race or referendum on upcoming ballots.A YES vote on Question 1 supports an ordinance that would invalidate the September 2013 sale of Congress Square Plaza to the investment firm RockBridge Capital. The referendum also creates a new category in Portland’s Land Bank titled “Urban Public Spaces” that increases protection of 60 public spaces in Portland, including Congress Square Plaza, by either requiring a supermajority City Council vote or approval by voters for the sale of any of the listed spaces to a private company. The ordinance would retroactively go into effect on the date prior to the sale of Congress Square, and would therefore call for a public vote on the sale in November.

Those in favor of a YES vote argue that Portland’s public parks need this increased protection against development today as public land in the city becomes increasingly attractive to investors. Those in favor of a NO vote argue that development of Congress Square Park would boost the city’s economy, and that RockBridge Capital may lose interest in their purchase of the plaza if the deal is further postponed until November.

The Brigade emphasizes that the ordinance would still allow for the deal with RockBridge to move forward, but not without a public vote that would give Portlanders a larger voice in the matter.

“A YES vote is not anti-change or anti-development,” says Brigade board member Emma Halas O’Connor. “Rather, voting YES institutes a more open and transparent process for the development of all public spaces, and assures that as Portland undergoes greater pressure to build, the public has a greater say over what happens to our public spaces.”

No Endorsement for Cumberland County Sheriff

In deciding its stance on the Cumberland County Sheriff, the Brigade issued a questionnaire to the incumbent sheriff, Kevin Joyce, and his opponent, Michael Edes, a retired Maine State Police sergeant and former president of the state troopers union for 16 years.

Both candidates responded to the Brigade’s questionnaire, but did not offer enough of a distinction in their campaigns to warrant an endorsement for this position, which is predominantly responsible for managing the county jail.

“We like much of what both candidates have to say on issues of great importance, including treatment of the huge number of inmates at the county jail with mental health and substance abuse issues,” explains the Brigade in its write-up of the race. “But neither candidate has said much of substance to distinguish themselves from the other, while they’ve both given us reasons to decline giving them our support.”

Joyce stands by a campaign of transparency, which the Brigade finds appealing, but the county jail has also experienced a series of high-profile security breaches within his term that leaves the Brigade wary of morale under his leadership. Edes supports rights of the LGBTQ community and hopes to bring more women into the sheriff’s department, but the Brigade is concerned about his commitment to transparency and his ties to a  PAC that has been raised $100,000 to spend on sensational and misleading anti-Joyce advertisements.

“Both Joyce and Edes have the potential to serve well as our sheriff, but since we’re not excited about either, we are declining to endorse a candidate in this race,” says Zack Anchors, board member of the Voter Education Brigade.

Sign the Petition for Clean Elections

In addition to these two questions on the ballot, the Brigade recommends that voters sign a Clean Elections petition while at the polls. With 50,000 signatures, the petition would put a referendum on the 2015 ballot in support of clean elections that would require PACs to disclose the names of the top-three donors for every ad they support, among other forms of transparency that would call for fairer and cleaner elections in the state.

Background on the Voter Education Brigade

The Voter Education Brigade publishes its Voter Guide for each election cycle in a similar fashion to the guide previously produced by the Maine League of Young Voters, which is ceasing operations. The Brigade’s comprehensive Voter Guides provide citizens with information about all candidates and ballot measures. The guide will be thoroughly researched through candidate interviews, questionnaires and public events, such as debates and forums.  It serves as a valuable resource to citizens as they seek to  make informed decisions about their elected officials and other pressing political issues. The Brigade’s next Voter Guide will be published in October, with plenty of time for wide distribution before the November elections.

Read the Brigade’s full position on these endorsements at www.votereducationbrigade.org/news/.”

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta.