Author’s note: A previous version of this column appeared in the Portland Press Herald
We’ve heard the term “embarrassing” used a lot in Maine over the last four years – and it’s usually in connection with our current governor.
I, for one, am not embarrassed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage at all. OK, I’ve cringed once or twice because of an indelicate, off-the-cuff remark or technical inaccuracy. And also, along with many of you, I have been thoroughly entertained by this politically incorrect breath of fresh air in Maine politics.
But embarrassed? Not really. Paul LePage can do and say what he likes, in my opinion, as long as he continues to sign, veto and implement the right bills – as he has been doing over the last four years.
But I recall a time a few years ago when I was indeed embarrassed as a Mainer – during the administration of Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.
It was truly embarrassing to me when the people of our beloved state of Maine became the highest taxed in the country; when we were named by Forbes as the worst state in the country for business; when we became the state with the second highest percentage of its people on medical welfare and the second highest on food stamps. Our incomes were lagging, and we were paying some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country, too.
Maine was making national news, but for all the wrong reasons.
We’d also become a sanctuary state for illegal aliens because of Gov. Baldacci’s April 2004 executive order, which barred state employees from asking about a person’s immigration status.
The poorly planned Dirigo Health program was hemorrhaging millions of dollars and failing at all of its goals.
We had spent millions on a new computer system for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that never went online.
Embarrassment and shame
Year after year, there were state budget shortfalls, internal accounts that didn’t balance, increased debt and costly budget gimmicks that simply delayed the inevitable reckoning – including “borrowing” from the highway fund and a hasty sale of the state liquor business that again cost us millions.
Labor unions were dictating business policy, and the Maine Education Association was dictating education policy.
All the while the Maine Turnpike Authority was being robbed blind by a director who ended up behind bars and the Maine State Housing Authority was building “green” apartments approaching $300,000 each for the privileged few while thousands were on a waiting list for housing.
We were becoming nationally recognized for these dishonors, and I remember at the time a friend from out of state asking me, “What is wrong with you people in Maine?” I didn’t have a good answer. I told him we were just good, gullible people. But I was truly embarrassed – and ashamed.
Over the past four years, however, Maine has begun to move away from the mismanagement, waste, abuse and corruption of the past. Much has been achieved. Our taxes are lower, we’ve paid off long-term debt, our business climate has improved, health care reform was implemented and we’ve cracked down on welfare waste and much more. But it’s barely a dent in the work that needs to be done.
Michaud and Cutler
To stop this progress now and go back to the destructive liberal experiments of the last decade – welfare expansions, stifling business regulations, increased taxes and unnecessary spending – would be irresponsible, to say the least.
But that appears to be the direction that Gov. LePage’s opponents in the upcoming election – independent Eliot Cutler and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud – would take us.
Both have promised to dramatically expand our largest welfare program, MaineCare.
Both have said that changes in our tax code are on the table. That, along with the many “investments” promised, can mean only one thing – increases.
And both of the governor’s opponents promise more business regulations such as increasing the minimum wage, “wage equality,” stricter environmental regulations and more, at a time when many of Maine’s small businesses are already struggling. Neither gives more than a cursory mention of Maine’s difficult business environment.
Finally, there is Michaud’s and the Democrats’ stance on allowing General Assistance welfare for immigrants, some of whom are undocumented – it is unaffordable and contrary to what the people of this state want.
There was a time when Maine was known for its proud, independent, hardworking and common-sense people – not as a welfare haven and mecca for noncitizens. No one should be embarrassed by a governor who wants to put this state back on its feet and make us proud Mainers once again.
Jonathan McKane is a former Republican state representative from Newcastle.