Voters are paying attention

Posted Aug. 29, 2010, at 7:31 p.m.

It is late August and with two phone surveys of likely voters in the governor’s race now recorded, the findings are interesting. Efforts to define the opposition seem to be coming up short. You might expect the focus of the candidates on the perceived shortcomings of their opponents to have registered in the polling results. However, the results remain unchanged. Rather than fall prey to issues irrelevant to Maine’s future, I think the voters are paying attention.

It matters not that Paul LePage has missed a few early special interest-sponsored debates in August or that he would support teaching creationism in school. What matters is that he has committed to more than 20 debates in the September–October timeframe, and he has no record of promoting creationism either as general manager of Marden’s or as mayor of Waterville.

It matters not that Eliot Cutler served on the board of a mortgage company that went bankrupt. What matters is that he wasn’t the CEO and otherwise has a very long record of great success in both the private and public sectors.

It matters not that Libby Mitchell is 70 years old. What matters is that she is a high-energy person with a good mind and an equally long record of public sector accomplishment.

These people must be evaluated on your personal assessment of what you think is needed to make Maine stronger economically while preserving Maine’s quality of life and not on negative sound bites from their opponents.

If you are fiscally conservative and think our economy faces years of slow growth at best, then the following gubernatorial candidate questions may resonate for you:

What are your ideas for reforming the MaineCare (Maine Medicaid) entitlement to bring it in line with our ability to pay? (Maine currently has a benefits package ranked 7th of the 50 states while ranked 37th in ability to pay.)

What are your ideas for reforming the public employee-school teacher retirement system so that it doesn’t significantly consume future general fund budgets? (Maine’s current system has better benefits than private sector plans, and it is woefully underfunded.)

What are your ideas for private sector job creation in the short term (2011-12)? Maine needs job creation now with a plan for the long term, too.)

What are your ideas for making our K-16 education spending more cost-effective while improving student outcomes? (Since 1994 spending has increased significantly while outcomes have regressed.)

What are your ideas around tax policy that will improve Maine’s ability to reward work, saving and investment? (Maine’s current tax code taxes these incomes at 8½ percent, the third-highest rate of the 50 states.)

What are your ideas for improving the quality of Maine’s transportation infrastructure? (Maine’s transportation infrastructure has suffered from underfunding for years as has the U.S. as a whole.)

What are your ideas for protecting Maine’s environment while expediting the permitting process? (Most can accept strong regulation with consistent application since it brings certainty. However, Maine’s current system seems to lack this ingredient.)

The campaign to elect a new governor is an opportunity for Maine voters to reflect on what we need from state government. Ideas matter, and life experience counts for a great deal in the executive chosen to run the state. While the Maine Legislature is a co-equal branch of government, the governor sets the tone and tenor of the debate.

Be especially leery of the candidate(s) who spend time telling why their opponent isn’t up to job rather than their ideas for running state government. Pay attention before Nov. 2 because you collectively will get the government you deserve on Election Day.

Karl Turner of Cumberland is a former Republican state senator who served four years on the Appropriations Committee.

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