Love or hate him, Gov. Paul LePage is certainly the most entertaining Blaine House resident we’ve had in awhile.
If he isn’t telling President Barack Obama to go to hell or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to kiss his butt, then he’s calling state middle-managers corrupt, which to him means broken and spoiled.
Media outlets, liberals, Democrats and labor unions have wrung their hands with anticipation of the distraction they could create from the “LePage-foot-in-mouth” effect. Our governor has not disappointed!
It’s easy to find things to attack. He’s outspoken and often coarse. As a CEO myself, I sometimes shake my head at the controversy he creates that will not help him do his job. His disgust and impatience is apparent — but why?
To start, he has the most unenviable job in Maine — to clean up a mess of almost unimaginable proportions. A few of his challenges:
• Maine has never met its education funding promises. Schools — and test scores and students — have suffered, and we have failed to produce and retain a sufficiently skilled work force.
• After years of underfunding the Maine Department of Transportation construction budget, we are left with a several-hundred-million-dollar structural deficit and a road and bridge grade of “D” from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
• Our telecommunications and Internet systems are second-rate compared to our neighbors to the south.
• We have chosen to allow MaineCare benefits and eligibility to so far exceed national averages as to crowd out necessary portions of the state’s budget.
• Our state and local tax burden is ranked among the nation’s highest.
• We are considered one of the worst states for business in the country.
As a result, our best and brightest leave Maine in droves for better wages and opportunities. What employers can afford to pay (and still compete) gets lower each year, accelerating the drain. Our state has become the most rural and has the oldest median age in the nation.
We have allowed this to happen. Our elected officials have lacked the courage to make the tough choices in order to ensure long-term prosperity and success for our citizens and businesses. We have not realized that the best thing we can do for Mainers is to create a climate in which our economy can thrive.
We must bring our state more in line with what works elsewhere: lower taxes, investment in infrastructure, education and work force development, smaller and less expensive government, aligning social service costs to the national average and reducing the cost of business operation in Maine.
This will mean reducing employment within state government, wholesale elimination of unaffordable programs and sensible reduction in our bloated MaineCare system.
As a CEO, I know it’s not easy to make these choices. Unfortunately, we now have to correct 30 years of misguided lack of discipline. This job has fallen on the shoulders of the current governor and Legislature, and they are tackling the difficult issues that the previous administration(s) would not (and, in fact, have caused). It’s a job I would not want.
And LePage? He’s the perfect guy for the job. What he’s accomplished is because of a strict adherence to a rigid personal discipline that, in the end, benefits all. He has chosen to make up for the lack of past leadership and stick to a simple principle that we control our own destiny and can choose whether or not to make Maine a place where our kids can stay and live a prosperous life.
Will we allow ourselves to be distracted? Or will we see beyond the rhetoric — to the causes of and solutions to our problems? It is up to us.
Karl Ward is president & CEO of Nickerson & O’Day, Inc., based in Brewer.