When most Mainers think of Gov. Paul LePage, they see someone who is either a long-awaited and welcome agent of change, or a train wreck. Either way, he’s a memorable character on the Maine stage, not so much for what he’s done as for what he’s said. Hardly anyone who isn’t his press secretary or a leader of the Republican Party would seriously argue, though, that he’s been effective.
And so it is with his approach to solar power in Maine, which has taken us in a few short years from being a leading state to last place in New England.
A few weeks back, I credited all the people who worked on a significant new breakthrough in how to accelerate the growth of solar power in Maine. After six months of work, a broad group of stakeholders, including the Public Advocate’s Office, the solar industry, CMP, environmentalists and towns, put together a winning strategy for Maine.
They did so in the face of opposition from skeptics and competitors alike. And they did it knowing that it is always 10 times harder to build an agreement than it is to rip it apart.
What was LePage’s response? You’ll be shocked to learn that he didn’t exactly offer congratulations for a job well done. No encouragement to those folks, in the same way there is never encouragement to others who are doing the hard work of finding common ground on issues crucial to the state’s future.
LePage’s response, typically, was to complain and oppose – and, of course, to attempt to replace everyone else’s ideas with nothing but his own.
What’s at stake in this debate is whether or not Maine can increase solar energy production by twelvefold over the next decade while creating hundreds of good new jobs and reducing the $5 billion dollars that we send to out-of-state energy producers every year. It’s about encouraging homeowners and businesses to become energy producers, reducing the number that rely entirely upon big energy plants and costly new transmissions lines.
It’s also about helping towns cover their landfills and public buildings with solar panels so they can help bring badly needed relief to property taxpayers. And, of course, taking action on climate change before we lose our lobster industry.
None of that seems to matter to LePage. If there is an old way of solving a problem, LePage is the expert. If there’s a partisan solution, all the better. But if the challenge is to think in new ways about the future and to work with others on real solutions, he’s nearly always opposed.
On issue after issue, LePage is frustrated by the lack of support for his own ideas – a situation that exists partly because he’s antagonized too many Legislators in both parties and partly because so many of his ideas are, well, wacky. So he’s become content to block others who have ideas.
His administration is now essentially running government by veto. The governor has become the “Indomitable No-Man.”
For Republicans who hate government, that’s all well and good, I suppose. It may even be called a certain kind of success. But for Mainers hungry for real action on the economy, on education, poverty and drug abuse, time and opportunity are slipping away and Maine’s losses are piling up.
This week, on the solar issue, LePage was hard at work trying to create another lost opportunity.
Part of the problem is that LePage doesn’t like solar power because, he says, it’s “subsidized.” That concern has never stopped him, though, from advocating for massive subsidies for natural gas pipelines or transmission lines to Canada’s hydropower, paid by electricity ratepayers. But those are things owned by big companies, not ordinary Mainers.
LePage also doesn’t like just about anything that’s the product of compromises, which, to him, seem to be little more than suspicious conspiracies. The very idea of a group of people getting together to work through their differences is somehow wrong. Maybe even weak. Why not just fight to the death, winner take all, instead of all that talk, talk, talk?
LePage likes ideas that sit on the plate without any gravy – clean, simple ideas. His ideas. With him, as we now know all too well, it’s always been “his way” or “no way.” Unfortunately, “no way” is what Maine has mostly gotten over the last five years – along with countless lost opportunities to grow the economy of Maine.
Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at: