Though all three sides of the forestry debate claimed victory of a sort Tuesday, none can claim to have found an ending to this complex question. The next move now is for participants to commit themselves to finding a solution that reaches beyond the results in the ballot box.
By virtue of being the top receiver of votes, 2B — the Compact for Maine’s Forests — is expected to be considered on its own, perhaps sometime next year. It, combined with Question 2A — the Ban Clearcutting measure — attracted approximately 77 percent of the total vote. This means that an overwhelming majority of voters think the state needs tougher forestry regulations, but it would be a mistake to assume that all 2A voters will automatically switch to 2B.
Expect, instead, that the Ban Clearcutting organization will create in time for a second vote on 2B another citizens initiative to end clear-cutting. It could be ready for a vote by the public by, perhaps, by 1998. Supporters of 2A who wanted to kick the paper industry in the pants this week but who do not want to wait until ’98 to discover whether they can pass a clear-cut ban should be interested in finding an alternative.
Democrats, now the majority in both houses of the Legislature, gave strong support to 2B during the recent special session, and should be inclined to pass a bill similar to the referendum question. Better still, however, Ban Clearcutting and the groups supporting the Compact for Maine’s Forests could together craft a consensus bill that the next Legislature would support. A ruling by the Attorney General’s Office on the process for this is expected shortly. Compromise would be difficult after so much angry rhetoric, but a bill that both sides agree to abide by would better serve the forests than another year, or perhaps two, of debate.
A legislative bill with contributions from both the 2A and 2B groups would be an appropriate response to Tuesday’s election results, which so clearly called for action. And it would satisfy a major argument from the 2C group — that the referendum process was the wrong way to settle a debate over forestry practices.
That said, the vote proved that Gov. Angus King, a leader of the compact, was correct in his guess that 2B was needed on the ballot to defeat 2A. The strategy was hotly debated during the Legislature’s special session, but even with the expensive campaign for 2B, the Ban Clearcutting measure captured nearly 30 percent of the vote. It may have prevailed if left on its own.
Both 2A and 2B proponents have pledged to persevere with their proposals, although Don McNeil, president of Great Northern Paper Co., said that he and fellow 2B supporters “really want to reach out to both the 2A and 2C [groups]. With the compact, we can work to bring about the concept of sustainable forestry. We’ll get more 2A support when they see there’s not as much to fear there as they thought, and get 2C when they see that the compact does allow for a very strong economy.”
All three sides can pick through the results of the election and see that, in some ways, they need each other. The question now is whether this can translate into legislative action.