The innermost political world got all excited recently by announcements from two potential candidates for governor. It turns out that both Eliot Cutler and Mike Michaud are seriously considering running against Paul LePage. That’s what passes for big political news as we rush to start the summer.
Let me state, for the record, that I think they’re both capable guys who have the potential to effectively lead the state into the future. There are differences between the two, but they are nothing when compared to their differences with LePage in ideas, effectiveness or style. One of them, in my view, is going to emerge in the fall of 2014 as the main alternative to Paul LePage and become the next governor.
Between now and then, some of their supporters will exhaust every opportunity to persuade you of the importance of someone’s hometown, whether they live in a small house or a big one, whether they part their hair on the left or right, what party they belong to, if any, and why you’d love to hang out with them — or not.
The challenge for the “anyone-but-LePage” majority is to stay focused on the goal of replacing LePage. That means resisting attempts to make either Cutler or Michaud into some kind of demonic figure, and thereby burning all bridges back to the other alternative if one of them crashes.
That is part of what happened in 2010 with Democrats, in particular, who spent most of their time attacking Cutler and too little time promoting a vision for the future. By the time it was apparent that Cutler was the only viable alternative to LePage, it was too late, and the damage was done.
Most of the language coming out of the Democrats in recent months has been repeating that error.
In 2010, when Libby Mitchell should have been promoting her ideas for the economy, she was using her airtime to complain about the unfairness of nonparty candidates. That’s called “inside baseball,” folks, and voters soon made it clear how little moved they were by any of it.
Those who want LePage replaced should give both Cutler and Michaud a long hard look and a chance to make their case.
While you’re at it, don’t waste a minute in this unproductive discussion of who is a spoiler and who isn’t, who has first dibs on the ballot and who has to go through what pathway to be a candidate.
There’s no doubt that multicandidate races complicate the math of elections and make partisans mad. But no amount of complaining is going to put elections back into yesterday’s neat D-versus-R box, at least in Maine, or persuade voters to vote for someone because of their party affiliation rather than their talent.
If anyone is wondering what voters really care about, go no further than last week’s report by the Pew Charitable Trust, which showed that Maine was one of three states to actually lose jobs during the last year, placing it 49th in job growth in the country.
That can’t all be laid at the feet of LePage. Over the last decade, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, Maine’s net job growth has hovered around zero. That was not a typo. Over the last 10 years, Maine has effectively gained no new jobs.
What matters in this election is not campaign talking points, but this:
• Does the candidate have a realistic and bold plan for moving the Maine economy forward?
• Do they have leadership skill to implement that plan?
• Can they inspire optimism and hope and energize people to work together for a better Maine?
If we want to see any job growth in the next decade, we need real change. Voters should expect more and ask tough questions. We can’t endure another campaign filled with platitudes and promises to “do everything better” than the other guys. Nor can we accept another “hundred-point plan” that offers nothing new and no sense of priorities.
All elections matter, but selecting the state’s CEO matters most. We’re not sending someone to Washington to join 549 others in Congress. We’re selecting the face and voice of Maine, someone with the power to either embarrass us or lift our hopes. Governors don’t make the economy go, but they can be an essential piece of the machinery of a new prosperity.
Maine’s voters have a tough job ahead. Let’s hope we all approach it with an eye to the future.
Alan Caron is the president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine’s next economy, and a partner in the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at: