Maine Insights: Changes in government control herald new ways forward for the economy


January 13th, 2013 

Election night 2012 not only saw President Barack Obama reelected it heralded a new direction for Maine. Actually, it represents a return to a course the state had been on until Governor Paul LePage and a majority of Republicans took the reins of state government in 2011.

Over those two years, Democrats worked steadily to try and make sure the extreme policies of the LePage administration were diminished from their original intent. Still, the people of Maine have suffered with cut backs to needed programs and increases to health-care costs. Thousands remain threatened under pending policies that will eliminate them from MaineCare eligibility. Mentally unstable patients have been forced to seek help from local municipalities, and Maine Technology Institutes’ grant program funds for innovative and inventive business start-ups have run out. Without bond money being allocated, because LePage refuses to do so, jobs that could have been created in transportation, education, research & development, and land conservation weren’t.

LePage’s most recent two-year budget proposal is draconian with its proposed cuts. It shifts state government expenditures to local towns and cities — which will make those municipalities have to raise property taxes. Jobs could be lost and thousands negatively affected, hurting the economy.

Meanwhile states surrounding Maine reported strong job growth last year. Maine had been doing well before the recession hit, as the state’s alternative energy sector grew more than in any other state in 2007. Policies that encouraged growth in this sector brought new business to Maine and expanded others that re-purposed themselves for this new expanding market. Reed & Reed have become the primary wind-tower erectors in New England, and Cianbro in Brewer will be assembling the state’s first offshore floating wind turbine. UMaine holds the patent for this turbine design, as Dr. Habib Dagher’s team designed and tested the technology. Some of those MTI grants jump-started Dagher’s program, and now the project has attracted federal grants and international investors.

MTI grants, Pine Tree Zone and tax incentives helped to add jobs to the state. Education expanded with the creation of the Community College System and new pharmacy and nursing programs at diverse educational institutions. State government continued to invest in people and streamline services. Maine was geared up to take advantage of and expand its innovative economy. But LePage had a different vision — one which he thought he could ramrod through the Legislature.

LePage exhibited no signs of cooperating with the 125th legislature – even with those in his own party. Republican senators had to make public statements distancing themselves from the state’s extreme governor. Most every time he uttered words to the press, he made national media, from saying women who were protesting chemicals in baby bottles “have beards” to calling a branch of federal government the “Gestapo.”

Governing a state is a democratic process, one in which you negotiate and work with lawmakers to come to the best solutions for all the people of a state. LePage continues to govern like a dictator. North Korea’s president does not hold press conferences. An occasional video will be shown to the people of their “benevolent ruler.” Sound familiar?

For six months LePage did not hold a press conference. He had his press office make videos of him talking about various initiatives. In his last one, they even staged an interview. These propaganda videos were laughed at by many in the press and compared to how Osama Bin Laden communicated with the world.

Perhaps his advisers asked him to do the videos instead of talking directly to the media, because of his history of outrageous statements that he’s made when interviewed directly. These outbursts have damaged Maine’s reputation as a welcoming, understanding state full of dedicated hard workers. It makes you wonder just how many businesses have changed their plans because of LePage’s outbursts and policies.

But the day Democrats announced their agenda for the upcoming session, LePage couldn’t stand being upstaged. That day the newly elected Democratic majority spoke directly to the people of Maine, stating that they wanted to create a climate of change that will grow jobs, stimulate the economy, and improve middle-class incomes. They expressed their commitment to protect the people’s fundamental rights to health care, to improve the safety net, and to help insurance rates decrease. That day they said they wanted to make sure bonds that have been voter approved are allocated, so jobs could be created immediately.

That day LePage burst onto the scene with not one but two impromptu press conferences, where he blasted educators and the state’s education system. He said, “Our school systems are failing,” because charter schools that didn’t meet the Charter School Commission’s criteria were not approved. The 2012 Quality Counts report card for state education efforts gave Maine a C, which is the same as the national average. The same survey gave Maine a B- for chances of student success. There was no reason for the governor to insult educators, who are not failing our kids.

Rep. Devlin Beliveau, a schoolteacher, worked tirelessly last session to make sure there would be strict criteria for charter school approval. But LePage has a tendency to think that what he says should be law, so he disregarded what was in the law when he blasted the Charter Commission. While his apparent disrespect for the legislative process and other officials continues to make news, democratic lawmakers remain hopeful for the new session.

The majority of Representatives are not extremists, and the leadership of the House and Senate know how to work with their fellow lawmakers and constituents to help all the people of Maine with just laws. With constitutional officers who said they will uphold their positions being nonpartisan for all the people of Maine, many Republican initiatives may become history. The state may stop its lawsuit against the federal government concerning Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act; bond funds could be released to create jobs, and accountability should return.

Yes — the governor can veto any law passed by the Legislature.
Yes — the Legislature can override the veto, if they can get a two-thirds majority.

It appears the state may return to a sensible course for the future of all the people of Maine.