SCARBOROUGH – Maine businesses deserve a voice in our government.

Our small businesses and homegrown industries have a perspective that we can’t afford to ignore. But we are a state made up of workers, and thinkers, and entrepreneurs, and we need to hear from them all. Not just a select few.

Gov. LePage’s desire to make the Department of Labor more open to business is a worthy goal.

But banishing history from the halls of the agency is a cynical attempt to ignore the important role that women and unions have played in the struggle to grow our economy, expand the middle class and improve working conditions.

Last week the administration announced that it would remove a mural depicting important moments in labor history, including an image of “Rosie the Riveter,” from the walls of the Department of Labor.

The department is also being forced to rename several rooms, including one named for Frances Perkins.

Perkins was secretary of labor under FDR, and was the first woman to serve in a president’s Cabinet.

The U.S. Department of Labor building is named for Perkins, who is an amazing figure in American history.

It’s one thing to make government more accessible to business, but it is another to attempt to erase history and ignore the important progress we’ve made to level the playing field between workers and employers.

Similarly, the governor’s recent announcement that he would establish a business advisory council was welcome news.

We need business, and particularly small businesses, to have a voice at the table when it comes to shaping Maine’s public policy.

But the initial move to hide the group from the public defies logic and pushes the mind of his critics and friends alike to imagine conspiracy, perhaps where none exists.

It stands in stark contrast to his pledges during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign that he would fight for an expansion of citizen’s rights to access information on how government conducts the people’s business. Once elected, he again promised that his administration would be the most transparent in Maine history during its transition into power.

Now, with criticism building, the governor appears to be moving again in the wrong direction. Instead of reversing his secrecy order, he has put the creation of the council on hold.

We are a state made up primarily of small businesses, many of which are family-owned and , by definition, community focused.

They share local and state interests in a way that very large companies often can’t, and they have unique and personal relationships with their employees.

Those are the businesses that the governor should be listening to, not the multinationals with their hired guns and expensive lobbyists.

I’ve long been a proponent of a state business council that could generate real action in addressing the challenges facing our economic future. I never imagined such a group would do its work in from behind a wall of secrecy.

The people and businesses who are advising the governor should be proud to serve openly, and to share their knowledge, experience and ideas for all to see.

We don’t need secret meetings to get frank and honest discussions. What we need is an environment where dissenting views are welcome and debate is lively, but respectful.

Maine people deserve to know that this is indeed the benefit we are getting from the advisory council.

They deserve to know that the governor isn’t just surrounded by people who share a narrow set of views and only think the way he thinks.

An open, inclusive approach strikes me as quintessentially Maine. Closed doors and a history whitewashed, that’s not my state.

Maine needs open, honest dialogue. We need intelligent examination of the issues we face.

Our governor should encourage diversity. He should shine as much light as possible on the whole process of making our state stronger.

By his actions, Gov. LePage has shown that he distrusts the public and dislikes history. He’s holding a debate, but hasn’t invited anyone else to participate.

Business has so much to add to the conversation about Maine’s future. But Maine can’t afford one-sided conversations, held in secret and away from public review.

And we can’t afford to shut down the dialogue because we’re afraid someone might hear.

– Special to the Press Herald