Geographical Prejudice Part Two

 

It is called “The Great Compromise”. A fragile new Nation was on the brink of disaster. The states could not agree. The contention was so sharp between them that the Constitutional Convention was “on the verge of dissolution, scarce held together by the strength of a hair,” so recounted by Luther Martin, one of the delegates to the convention.

The schism developed over the proposed plan for government first presented by Virginia’s Governor Edmund Randolph, drafted by James Madison also of Virginia, which would select representation based on population. This would be called “The Virginia Plan.”

Quick to see this would greatly encumber the small states’ access to government and be weighted heavily in the favor of larger more populated states, New Jersey’s William Paterson countered with a “one state, one vote” concept. This plan, “The New Jersey Plan”, would protect the interests of small states, ensuring equal standing and representation at the table of governance. There was no small dissension between the factions and the convention was on the verge of implosion.

The salvation of the fledgling nation, teetering on demise, came in the form of an agreement which would create a bicameral Congress. The House of Representatives would be elected by popular vote and weighted by population, The Virginia Plan. The Senate would follow the concept of one state, one vote, The New Jersey Plan.

With the confidence that small states’ rights were protected, the Constitution of the United States was ratified. The idea that one geographical area could dominate the governance of a free people simply because of its population, the travesty of that idea of geographical prejudice was corrected and those fears allayed. Still, for all their fore site and amazing sense of fairness for all, the Founders neglected to see the need to remodel the states’ structure of governance to mirror the national template.

Perhaps despite all of their towering foreknowledge, the Founders could not envision a time when urban areas would be so large that the counties which held that cities boundaries could dominate the political landscape of a state in much the same way that Virginia could dominate the political influence in the days of the Thirteen Colonies. But that day exists and we see it here in our state of Maine. Yes, the division of the two Maines exists and the tension continues to grow.

The southern part of the state prefers “The Virginia Plan”, which is how our state and all 50 states are governed. Dominated by Cumberland County which encompasses Portland and all the surrounding suburbia, the South holds the majority of legislators in both chambers; in fact, Cumberland County alone holds a dominant majority of legislators in comparison to Maine’s other fifteen counties because of the majority of the population that resides in that geographical location. This flies in the face of everything our Nation was founded upon and specifically “The Great Compromise”.

Because of this inequity, the smaller rural counties of Maine are afforded no system of check and balance in the current form of governance that exists in our state. In recent political cycles, rural Maine has eked out some political victories by driving record breaking voter turnout, over 80% in some locals, and then waited in hopes of lower turnout in southern Maine to gain slim victory. The political climates of each of the Maines are polar opposites, yet southern Maine, due to “The Virginia Plan”, is able to often legislate the governance of northern Maine, despite their protestations.

In an effort to remedy this wrong in much the same way our Founders did, both Senator Paul Davis and Representative Heather Sirocki have proposed at different times separate legislation which would have amended the state Constitution to in essence apply “The New Jersey Plan” and give every county two Senators mirroring the United States Constitution. Predictably, southern interests defeated those bills. Simply put, big government has a vested interest in keeping equitable representation out of governance.

Often when the subject of this legislation is discussed with politicians they will respond that is too difficult or too complicated, which is code for too lazy or too cowardly. Many legislators have forgotten the basic tenet of a Republic that is for the people by the people in that all people regardless of where they live should have equal standing with our government. I would strongly encourage Senator Davis and Representative Sirocki to reintroduce their legislation. This was the spirit our Founders understood in “The Great Compromise” and must be the goal of our legislators if they truly believe in fair, equitable, and unprejudiced representation of the people.

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