Republican gubernatorial candidates make their pitch

By John Frary | May 12, 2010

The seven Republican competitors for nomination offer similar diagnoses of Maine's problems. All agree that our state's economic development is being retarded, if not stifled, by an excessive and irrational system of taxation, a chaotic "system" of regulations, a dysfunctional welfare system and pervasive administrative inefficiencies.

I feel free to say, without taint of partisan prejudice, that John Baldacci's executive talents and experience scarcely qualified him to be attendant at a two-hole outhouse. The GOP candidates are too tactful to express themselves so harshly, but they know this is a fair summation. The Democratic contenders recognize this is so as well. None of them is promising to build on Baldacci's record of success.

A few years ago the Brookings Institute published a report, Charting Maine's Future, which identified the state's administrative inefficiencies and proposed a non-partisan governmental efficiency commission, suggesting that the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability had a role to play in improving governmental performance. Baldacci declared that the report was a blueprint for the state's future development. The Democratic establishment made approving noises.

No such commission has been established and, in fact, the legislative majority toyed with the idea of saving money by abolishing OPEGA. "Efficiencies, we don't need no stinkin' efficiencies," seems to be their operating principle. In fact, there has been almost no discussion of the "blueprint" for several years now. You can make a case that the expense of commissioning it is just another example of useless waste.

Those who have paid attention know that describing the Dirigo Health Plan as a "dog's mess" would be a gratuitous insult to any normally fastidious dog. The computer confusions in DHHS go on and on. All the Republican candidates can offer examples of regulatory absurdity — my personal favorite is when Paul LePage describes the state's mandating him to look for buffalo in Maine as a condition of completing a power plant. After a search of several months they did find a buffalo — in the Acadia Zoo. So the state forced the business to spend $18,000 on this ridiculous search, when a single ticket to the zoo would have sufficed.

So the diagnosis is not in dispute in the primary campaigns. The question is who is best able to address these problems? The specific solutions offered by the GOP candidates differ in some details, but don't clash in obvious ways. In fact, the next governor could draw on most of them, as from a common pool. So the crucial question comes to this: Who offers the most persuasive argument for competence?

Bruce Poliquin is single-minded in advancing two qualifications: that he is not a professional politician and that he has experience as a successful businessman. This, however, does not clearly distinguish him from Beardsley, LePage, Otten or Jacobson. All four claim extensive executive experience in the private sector and none can be described as professional politicians. It's true that LePage has been elected mayor of Waterville, but he has been an extremely successful general manager of Marden's at the same time, and Marden's has more employees and a bigger budget than the city of Waterville. Moreover, his three terms as mayor of Waterville are overbalanced by more than three decades of a varied business career.

Steve Abbott has never run for office but, as a longtime congressional staffer, he fits the description of "professional politician" most closely. Peter Mills, with more than 14 years in the legislature, approximates that description, but he makes his living as an attorney and is no stranger to private-sector business.

Mills clearly has the most detailed knowledge of the workings of state government, but lags behind all the others except Abbott in private-sector business experience. Beardsley's successes as president of Husson and LePage's as general manager of Marden's are best known to the general public. The business records of the others are known to most voters only through their own campaign claims, or in the case of Otten the controversy surrounding American Ski Company.

The most obvious disagreement among the candidates concerns the June vote on the people's veto of LD 1495. Mills opposes the veto, stating that the tax reform bill is imperfect, but it encourages business by lowering the capital gains tax. His rivals all favor the people's veto because they see the Democratic measure as a shift of the tax burden to ordinary taxpayers through increased sales taxes without effective or permanent relief to business.

Professor John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at:

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