Contemporary politics and politicians are too often consumed by short-term issues and challenges. “How do I position myself to win re-election?” “How does the caucus pass this bill?” “What message will win today’s media cycle?”
In the face of those pressures, it’s difficult – and sometimes electorally counterproductive – to focus on longer-term challenges and make the strategic investments necessary to position the state and nation to seize future opportunities.
But occasionally an issue emerges that allows – and very nearly demands – our elected officials to take a longer view and pursue common goals even in the face of sharp partisan divides.
One such issue is the gradual melting of the Arctic. That melting is the unfortunate consequence of global climate change and a dramatic manifestation of its worrisome impacts. It’s also a catalyzing proof point for the continued aggressive pursuit of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. But regardless of the cause, the transforming Arctic represents an unmistakable opportunity for Maine and the nation.
As Arctic ice recedes, new shipping lanes will bring global commerce centers closer together than ever before, creating new business, trade and economic development opportunities.
New energy and mineral resources will emerge and, with them, new territorial claims. That, in turn, will create new geopolitical, environmental and national security challenges as nations including Russia, Canada, the United States, China and Scandinavian countries all race to compete and (potentially) collaborate.
In the context of these challenges and opportunities, the leadership of the United States is indispensable. And as the East Coast’s proximate Arctic state (along with Alaska’s contiguous Arctic territory in the west) Maine’s leadership is similarly essential.
Thankfully, Maine already enjoys significant political leadership in this arena, as both Gov. LePage and Sen. Angus King independently work to seize Arctic opportunities despite their differing political ideologies and demeanors.
The governor was instrumental in forging ties with Iceland and recruiting Eimskip, Iceland’s oldest shipping company, to move its East Coast operations from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland.
The governor also supported the expansion of Portland’s container terminal, the addition of direct rail access and, along with Mayor Michael Brennan, is pursuing a cold storage warehouse to further expand commercial shipping opportunities. These moves – along with the development of all of Maine’s deep water ports – are essential if the state is going to position itself as the go-to U.S. East Coast port of entry for the emerging Northwest Passage and northern sea route.
For his part, Sen. King has forged a partnership with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to form the Arctic Caucus and is pushing to advance the country’s strategic interests in the region.
King recognizes that the United States, especially as it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, has both the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that Arctic development unfolds collaboratively and peaceably, maintaining high environmental standards, respect for indigenous peoples and the advancement of U.S. interests. Even as King and LePage pursue their Arctic policies in relative isolation from each other, the results nonetheless demonstrate the power of elected officials – both federal and state, conservative and progressive – working toward shared goals.
The warming Arctic will create significant opportunities for major Maine manufacturers like Cianbro; renewable energy companies like Ocean Renewable Power and Pika; and academic and research institutions like the University of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Bigelow Laboratory.
And as new and potentially unanticipated market opportunities emerge, Maine will be well positioned to leverage its workforce, expertise and entrepreneurial spirit in this largely uncharted region.
The work of King and LePage will help ensure that Maine businesses and citizens benefit from the economic opportunities a warming Arctic will inevitably bring. And to the extent they can unify their efforts and build upon each other’s successes, Mainers will surely reap even greater rewards.
While politics is too frequently partisan and petty, the Arctic brings into sharp relief government’s critical role in setting future-looking, aspirational and clear policy goals, allocating the human and financial resources necessary to meet them and acting in unison for the common good of Maine people.
Led by King and LePage, the Arctic represents an exceptional opportunity for our elected officials to take a long view, work together across levels of government and partisan divides, and accomplish something that will materially affect the future prosperity of Maine people.
Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide and manages the Boston and Portland offices of VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington. He can be contacted at: