Maine has a rare opportunity to remake its government. State finances demand it. The public, increasingly aware that big changes are needed for the state to prosper, wants it.
Only one candidate for governor — Eliot Cutler — has the skills, vision and detailed plans to lead this work.
Faced with a $1 billion budget shortfall, Mr. Cutler understands that programs and services must be cut, but in a way that does not harm the state’s most vulnerable residents nor its businesses, which can meet tough environmental and safety regulations if they are clear and consistent. To reduce state spending, for example, he proposes a commission, modeled on the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission, to review all government programs and agencies and recommend what should be changed or eliminated. The Legislature would approve or disapprove the entire package, eliminating the usual tearing apart of proposals to cut spending and change departments.
While Republican Paul LePage, the mayor of Waterville, has common-sense-sounding proposals to improve education and to help those on welfare find and keep jobs, he undermines those ideas with false promises and angry outbursts. Saying you’ll frequently tell the president to “go to hell” may play well with angry audiences, but it is not a smart policy for a state heavily dependent on federal revenues. Mr. LePage’s pledge to reduce the state’s income tax rate to 5 percent is pure pandering. It would more than double the state’s deficit, and it won’t happen.
Democrat Libby Mitchell made history as the first woman in the country to lead both a state House and Senate. But her proposals to nibble around the edges of the state budget gap don’t match the severity of the problem.
Simply put, Maine has more government than it can afford. The remedy is to reduce government (and hence government spending), but in a smart, strategic way.
Mr. Cutler is the only candidate with specific plans to reduce inefficiencies in the social service and education sectors, which account for 80 percent of state spending.
“Our state government is too remote, too big, too unfriendly and too expensive,” he says on his website. “We pay for too many things that we don’t need or can’t afford, and we pay too much to deliver what we do need.”
One of the biggest criticisms of Mr. Cutler, a Bangor native, is that he did not spend his career in Maine. It is odd to say that experience at the highest levels of government and industry, nationally and internationally, is a disqualification for running state government. Mr. Cutler’s work with Sen. Ed Muskie and the White House Office of Management and Budget give him hands-on experience and perspective the other candidates lack.
Likewise, his work with businesses in China makes him better positioned to see new markets and opportunities for Maine.
Another concern is that, as an independent, Mr. Cutler will not have party backing in the Legislature. This is valid. However, candidates for the Legislature across the state are hearing from voters who are angry and expect lawmakers to work together to make government smaller but still responsive to public needs for well-maintained roads, a clean environment and a safety net that protects the elderly, poor and ill.
To rise to the huge challenges that await them in Augusta, lawmakers will have to work collaboratively and support the best ideas, no matter where they come from and what their political affiliation.
Maine faces crucial decisions in the next four years. The state can continue to limp from budget crisis to budget crisis with Libby Mitchell, or state spending can be slashed in haphazard and counterproductive ways under Paul LePage. A better way would be to elect a governor who will remake government so it is focused, effective and affordable.
The Democratic and Republican choices this year — between one candidate who wants to largely maintain the status quo and another who wants to blow up state government — reflect a failure of these parties. In both party primaries, candidates toward the extremes emerged. Neither Libby Mitchell nor Paul LePage is in line with the majority of voters who are in the middle of the two party extremes. This situation should be a wake-up call to party leadership to build a better cadre of potential gubernatorial candidates in future years.
Despite this misalignment of party candidates and voter sentiment, and despite his superior qualification and plans, independent Mr. Cutler is slow to catch on with voters, according to recent polls. In the remaining weeks before the Nov. 2 election, voters must take a close look at the candidates (including independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott) and their plans. They will see that Eliot Cutler is the only candidate with the vision and skills to match Maine’s challenges.
As his campaign literature asks, “How about just voting for the best candidate?”
On Nov. 2, that candidate is Eliot Cutler.