Each of the seven candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the June 8 primary brings to the race a wealth of excellent ideas, an admirable record of accomplishment and a demonstrated capacity for leadership.

Each, in his own way and to a degree commensurate with his experience, can stake a viable claim to be the Grand Old Party’s standard-bearer in the November election.

But only one candidate can win the nomination and, for us, one stands above the others in encompassing the combination of experience, skill and leadership that the people of Maine are looking for in their next governor. That candidate is Steve Abbott.

Abbott, 47, is a new face to many Maine voters, but he is not a newcomer to the state, its people and the issues Mainers care about. A Portland resident who grew up in Orono, Abbott served for 12 years as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. He has traveled to every part of Maine and has worked with cities, towns, businesses and individual citizens, listening to their concerns and helping to solve their problems. Abbott’s experience at the Capitol and the understanding of Washington bureaucracy he gained there could prove invaluable in the State House at a time when the federal government is expanding its involvement in health care, education and other areas traditionally left to state and local discretion. Americans’ recently intensifying distaste for Washington notwithstanding, a governor who knows his way around the Beltway could be worth his weight in shredded red tape.

Abbott’s work with Collins also prepared him well for one of the most crucial duties of the governor: working with lawmakers. The governor can articulate his vision, summon the support of the public for his agenda, issue pronouncements on policy — but nothing gets done until the Legislature acts. Based on our endorsement board’s face-to-face interview as well as his performance in the Republican Great Debate sponsored by MaineToday Media and in other public forums, we are convinced that Abbott has the communication skills and personality to bring people together, build consensus, and even twist an arm or two when the occasion demands it.

When it comes to issues, Abbott offers an impressive array of ideas and a solid set of specific proposals. His plans to improve education include reforms and incentives designed to redirect resources away from administration and into classrooms. And he would be aggressive in making changes that would enable the state to participate in the federal government’s Race to the Top program — a program that gives grants to states that allow schools to be more flexible and innovative and evaluates teachers, rewarding the best ones. Abbott believes the state must restructure its education system to get better results, not spend more.

On health care, Abbott has clear ideas about how Maine can work with the new national health care law. He says the national plan is flawed because it doesn’t do enough to cut costs, but also sees opportunities for the state to give patients and providers more flexibility, and to reduce costs by changing the ways that medical services are purchased. He also proposes changes to the state employee health benefit that would help rein in state spending.

In the current economy, there is no higher priority for our state than economic development. Abbott is determined to make the state more “business-friendly” by creating a “tax and regulatory environment where businesses can flourish.”

Before deciding on a candidate, our endorsement board considered and discussed all the candidates in the race: Abbott, Bill Beardsley, Matt Jacobson, Paul LePage, Peter Mills, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin. In addition to Abbott, the board was particularly impressed with LePage and Jacobson. As mayor of Waterville, LePage has established a well-earned reputation as a tough leader and an advocate for fiscal responsibility. Jacobson is a newcomer to politics, but clearly has a bright future in the public sector if he chooses that path.

In the end, though, on the issues and in other ways that matter, we determined that Steve Abbott is the best choice for the Republican nomination for governor.

Maine’s Democratic primary for governor is not wanting for candidates with distinguished records of public service. The Democratic slate is a virtual who’s-who of experienced political hands, save one feisty newcomer.
In political veterans Patrick McGowan, Steve Rowe, Libby Mitchell and first-time candidate Rosa Scarcelli, the Democrats have produced a strong field of potential nominees.

But among these excellent candidates, one most impressed our endorsement board.

A Hallowell resident and former legislator who has served in high-ranking posts in both state and federal government, this individual is no stranger to Maine politics. In our view, of the Democrats seeking Maine’s highest office, this candidate possesses the best blend of policy positions, political skill and leadership ability to lead the entire state.

In the Democratic primary for Maine governor, we urge voters to support Pat McGowan.

As a former state conservation commissioner and regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, McGowan, 53, embodies the right combination of knowledge and experience to balance – and forge compromises between – the potent business and environmental lobbies in Augusta.

With personal and political roots deep within central Maine, McGowan also has the credibility to heal divides inside the state, to help retire the toxic, yet much subscribed to, theory of the “Two Maines.” If Maine is going anywhere as a state, it must go there as a unified force.

On the policy front, McGowan’s ideas are solid. We especially agree with his proposals for shaking up the bureaucratic structure and the Legislature. His recently announced plan to reorganize state government and reform the political system is bold and will encounter considerable opposition, but it shows the sort of creative thinking that we believe Mainers are looking for in their next governor.

On health care, McGowan believes that Maine “is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the recent federal health care reforms.” He would convert the state’s Dirigo Health program to serve as the basis for a private health insurance exchange. He would push for innovative programs to improve the quality of health care in the state while also controlling costs.

He has offered specific proposals as well in the areas of education, energy and economic development. As a longtime operator of small businesses in Maine and a former federal official dealing with the problems of small business, McGowan is uniquely suited to the task of improving the state’s business climate.

One criticism that we’ve heard of our choice for the Democratic nomination is that a McGowan administration would be tantamount to “Baldacci’s third term.”

We reject that suggestion. McGowan clearly is his own person, has his own ideas, and we detect no inclination on his part to simply continue the policies of his predecessor.

That said, we believe that John Baldacci has been an excellent governor; whoever follows him in the job could do far worse than emulating some of his ideas and policies.

If we have a criticism of the current governor, it would be that he could have been more assertive in dealing with the Legislature on occasion. McGowan, we believe, will have no qualms about pushing lawmakers to get things done.

Selecting one person from this group was not easy. Both Mitchell and Rowe have the credentials of a governor, as each possesses sparkling resumes. They should be saluted for their years of meritorious service to the state and their constituents.

And Scarcelli’s growth as a candidate and public figure during the course of this campaign was impressive. If she chooses to continue in politics, she will demand some reckoning down the line.

For this primary, though, our clear choice for the Democrats is McGowan.