Maine in the Forefront of Progressive Change

Editorial by Ramona du Houx

"The times they are a-changin’," wrote Bob Dylan — that they are. His generation spoke out with protests and verse about the war in Vietnam. At that time we had a president who lied to the nation and ended up resigning in scandal. Then the oil crisis hit and long lines at gas stations were a regular sight, as prices began to rise to levels that boggled the mind — 68 cents a gallon!

How much have the times changed? Now, gasoline is reaching digits that are surreal — $2.68 a gallon. Now, we have a new generation, working with Dylan’s generation, protesting an unjustified invasion in Iraq. We also hold a deep respect for all those that have served in the war, something that was missing in Vietnam. Now, we have a president who lied to invade a country and continues to lie in the face of evidence. Across the country, people took action to oppose him and voted a Democratic majority into the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Both our congressmen oppose the war and are working to bring the troops home.

Some issues of both these times haven’t changed, some have dramatically.

Healthcare wasn’t in crisis. The middle class made good salaries, and insurance company fees were reasonable. The times are a-changin’—

The average income of $34,000 didn’t change for 24 years in America while healthcare costs, mortgages, college tuitions, and the necessities of living have skyrocketed. Middleclass America is being squeezed. We’ve become a credit-card, credit-based society that more and more people cannot afford.

Overall, Maine has been wise to elect people who look after people, and there are national trends that we don’t partake in fully. Our average income has just caught up to what the nation’s was 24 years ago. Still, what happens in the nation — and in the world — has a great effect on Maine. The global economy is changing our economy at a rapid pace.

Governor Baldacci, Congressman Allen and Congressman Michaud long ago recognized the transition Maine faced. Because of their actions, working with the Legislature, Congress and concerned stakeholders, Maine is moving forward in the new global economy.

Education remains at the cornerstone of change. We need a more educated workforce. Fortunately, the people of Maine are friendly, welcoming, and are hard workers. Most make people feel comfortable. As the governor always says, we must build off our strengths. This spirit of the people of Maine is a great strength and has brought companies to the state. Maine has become a national location for call centers because of our workers. Of course the governor’s Pine Tree Zone tax incentives helped many companies make the final decision to set up in Maine.

Still, we must recognize that in order to compete with anyone, anywhere in the world, and for more companies to locate here, there has to be a skilled workforce living here. The governor transformed the technical colleges into community colleges that have a wider scope of programs available. His administration helped train some of the employees in these new call centers, working with the community colleges.

Since the Community College System was implemented, people have embraced the opportunity to obtain a higher education. Enrollment is up by over 45 percent. Recently the governor brokered a deal with New Brunswick to share community college facilities, expanding the range of programs even further.

Baldacci wants to mandate that every high school student receive four years of study in math and science. He has made Early College programs available to high school seniors who want to earn college credits. He is working to make apprenticeship programs available across the state. At the BIW engineering design facility in Brunswick, young people are being trained as apprentices for these future high-paying jobs. Over 450 jobs have been created at this center for the Navy’s DDX100 program over the last year.

The governor’s plan to consolidate school administrations is a major step in moving the state forward in the global economy. If this bureaucratic school administration can be cut, as he has proposed, $241 million would be saved over the first three years. Just think how that money could be spent improving the education of Maine’s future generations, instead of it going to administrators who duplicate work and dominate school districts. Many countries have just one school administration, and their students excel.

A special appropriations committee has been assigned to come up with a plan that will ensure savings in school administration consolidation. If it doesn’t, the governor has been firm that he will veto the measure.

It takes leadership and vision to ensure Maine moves forward in the global economy, with the support of the people. The state’s new bond package will help continue to take us there with investments in research and development, education, innovation, transportation, and the environment. The bonds represent thousands of jobs. A special council comprised of business experts advised the governor on where and how it is best to invest in Maine to grow the innovative economy.

Congressman Michaud’s regional development plan is moving forward and, working with the State, will provide more educational and work opportunities for rural Maine. Congressman Allen has proposed a healthcare bill that will help small businesses to insure themselves and their workers. And two state legislators have introduced bills to move healthcare forward in Maine building upon the governor’s Dirigo Health Care:

Rep. Jill Conover’s bill allows Dirigo Health to self-insure. Getting rid of the middleman insurance company will result in greater flexibility and real savings, helping the program become self-sufficient. Rep. Chris Barstow’s bill requires health insurers to provide coverage to dependent children up to 25 years of age.

While potential presidential candidates are calling for universal health care, Maine continues to move forward on its own. It’s not the Maine way to sit back and wait for action from Washington, DC.

When Ron Greenberg didn’t receive any response from letters he wrote to his Maine senators about the war, he decided to send them a message so he formed From Every Village Green. During the forth year anniversary weekend that marked the beginning of the war in Iraq, over 100 towns across the state heard their church bells ringing, as war protesters gathered in the village greens, reading the list of men and women who have died in the service of their country during the Iraq war.

When John Baldacci became governor, he established the Office of Energy Independence and Security, foreseeing the need to implement programs and policies that would make Maine more energy independent and energy efficient. Three members of the British Parliament recently visited the state because of the governor’s leadership in energy issues. Maine continues to live up to its motto of Dirigo — leading the way.

The times are a-changin’ with Maine at the forefront of progressive change that will make the state a leader in the innovation global economy.