Mills, Abbott Stand Out

Posted May 21, 2010, at 8:35 p.m.

The recession brought into focus what had long been known — Maine’s government far outpaced residents’ ability to pay for it. Now, the state — and especially candidates for governor — has a rare chance to use that realization to remake its government. The next governor should do so with an eye toward ensuring that government supports, not hinders, businesses and their growth.

Toward that end, the seven candidates in the Republican primary offer a diversity of views and experiences, but two stand out.

Peter Mills has a track record of working with Democrats in the Legislature to pass good ideas, improve mediocre ones and, when necessary, defeat horrid ones. This is the type of experience the next governor will need to bring to the Blaine House and the State House.

Mr. Mills has a keen understanding of the intricacies of state government, including its budget and large unfunded liabilities. Such knowledge and a commitment to remake state government — with an eye toward making it smarter, not just smaller — are essential as Maine faces continued budget problems and must reduce its spending.

Mr. Mills has shown he will view each issue on its merits — in detail — before deciding how to act. He was, for example, one of only two Republicans in the Senate to vote in favor of gay marriage and the only Republican in the Legislature to vote for tax reform. He also has an extensive record of compromise — sadly, a nearly lost art in Augusta and Washington.

However, as the 2006 Republican primary showed, primary voters tend to be more conservative than Mr. Mills and, despite his experience, being a long-time politician is seen as a negative this year.

Paul LePage, who is favored by many of the party’s most conservative members, is to be commended for reducing taxes as Waterville’s mayor. However, like in 2006, a candidate who is far more conservative than the state as a whole and who has limited experience on the larger stage of state politics is highly likely to lose in November.

Steve Abbott offers a fresh approach for the GOP. He offers the advantage of government experience (which is important for governing) without being a politician. As Sen. Susan Collins’ chief of staff he has met with hundreds of Maine businessmen and women and knows what they need and want from the government. He can translate that knowledge into policies that will move Maine forward.

His more moderate views also align well with the state’s large group of voters who don’t belong to a political party, a group that is essential to winning a general election.

Whoever is elected governor in November would do well to find a role for Matt Jacobson in his or her administration. His deep understanding of what businesses need — and don’t need — to be attracted to Maine is invaluable. His enthusiasm and common-sense approach to remaking the state’s economy would make him a good adviser or economic development commissioner.

Being governor doesn’t involve telling people what to do and expecting them to do it (although some candidates from both parties think it is). It requires working with an often-hostile Legislature and powerful entrenched interests.

Peter Mills and Steve Abbott can do this.

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