Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I'm back to work for the Global Network. Will continue to help Lisa Savage for US Senate campaign on my free time. Trying to self-isolate as much as possible. Best wishes and good luck to you all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

DISCORDANT SOUNDS FROM THE SUPREMES

I attended the hearing yesterday before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland. The case was over Independent Senate candidate Herb Hoffman's ability to get on the November ballot. The Maine Democratic Party, after attempting to get Hoffman's 4,000 petition signatures thrown out, appealed the Secretary of State's decision to give Hoffman ballot status to the Maine Superior Court. That court ruled in favor of Hoffman as well. Then the Democrats took the case to the Supreme Court.

I'd never been to any Supreme Court hearing before - anywhere. It was an interesting experience. The courtroom had an old English-style ornate dark wood interior. Just to make it really quaint there was no air conditioning and the place was as hot and humid as could be.

Dan Walker was the attorney for the Democratic Party and he went first. (One local Maine political news outlet reported that no one was telling who was paying Walker's attorney fees. Walker himself was only saying that he was getting funding from "here and there".)

Walker told the court that Hoffman should be denied ballot status because he had violated the oath that one makes when they sign the petitions saying that they had witnessed the signatures on the sheet. In the previous Superior Court hearing the Democrats had subpoenaed three persons who had signed the petition and had them swear under testimony that Hoffman had not specifically witnessed their signatures.

Walker also claimed that the 4,000 signatures were a "minimal" display of public support and thus denial of ballot status should not be seen as a significant harm to voters.

John Branson, who made his legal services available to Hoffman as a public service, told the court that it all came down to the definition of "presence". Hoffman, he said, had visual contact with those signing his petitions which gave him confidence that he met statutory requirements. Thus his oath was true when he swore that petition signers were legal. Branson reminded the court that fundamental constitutional rights were at stake in this case - the issue was really about whether legitimate legal petition signatures would be honored.

Branson had a hard time being able to finish his thoughts as the chief justice continually interrupted his statements and kept trying to take the "legal arguments" off into wild hypothetical questions about mentally deranged persons gathering illegal signatures and knowingly swearing an oath that they were valid. Branson attempted to remind the supremes of the logic behind the ruling from the lower court but they did not seem at all interested.

As I sat there listening to this I kept asking myself: how far up does the Democratic Party political machine extend? How many of these supremes were appointed by Democrats? Are the supremes just looking for a wild-hair legal theory in order to protect the Democratic Party senatorial candidate (Tom Allen) from a challenger on his left-flank?

After the hearing about two dozen of Hoffman supporters went to lunch at a Greek restaurant near the court house. While there I heard two stories that got my attention. One local activist, and a Democrat who is supporting Hoffman, said he had spoken to one of the men who had been called as a witness to testify against Hoffman in the previous court hearing. The man said that he felt "entrapped" by the state Democratic Party to testify against Hoffman.

A second man, who testified in court that he had signed the petition but had not seen Hoffman, has since his testimony been given a job working for the Maine Democratic Party. Sounds to me like a fishy deal.

The court is to rule next Monday on this question. It will be interesting to see if there is truly justice in Maine. One has to wonder though because the evidence so far is that the arm of the Democratic Party seems to reach far and wide when it comes to ensuring that real democracy is not to be allowed in our state.

One final thought. I've been to many meetings where candidates for office pass around clipboards with their petitions to get on the ballot and have people sign them. The candidate was "present" but not exactly witnessing each and every signature. I've seen Democrats do this too. I have no problem with the practice. The Democrats don't seem to have a problem with the practice either - that is until someone who is running against them does something similar. Then it becomes a Supreme Court case.

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