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Maine Legislative Council Stalls Caribou Secession Committee


By:  David Deschesne

Fort Fairfield Journal, November 25, 2015


   The Caribou Secession Committee was dealt a setback by the Maine Legislature as they attempted to get their secession resolution on the Legislature's schedule this session.

   The Legislative Council met on October 22, 2015 to screen 395 bill requests from legislators who tried to have them considered in the second session of the 127th Maine Legislature. The Council accepted 33, tabled 18 and rejected 344. Of those rejected, 147 were appealed, including LR-2184: AN ACT TO ALLOW A PART OF THE TOWN OF CARIBOU TO SECEDE AND FORM THE TOWN OF LYNDON.  The appeals were not heard by a group higher than the Legislative Council, but rather, like appealing to a fox guarding a henhouse, was heard by the Legislative Council themselves.

   On Thursday, November 19, 2015 the Legislative Council met again to hear those appeals. Predictably, LR-2184 failed again. It’s important to note that the bill did not fail because of the subject matter, but failed because the Council determined the request did not qualify as an emergency. By law, the business of the second regular session of the Legislature shall be limited to budgetary matters; legislation in the Governor's call; and legislation of an emergency nature admitted by the legislature.  The term, “emergency” is not clearly defined and leaves the arbitrary definition up to the legislature to determine subjectively.  In past practice, the Legislative Counsel has allowed bills to be brought before the legislature in the second session that were not of an “emergency” nature.

   The Secession Committee has identified major problems in the Caribou’s current budgetary and taxation practices, which place it out of sync with the current economic conditions.  Caribou grew in size, both economically and bureaucratically during the time the U.S. Air Force operated Loring Air Force Base in neighboring Limestone.  However, since the closure of the base over twenty years ago, and a loss of nearly 10,000 airmen and an assortment of civilian contract jobs, Caribou has been experiencing a steady decline in both population and economic impact.  The Secession Committee notes great disparities between assessed values of property in Caribou versus actual resale values and has petitioned the Caribou City Council on numerous occasions to bring their taxation in line with current economic conditions.  They have also noted the gluttonous overstaffing of many departments within the city, especially that of the city's Highway Department.  However, their complaints have fallen mostly on deaf ears with a city council that has little interest in readjusting their taxing and spending habits to reflect the realities of today's economic landscape in Caribou.

   The Secession Committee exercised their right to alter their government which is encoded in Article 1, Section 2 of the Maine Constitution.  While Article 4, Part Third of the Maine Constitution does establish the legislative power with the Maine Legislature, and allows them to set their own rules of conduct, it does not allow the legislature to trump Article 1, Section 2 by virtually ignoring the people as was recently done by the Legislative Council.

   The bill to bring the secession request to the Legislature is being sponsored by Caribou Senator, Peter Edgecomb (R) and Representative Carolyn McElwee (R).  The legislative council is composed of 10 members, five Democrats and five Republicans.  Maine Speaker of the House, Mark Eves (D) and Maine President of the Senate, Michael Thibodeau (R) head up the council. 

   The Fort Fairfield Journal requested comments from both Eves and Thibodeau regarding their respective parties' position on the Legislative Council's rejection of the Legislative Request on the secession but neither would issue a response.

   “The Caribou Secession Committee will resubmit our bill request to the first regular session of the 128th Legislature, when there are no such restrictions,” said Paul Camping, from the Caribou Secession Committee.  “We believe that the Council erred in not accepting our bill request and in doing so, infringed on our Article 1 Section 2 Constitutional right to alter our government. We will be meeting in the coming weeks to consider our options and chart our course to next November.  While this delay is disappointing and unfortunate, the Secession Committee is dedicated and committed to seeing this through to the very end.”

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