One hundred and fifty years ago, Col. Joshua Chamberlain charged his 20th Maine up Little Round Top, breaching the Union line, crippling the Army of the Potomac and changing the course of history.
It was a pivotal moment in the War Between the States, giving Robert E. Lee a clear road to Washington, D.C., where he soon accepted the federal surrender and arrested Abraham Lincoln.
Wait … no. That’s not what happened.
Chamberlain charged down the hill, not up; he protected the flank, he didn’t breach it; he saved the day for the Union, not the Confederacy. That’s because Maine was a Northern state, not a Southern one, and it still is today.
Don’t tell that to Maine Republicans, though. They seem to want us to switch sides.
Since exploding into power in 2010, Republicans led by Gov. LePage have proposed a raft of policies that are more characteristic of states below the Mason-Dixon Line than of New England. They say that Maine needs these reforms to be more “business-friendly” and point to low unemployment and high growth rates in low-tax states like Texas as models for building a Maine economy.
But they don’t point out that while Texas might be business-friendly, it also has deep poverty and millions of residents with no health insurance or high school diplomas. If Maine is looking for an economic model, we can find much better ones much closer to home.
The Southern policy invasion started with proposed anti-union “right-to-work laws” championed by LePage and continued with a version of “welfare reform” that cuts benefits and training programs, which makes it harder for families to get out of poverty.
The clearest sign of Maine’s Southern sympathies is the Republican insistence that we opt out of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Look at the map. The states that have refused the money from the federal government to cover more people under Medicaid contain all of the old states of the Confederacy except Arkansas – with a couple of new recruits in Maine and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, our geographic and historical allies like Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio are all sticking with the Union.
Arkansas is something of a wild card. Rather than reject the federal funding outright, it has negotiated a deal that would let it use the Medicaid expansion funds from the federal government as additional subsidies for the poor to buy private health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
A LePage spokeswoman said the governor was aware of the Arkansas deal and expressed some interest in negotiating a way for Maine to participate in the program, but she said enough code words to chill any hope for a real progress.
“Gov. LePage is aware of and understands the details of these alternatives,” Adrian Bennett wrote in an email to reporter Joe Lawlor. “(They) indicate that states are seeking flexibility from the federal government before they will consider welfare expansion.
“A one-size-fits-all approach is not acceptable and we hope the Obama administration continues to be open to creative solutions that states develop for themselves.”
The governor has shown us his idea of flexibility before. Earlier this year, he offered to expand Medicaid if he could get a federal waiver to run the entire program as he sees fit. The answer was no.
Since the governor and his allies in the Legislature have already teed up “welfare” as the defining issue of 2014, and it seems unlikely that he would support a way to “expand” it before the next election.
But even if Maine were looking for a health care plan, why would Arkansas be the model, and not Massachusetts? The Bay State is years ahead of the nation in developing new ways to control costs while covering almost all of their residents.
According to the nonpartisan States Project, Massachusetts has better economic fundamentals than Texas, Arkansas, Florida or any of the Southern states that Maine Republicans are mining for policy ideas. And as important as where Massachusetts stands economically is how it got there.
Massachusetts is succeeding by investing in education, innovation and business growth. The LePage plan is to steer money away from public schools, veto research and development bonds and chase off an international energy company that wanted to invest in potentially game-changing new technology. (To be fair, none of the Southern states would have done that either.)
Maine may sometimes feel like the Mississippi of New England, but we are still in New England. The Civil War is over, and the North won. Let’s not switch sides now.
Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]