As Gov. LePage reached the conclusion of his inaugural address, I was balancing both a sense of short-term relief and long-term apprehension. I was comforted by the fact that the free-spoken LePage had stuck mostly to the themes and texts of the speech I had prepared. There would be no pressing need for damage control.
Angst started creeping in as Maine’s new governor got closer to uttering the absolutes at the end of his remarks. The speech made it clear that LePage ran for governor as a job creator. He was about to commit to spending every day making Maine a better place to do business and that he would stand accountable for how he had done at the end of four years.
My draft all but urged the voters to throw LePage out of office if he did not create jobs in Maine. Maybe, I thought, my rhetoric was coming on a little too strong.
It turns out that LePage has given Maine voters plenty of reasons to consider new and more traditional leadership in Augusta over the course of his three turbulent years in office. But his accomplishments as a job creator may well earn LePage another four years in the Blaine House.
LePage is the tough love, bitter medicine or brutal trainer that you endure only if you are seeing personal and positive results. While his record of accomplishment in Augusta includes big tax cuts, regulatory reform and significant fiscal reform, these achievements at the State House are not going to be enough to secure his re-election.
When you bring an unexpected and sometimes errant approach to Maine’s highest political office, you have to deliver results that affect and improve the lives of voters who will decide the election. It has to be jobs.
Fortunately for LePage and his team, employment news in Maine is getting decidedly better, and highly authentic messengers are already preparing the electorate for the governor’s re-election jobs message.
The difference between an adequate and a great political message can hinge on the level of awareness and understanding in the electorate. It is like someone from away hearing on the Weather Channel that it has been a hard winter in Maine and imagining living through the brutal cold, the power outages and the slick travel conditions.
I am seeing trends now that have me thinking the electorate will know Maine’s economy is doing better by the time we choose our next governor in the fall. This level of understanding will make the governor’s jobs message far more meaningful for voters whose first concern is the economic direction of our state.
Maine’s unemployment rate has fallen to 6.4 percent, a full 2 percentage points from levels reached in 2010 when LePage was running for office. Sixty-five hundred jobs have been created in Maine over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and our state’s share of employed population exceeds the national average by 2.6 percentage points.
While it is good to see the indicators heading in the right direction, it will be people living through an improving and expanding economy that creates the understanding LePage needs. And it is happening.
In a matter of minutes last week, I heard radio spots from a construction company and a medical practice seeking new employees. Those ads were followed by the promotion of a job fair hosted by the radio station that included more than 20 employers seeking new workers.
While not sponsored by a candidate or party, the political message is clear and powerful. Maine companies are hiring, and every radio spot, help-wanted sign or classified ad posted or broadcast between now and November serves as a subtle ad for the re-election of Maine’s job creator-in-chief.
Then will come the firsthand accounts of job creation and a brighter economic future. There will be promotions at work, the Facebook posts of the newly hired or the news accounts of a local Maine business expanding to serve new customers that solidify our understanding that Maine’s economy is getting better.
Some of it is cyclical. The economy is certainly due for some robust expansion after years of recession and very slow economic growth. But I am also convinced that Maine’s approach to working with job creators has undergone a sea change under LePage that is having a tangible economic impact.
LePage has not spent much time currying favor or banking political capital during his time in office. He will never be one to consider the public relations or political consequences of his actions. But his policies and priorities are consistent and focused squarely on making Maine a better place to create jobs.
LePage took office with four years and a job to do. As it becomes clearer that he is accomplishing his goals, he just might get a contract extension.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: