Dear Gov. LePage,
That’s it? Twenty-thousand jobs? That’s all you’ve got?
I have to tell you, Big Guy, I was thoroughly entertained by the two Republican Governors Association ads now airing on your behalf as Labor Day fast approaches and your re-election campaign shifts/grinds into high gear.
One ad calls you “one of a kind.” Allow me to wholeheartedly second that observation.
The other calls you “unique.” No argument there, either.
But here’s by far my biggest takeaway from the two 60-second spots – not counting the obvious attempt to smooth your many and varied rough edges by calling you things like “blunt,” “brutally honest” and “extremely candid.” (Which is kind of like calling your sovereign buddies the Aroostook Watchmen “extremely vigilant.”)
I’ve been through both ads more times than I wish to admit and I can find one, and only one, specific reference to Maine’s economy: On your watch, each ad states, 20,000 or so new jobs have been added to our workforce.
What each ad fails to state is how low that number actually is. Not to mention how little you had to do with it.
Remember the Great Recession, sir? It was that economic collapse that you and so many of your Republican friends used to bludgeon Democrats back in 2010 and, in the process, win elective office with the promise that as a seasoned businessman, you could do better.
I know, that’s all ancient history now. This past June, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the nation finally managed to recover all 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession. Better yet, July marked the sixth consecutive month that job growth nationally has exceeded the 200,000 mark.
Put another way, the United States now has restored 108 percent of the jobs lost to the Great Recession. And closer to home, New England’s recovery on the employment front has surged to 124 percent.
So how high has this rising tide lifted Maine’s economic boat?
Well, Governor, I’m afraid we’re not even back yet to pre-recession employment levels. Truth be told, while the worst economic calamity in almost a century rapidly fades in most states’ rearview mirrors, Maine has rebounded by a paltry 58 percent when it comes to putting paychecks in people’s pockets.
All due respect, Big Guy, but touting Maine’s 20,000 “new jobs” is like boasting that the Red Sox scored five runs and conveniently failing to mention that the Yankees scored 12.
I dwell on this small sliver of the RGA’s ad campaign (as opposed to your long history of extreme candidness) for one simple reason: Back in June, you’ll recall, the Press Herald commissioned a University of New Hampshire poll on all things political in Maine.
Among the questions: “What do you think is the most important problem facing the state of Maine today?”
Congrats, Governor! Twelve percent of the respondents said that would be you!
Still, that pales by comparison to the 37 percent who cited jobs and the economy as the biggest challenge Maine faces heading into Election 2014.
Which brings me, since we’re in a looking-back kind of mood here, to Forbes Magazine.
Who can forget how Forbes, just weeks before the 2010 election, dropped a political bombshell on Maine by ranking us dead last in its annual “Best States for Business” list?
Man, oh man, Governor, did you ever knock that one out of the park. More than a few political science types claim to this day that without you thumping that No. 50 on the Forbes list and convincing people that as the general manager of the Marden’s discount chain, you could salvage Maine’s self-respect, you very well might not be governor today.
Then came 2011 and another last-place finish. Followed by 2012 and another last-place finish. Followed by 2013 and, alas, last again.
Monday afternoon, I called Kurt Badenhausen, the keeper of the Forbes list, to ask when he’ll unveil the 2014 edition. He told me probably sometime in October. (Not to get all foreboding on you, Big Guy, but he did refer to the release date as “D-Day.”)
I’m trying to imagine how the Forbes list will be spun this time around if Maine wins the dubious distinction of cellar dweller for your entire four-year term. Your opponents, Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler, will see it as the same opportunity you once did and be on you like bears to a freshly placed vat of bacon fat.
And what will you do? Blame it on welfare fraud? Say it’s the fault of all those undocumented immigrant kids?
Or will you claim, as you have so loudly and so often, that you’re the victim of “40 years of Democratic rule”? (It’s always amazed me how deftly you airbrush three former non-Democratic governors – independents James Longley and Angus King and Republican John McKernan – right out of that time frame.)
Of course, Maine does have nowhere to go but up. But even if we claw our way up to, say, 48th place, what are you going to do? Dust off Angus King’s old “Maine is on the Move!” mantra and hope no one checks to see how far?
I know, Forbes is not the only compiler of comparative economic indicators out there.
Heck, there’s CNBC, which recently reported, “The Pine Tree State stands tall for education and quality of life, but a sluggish economy and limited infrastructure create a thicket of issues for business.” Translation: Maine is 45th among the 50 states when it comes to CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business.”
Then there’s Business Insider, which currently ranks Maine 47th when it comes to post-recession recovery. Ditto for MSN Money, which puts Maine at 47th in its list of “Worst to First” state economies.
Not to be a buzzkill, Governor, but even your archconservative friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council give Maine an “economic performance rank” of 42 (out of a possible 50) based in large part on growth in the state gross domestic product that lags well behind the national GDP.
Say what? Enough already?
OK, I admit this is getting too easy. But as you and your handlers make the case for your re-election, Big Guy, allow me a little extreme candor of my own.
You are, by any measure, one of a kind.
But to claim that you’ve rescued the state’s still-sputtering economy?
That’s … what’s the word … unique.