April 24, 2019
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Shifting political loyalties in Maine

There is a qualitative shift occurring within the Maine business community and its support of the political direction in which Gov. Paul LePage has been steering the ship of state. Its allegiance to the ideals of free markets and capitalism has come under fire from Gov. LePage and it’s time to set the record straight.

Following last November’s elections, the popular wisdom was that Gov. LePage had been elected by and spoke for the business community. It was presumed that he was the singular voice for the Maine Republican Party. Both notions were wrong, as was the perception that Maine Democrats are anti-capitalists, bound and determined to deliver Vacationland into the hands of communists.

Prudent business leaders know no particular political allegiance. The notion that Republicans support business and Democrats are out to destroy it is utter nonsense. Business is business. Businesses select political objectives and loyalties based upon their utility in pursuing and achieving business goals, not abstract ideology.

There is little to be gained, in terms of competitive advantage, from betting on a horse to win. Politicians are more fickle than horses. No, the smart money gets spread around.

That’s not to say that there aren’t favorites, but those who manage to sustain wagers are those who produce reliable results.

Last fall, a dark horse appeared at the gate in Maine’s gubernatorial trifecta. His name was Paul LePage. He was homegrown and managed to secure the nomination of the Maine Republican Party. He rode to victory on a wave of tea party-endorsed momentum and appeared, initially, to be the breath of fresh air a portion of the Maine population had been waiting for. In a hotly contested race, he won his residence in the Blaine House by a plurality and promptly commenced embarrassing himself and his supporters with ill-advised comments, apparent temper tantrums and a hard-nosed attitude that resembled spite more than conviction.

Six months later, a large segment of the Maine’s business community is beginning to question Gov. LePage’s vision: It’s myopic and he knows it.

The proof is his own realization that “I got kicked in the knees and knocked down by the very people we’re trying to help, the business community.” That was the governor’s observation at a meeting in Sanford recently when commenting on the defeat of his proposed “right to work” bill in the Legislature.

There is a very good reason for that reaction and the sentiment is growing. The so-called “business community” is not a vast sea of robots marching to the governor’s tune. Business owners are diverse in their knowledge, management skills and goals. The best of them aren’t seduced by simplistic slogans like “business-friendly.” They don’t buy into a slick sales pitch. They look behind the words and analyze the facts as they know them.

“Right to work” — as the governor calls it — was one example. Another is a rather obscure bill labeled LD 1222, which Gov. LePage recently vetoed in spite of its having been passed by unanimous votes of both houses. This law would have prohibited “most favored nation” clauses in agreements between health care providers and insurance companies. Such provisions, in small markets like Maine, actually act to sustain higher costs and eliminate competition. These provisions operate as price-fixing agreements that create barriers to new companies entering Maine’s business market.

Our Legislature, after careful examination and compelling testimony, realized that and voted to prohibit the practice. Yet the governor exercised his veto prerogative, apparently insistent that it’s his way or the highway.

I was stunned that he did so, as were others. Competition is what keeps business honest and makes it better.

Many within the business community understand business dynamics far better than the governor. They’re not traitors, they just don’t buy what he’s selling and aren’t likely to make the same wager again.

Cris Edward Johnson of Old Orchard Beach is an an attorney who worked in business and corporate finance in New York.

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