SCARBOROUGH — Democratic U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud recently recommended two people for President Obama to consider for an appointment as the New England regional administrator for the Small Business Administration.

This is an important position, as the regional SBA director is the federal government’s liaison to small businesses, helping them navigate regulations and secure financing, and generally advocating for small business within government.

One of the two names given to Obama by Pingree and Michaud was state Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond.

Goodall is a well-liked legislator who started a landscaping company and now works as an attorney in a small private practice. He is a fair choice for the position.

The other, however, was Steve Minkowsky, former deputy director of the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board.

Minkowsky has no private-sector experience, having worked for the board for the past three decades up until last year. He was the board’s regulatory enforcer, auditing businesses and punishing them when they ran afoul of the state’s many workers’ compensation laws.

He could have handled this assignment with balance and fairness to small businesses that are trying to do right by their employees and state law.

Instead, Minkowsky earned a reputation as an uncompromising and ruthless enforcer, taking an adversarial stance against Maine businesses. That is why so many Maine businesspeople are surprised and concerned at the choice made by the Democrats in our congressional delegation.

Past heads of the New England SBA, a post that has traditionally been held by a Mainer, have included people with business experience, such as Maine’s current secretary of state, Charlie Summers. The current regional director, Jeanne A. Hulit, an Obama appointee, was a successful banking executive.

Nominating someone like Minkowsky, who has fought with business his entire career, makes me wonder if Michaud and Pingree did their homework or if they think he really is a good choice. It certainly would make me wonder about their attitude toward small business if they truly believe Minkowsky is the best man for the job.

People like Minkowsky making it so far on Democratic appointments is, after all, nothing new.

A top official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was recently caught saying that federal regulators should do their jobs the same way the Romans ruled conquered villages — by “crucifying” random citizens to set an example and terrify local residents. That comment was so outrageous, and the public backlash so fierce, that he was forced out.

There is no place in our government for such an attitude toward the people who work hard every day to grow their businesses and provide jobs for others. Besides, there are so many laws and regulations these days that well-intentioned business owners often get in trouble without even realizing it.

One has to speculate why there seems to be this anti-business trend in the Democratic Party at both the state and federal levels.

We all appreciate rules to make sure that everyone in the market is playing fair and that employees aren’t mistreated. Unfortunately, the government seems to view private enterprise as an enemy to be conquered and subdued.

I, for one, believe that government should give small-business owners the benefit of the doubt and not throw the book at them at every opportunity. We should be partners, not adversaries, in building a strong, healthy economy.

My work on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee has proven to me that a respectful relationship between government and business is constructive and mutually beneficial.

In our own business, my husband and I see this issue not only through the lens of politics and government, but also as local employers who value the services the SBA provides.

We would prefer someone who has been where we are — someone who champions our efforts, not someone who has been in attack mode for the past 30 years.

I sincerely hope that Pingree and Michaud reconsider their recommendation of Minkowsky for this position. I also urge President Obama to consider the calls of Maine businesses if he must decide between Steve Minkowsky and Seth Goodall.

Jobs are still hard to come by, and local employers need all the help they can get from the SBA.

- Special to The Press Herald


Correction: This story was revised at 10:40 a.m., May 9, 2012, to reflect that Jeanne A. Hulit – not Karen Mills – is the current regional director of the Small Business Administration.