Maine governors do stupid things.

Let’s start with the decision to run for that office, even though they have no discernible skills that might qualify them for the position. After that, it’s all downhill. Botched budgets. Inept administration. Inconsistent positions. Irrational tirades. Backroom deals. The Dirigo health program.

In this way, governors build their legacies. Sort of like how criminals build their rap sheets.

That’s the way the state has always operated, and I have no objection to it — with one exception: I don’t like surprises. If a governor is going to do something stupid, it should be predictably stupid. By this I mean that gubernatorial candidates ought to be clear during their campaigns about exactly what stupid things they might do if elected. Then, no one can complain when they do them. (Well, I can complain, but I get paid to do that.)

This brings us to the current race for the Blaine House, in which there seems to be a movement on the part of both the left and the right to stifle all discussion relating to those areas where potential governors are most likely to offer up their stupidest ideas:

Social issues: The official position of just about everybody running for governor is that it would be best not to mention abortion, same-sex marriage, teaching Creationism in schools and other such topics because … er … uh … I’m not too clear on why that is.

Let’s ask Peter Mills, one of the losers in the Republican gubernatorial primary and a social liberal. “It is important that we as a party begin to set aside some of the social issues that divide us,” said Mills at a unity rally in Waterville on June 17. Instead, he said, the GOP needs to “focus on business.”

Republican nominee Paul LePage, a social conservative, was in rare agreement with Mills. Speaking at the same event, LePage called debates about abortion and gay rights “politics as usual.”

He added, “If we concentrate on social issues as the No. 1 issue this fall, the state of Maine is doomed.”

That looks like one of those stupid positions I mentioned. It’s not just Republicans who are advocating tiptoeing around these controversies. On June 22, the Lewiston Sun Journal editorial page advised the candidates not to get “dragged into social issues.”

When they’re asked provocative questions about their stands on such matters, the Sun Journal seemed to be advising them to refuse to answer. “[W]e wish more candidates had the self-restraint not to take the bait,” the paper said.

Apparently, if we pretend these unpleasant disagreements don’t exist, the bickering associated with them will vanish. If that method works, I wonder why nobody is applying a bury-your-head-in-the-sand approach to fixing budget deficits and reforming taxes.
The reality is that an ignored problem tends to slink off and sulk for a while, after which it tries to regain the public’s attention by pouring sugar in the gas tank, festooning the roof and trees with toilet paper, or placing burning paper bags full of fresh dog poop on the front porch and ringing the doorbell.

The idea that we can magically wish away the sharp differences among the candidates on issues such as abortion and civil unions is unrealistic. (When it comes to civil unions, we can’t even banish the significant differences between LePage and himself on any given day.)

The likelihood remains that within the next four years, another bill to legalize same-sex marriage will be introduced in the state Legislature. The possibility looms that before 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue rulings that will allow states to place new restrictions on abortion. Sooner or later, another middle-school health center is going to decide to hand out condoms to seventh-graders. And just because the debate on teaching Creationism and intelligent design in public-school science classes hasn’t erupted in Maine yet doesn’t mean it won’t.

It would be nice to know in advance what stupid moves the next governor will make when any or all of that happens. “These moral issues are not just percolating below the surface,” said Mike Hein, a conservative activist from Augusta. “They really are a subtext for the whole election.”

“I find it difficult to believe these social issues aren’t intricately tied to economic issues,” said Steve Trombley, president of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, citing access to family planning services and the implementation of federal health-care reform as two examples. “Voters in Maine deserve to know where candidates stand.”

In no way am I suggesting the gubernatorial candidates focus on stuff like abortion or gay rights to the exclusion of the economy, jobs, budget cuts or governmental efficiency. Most of the debate should be concentrated in these areas. But to pretend those are the only matters of importance to be dealt with in the campaign would be short-sighted, narrow-minded and … stupid.

Intelligently designed responses may be e-mailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.