While the campaigns for governor are already beehives of activity, most Mainers haven’t even begun to pay attention. They’re too busy trying to stretch the summer into late October, adjust to new schedules, shut down the garden or the camp or get the boat out.
Nonetheless, there is more interest at this stage of the election cycle than normal, probably because Mainers understand that the election in 2014 is one of those moments where we not only select a person to lead, we establish a tone and direction for the future.
Next fall, voters will be answering some critical questions. Will Mainers be consumed by anger or uplifted by hope? Will we be so fixated on what’s wrong with the state that we can’t see the potential we have? Will we continue to divide ourselves into small factions or pull together to meet the economic challenges we face?
I’ve got friends who passionately support each of the candidates now running. “Mike’s a good guy who has paid his dues, and is able to bring people together,” say some Democrats. “Eliot has a vision for the state, leadership ability and isn’t beholden to interest groups that control the parties,” say Cutler supporters. “Paul has finally taken on Maine’s tax-and-spend addiction and paid our bills,” say conservatives.
They have one thing in common: They’re all talking about whether Michaud and Cutler will split the vote and allow a LePage victory. Democrats have argued that case for months, in a futile attempt to get Cutler out of the race. Republicans hope the Democrats are right, since that’s their only hope of winning. Cutler supporters shrug it all off, but privately admit to being concerned with any possibility of LePage’s being re-elected.
One thing is clear: Without a change in the way we do things, Maine will have a governor in 2015 who was elected without majority support and with the go-it-alone instincts of a candidate who can win by appealing to only one-third of the voters.
There are three ways to fix that problem, each of which requires public pressure on the candidates or the people in Augusta.
ESTABLISH RUNOFF ELECTIONS
The first and simplest solution is to change Maine’s election laws to establish a runoff in the governor’s race. When the Legislature convenes in January, it should immediately take up a proposal to either add a September vote that would reduce the field to two, as many states now do, or adopt the kind of instant-runoff system that Portland used in its last mayoral vote. Either approach will ensure that marginal ideologues don’t end up sitting behind the governor’s desk.
RALLY BEHIND ONE ALTERNATIVE
If Augusta fails to act, the anti-LePage majority should give Michaud and Cutler every opportunity to make their case between now and next fall, listening closely to their plans and assessing their ability to bring people together and move Maine forward.
If one of those two candidates is lagging by the end of September, voters should join forces behind the other one. That “anyone-but-LePage” approach requires that people who support either Cutler or Michaud not get so swept up by negative arguments against the alternative that they can’t adjust, if it becomes necessary.
PRESS CANDIDATES FOR AN AGREEMENT
If Michaud and Cutler want to ensure that LePage isn’t re-elected, they can simply agree that if one of them is behind in October, he will withdraw from the race. That won’t be easy for either of them, of course. Campaigns like to believe that their guy is the only one who can do the job. Candidates also have to account for the hopes and dreams, egos and careers of funders, volunteers and parties.
That’s why the candidates will need to be constantly encouraged to put Maine’s interests ahead of their own. At every event between now and the fall of 2014, people have to urge them to agree on this approach. Don’t accept weak excuses for why it can’t be done. Be patient, but persistent.
Given what’s at stake for Maine’s future, both Michaud and Cutler need to be reminded that the issue upon which they most agree is the need to replace LePage, which can be easily forgotten in the heat of battle. Both of them love Maine and want to lead. This is one way for them to demonstrate both, and to ensure that we’ll have a governor who has the support of a majority of Mainers.
Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine’s next economy, and a partner at the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org