April 01, 2020

Tribe seeks fast action on racino signatures

Newly elected Passamaquoddy tribal state Rep. Donald Soctomah charged Monday that the Secretary of State’s office is “dragging its feet” in certifying the signatures the tribe submitted in August to get a tribal racino question on next year’s ballot.

Soctomah has support from former tribal state Rep. Fred Moore, who, acting on complaints from tribal members, sent an e-mail Monday to the Secretary of State’s Office detailing their concerns.

“There appears to be an ongoing effort by the Secretary of State’s Office to delay certification of the signatures until after the November election,” Moore charged in the e-mail. “Thereby allowing the Democrat governor to avoid the issue before the election and this could be an effort to assist him in his re-election bid.”

Gov. John Baldacci’s campaign manager, Jesse Connolly, said Monday this was the first time he’d heard of the allegation. “We have full faith that the Secretary of State will do the job properly,” he said.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office denied Monday that they were dragging their feet. Spokesman Doug Dunbar said the staff was getting the state ready for the Nov. 7 election.

But in his e-mail, Moore detailed the tribe’s concerns. “The Passamaquoddy Tribe has a long and unfortunate history with the current governor and his vicious opposition to the tribe’s efforts to gain parity in gaming with Maine’s own gambling business and more recently Maine’s non-native, nonresident gambling partner,” he wrote.

Penn National Gaming Inc. last November opened an interim gaming facility called Hollywood Slots at Bangor in the former Miller’s Restaurant building on Main Street.

Recently the Bangor City Council authorized a final lease agreement between the city and Bangor Historic Track Inc., the Penn National subsidiary gearing up to build a $90 million gambling complex across Main Street from Bass Park.

The gaming establishment is in Baldacci’s hometown.

Getting the racino question before voters has had more twists and turns than a Washington County road.

The bill went to the Legislature, but ended up being shot down by Baldacci after a lengthy and protracted struggle.

The Passamaquoddy plan would allow for up to 1,500 slot machines at a tribally owned racetrack near one of the tribe’s two reservations in Washington County. The revenues would be divided among several entities including the state’s general fund, the Maine Community College System, harness racing purses and other Maine tribes.

Soctomah said getting the question before Maine voters would be one of his top priorities next year.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “We’ve raised enough signatures, the tribe’s invested money in this racino, and what happened a couple of years ago where the Legislature passed it and it got vetoed, I don’t believe that’s right, and it’s not doing the tribe justice and the people of Washington County justice. We’ve got to look at economic development just as Bangor does,” Soctomah said.

The representative-elect said he plans to speak with Attorney General Steven Rowe on the matter. “Somebody is dragging their feet, and I think it has to do with the election,” he said.

But Crystal Canney of the governor’s office said Monday the certification issue was in the hands of the Secretary of State. She said this was the first time she’d heard of the issue raised by Moore.

Dunbar said a small staff had to do it all. “There are, for example, 1,000 ballot types that have to be prepared and read,” he said. “More than 600 voting locations have to be prepared. We have 500 municipalities.”

Moore was unimpressed with the response. “When we submitted the first petitions this past January, they reviewed 60,000 plus signatures in 30 days. Now they’re unable to review 7,000 signatures in 90 days? Come on,” Moore said. The 7,000 signatures were collected in addition to the 60,000 after some of the original signatures were disqualified by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Dunbar assured Moore and Soctomah that the certification would be completed. “We’ve already begun it, and it’ll be done long before the deadline in January,” he said.

Asked about allegations that this was a re-election ploy for the governor, Dunbar said, “That doesn’t even make sense to me.”

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