We’ll leave it to a psychologist to determine what it means that the most frequently used word in ads for Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor, is “I,” while the campaign for Paul LePage refers to the Republican governor in the third person.
The more interesting finding from a BDN analysis of the most often used words in TV ads for the three candidates for governor is what they are not saying.
None of the three men in their ads is talking about growing population in a state that’s seeing anemic growth, preparing Maine’s students for tomorrow’s jobs and the attitude needed to make Maine attractive to the people we need to move here. These are some of the most important areas where Maine will need to focus in order to pull itself out of the economic doldrums it finds itself in well after most other states have pulled themselves out of the Great Recession.
“Jobs” is a frequently used word in the candidates’ advertising. But there’s no way Maine can expect substantially more jobs without significantly more people. But none of the three candidates has articulated a plan for drawing more people — who are preferably young and educated — to Maine. A Maine-themed race car and military-approved footwear made in Maine aren’t going to draw new residents in the numbers needed to make a meaningful difference.
With some spikes here and there, Maine’s population growth has been slowing for decades, and it’s now hitting milestones that are cause for grave concern. Maine now has more deaths than births. It has the oldest median age in the country at 43.5 years. It has a declining number of workers. And it lost population between 2012 and 2013, according to estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau at the end of December.
In a report released last fall, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Development Foundation concluded that Maine can’t grow its economy without more growing its population. As an old state, Maine’s workforce is shrinking as workers reach retirement age and, without a growing population, they aren’t being replaced in the workforce. Maine will lost 20,000 workers by 2020, the report warns. To change course, the two groups recommend increasing workforce participation (by bringing more veterans, disabled adults, seniors and disengaged youth to the workforce) and attracting more workers from other states and countries to Maine.
This is the biggest crisis facing Maine — not a few people cheating welfare or undocumented workers coming to the state or whether there are more gubernatorial debates. Yet it’s not one that those who seek the state’s top leadership role are honestly talking about.
Also, conspicuously absent from the most-used words list is “education,” “schools” and “students.” Because of the population trends noted above, many towns are struggling to maintain schools that are educating a shrinking number of students. Between the 2006-07 and 2013-14 school years, Maine public school enrollment dropped by more than 15,000 students, a decline that would have been steeper without a nearly four-fold increase in the number of public pre-K programs across the state. At the same time, rural communities face a declining tax base to support their schools.
The declining numbers of high school students in Maine is also applying financial pressure on the state’s university and community college systems, yet none of the three candidates is talking about those trends.
A leader with the right attitude would acknowledge the state’s shortcomings and offer concrete plans for addressing them.
Sadly, from now until Nov. 4, we can instead expect to hear more about welfare, mills, taxes and illegal immigration.