Presumptive Democratic candidate for governor Mike Michaud published his economic plan last week. That’s great. It addresses important issues, is very well put together and contains lots of good ideas. It joins a long line of good (and not so good) economic plans put forth over the years by a long list of candidates for governor, some of whom won their elections and some of whom did not.
Predictably, U.S. Rep. Michaud’s presumptive competitors quickly took issue with his plan. Independent Eliot Cutler took credit for the good ideas and added that only he would be able to save them from the clutches of the special interests to whom Michaud would be beholden. Spokespeople for Gov. LePage took issue with the numbers in the Michaud plan and pointed to Maine’s declining unemployment rate.
All this is par for the course, the usual political spin and counter spin. Economic plans are like filing papers and raising money – part of the process of running for governor. Release the plan with a splash and then move on … to taxes or regulations or welfare or the terrible state of partisanship in Augusta.
And all of this perfunctory, ritualistic treatment is sad because good ideas and solid economic plans are critical to Maine’s future. They shouldn’t be merely ammunition for one or two-day media bumps in political campaigns. They should be calls to action designed to build broad public understanding of critical issues and equally broad support for, even insistence on, strategic action.
And this is why the importance rests not in the plan itself, however good or bad the ideas in it may be, but in the person behind the plan. Maine desperately needs an economic leader, a spokesperson, someone intent on standing behind his plan today, and every day.
Maine needs someone for whom economic development is a passion, a cause, someone for whom the ideas in his plan inform his every move, someone who will preface every budget he presents, every State of the State address he delivers, every appointment he makes, every legislator and town councilor with whom he meets with an explanation of how that budget, that speech, that meeting relates to the goals and strategies set forth in his plan for the economy.
Where are we to look for such a leader? Where and to whom can our would-be governors look for models of leaders with broad, far-reaching goals pursued with single-minded determination in every strategic venue, from general public appeals to behind-the-scenes arm twisting, to ideological arguments with dogmatic true believers? Certainly not to Washington.
To my mind, a better direction would be Rome and a better leadership model would be Pope Francis. Here is a man selected to lead a widely condemned institution losing the confidence of many of its once strongest supporters. And here is a man with a plan – the option for the poor – a common theme behind all of his actions. It informs his own lifestyle, his dealings with the often corrupt and generally self-serving bureaucracy he inherited, the scandals his predecessors attempted to sweep under the rug, the ideological rigidity that has driven away so many his institution is supposed to serve and the challenge to change that he presents to all those who profess to share his beliefs and his goals.
I don’t expect our next governor to be a religious leader, but I do hope that he (and someday she) will be an economic leader, a humble yet inspiring person whose every action calls our attention to the reality of the fundamental challenges we face if we are to make life in Maine the way it should be.
More than the specifics of a plan that may help a candidate win an election, Maine needs a leader with the single-minded dedication to the execution of that plan that will enable him to govern.
Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions Inc. He can be reached at: