July 18, 2013

Maine Voices: Campaign coverage focuses on numbers at expense of qualifications

Name recognition and contributions won't solve the many challenges that the state of Maine faces.

By Stephen M. Woods

YARMOUTH - A headline in the July 15 Portland Press Herald, "Maine governor's race already drawing big bucks," was followed by a story about a state-mandated financial report recently submitted by all the gubernatorial candidates.

I was distressed by the volume of numbers included in the article: $430,000, 40 percent, $313,000, $123,000, $340,000, $215,605, $135,000, $12,000, $2.4 million, $1.9 million, $1.4 million, etc.

In a similar vein, every few months some think-tank group with a room full of supercomputers releases "polling data" with ever more numbers, causing breathless speculation from media pundits, political operatives and academic wonks. And like a pack of carnival psychics, each member of this political tribe "interprets" the numbers with immense seriousness before exportation to the masses.

More than a year from our 2014 gubernatorial election, those who practice the dark art of precognitive politics have already declared "Paul LePage can't be beat"; "Mike Michaud will be our next governor," and "Eliot Cutler is the chosen one." And by omission, my candidacy has absolutely zero chance of success due to what the experts refer to as "the numbers."

None of these exercises in partisan propaganda touches upon the most important information to Mainers: which candidate possesses the best skill set and most relevant experience to be most effective as Maine's next governor. Name recognition here in Maine isn't a meaningful "skill." If it were, our next governor would be comedian Bob Marley or weatherman Joe Cupo.

The "numbers" that seem to matter most in today's political realm are fundraising dollars and polling statistics, which serve only political "insiders."

The gurus and pundits will argue that name recognition and campaign contributions are meaningful barometers of voter interest, but few people bother to ask, "Which is the cart and which is the horse?"

Every single Mainer should invest five minutes in our democratic process by visiting the database that lists in detail all of the reported contributions to candidates running in state elections to date. The website is www.mainecampaignfinance.com. From there you can access any candidate's "Detailed Financial Activity."

While some donations listed seem organic and supportive in the context of "I really like this candidate and I'm sending in some money to support their campaign," the vast majority of donations listed are from companies, consultants, political allies, etc., all paying some manner of "politician tax" in the hope of receiving tangible personal or business benefits somewhere down the line.

My "numbers"? I own a business that has directly contributed more than $100 million in outside capital into our state over the last decade. These numbers represent taxable income (state, county, local), numerous jobs and extensive investment in other local businesses here in Maine.

Also, I am the chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council for the third consecutive year after being elected to the council twice.

Finally, I am the only candidate who has openly refused campaign contributions at this point in favor of contributing $50,000 of my own money to my gubernatorial campaign. Why am I committing more of my own personal money to this campaign than all of the other candidates combined?

Because unlike Eliot Cutler, I don't know "66" attorneys in Maine and Washington who want to become friends with me by making sizable donations.

Unlike Mike Michaud, I haven't accumulated 33 years of political favors that can now be monetized. And in regard to our incumbent governor, I'm not interested in benefiting from donations by more than 50 large businesses (or their key executives) that do business or desire to do business with the state.

Today, LePage, Cutler and Michaud all have better "numbers" than I do based upon current dogma. But it's my fervent hope that in our June 2014 primary and the Nov. 4, 2014, gubernatorial election, Mainers will focus on a completely different set of numbers.

With a land area of 30,843 square miles, a population of approximately 1,328,361, 16 counties, almost 500 municipalities widely spread out across the state, the highest median age in the country (43.5), high energy costs and relatively weak border economies, Maine faces an economic reality that challenges our today and threatens, with severe consequence, our many tomorrows.

Our next gubernatorial election should not be about the numbers attached to any politician, but instead, the numbers associated to economic hardships facing thousands of Mainers across our great state.

Name recognition polling and/or fundraising success will not solve Maine's challenges. That requires a leader with vision, experience and a passion to lead Maine into a better future.

Stephen M. Woods is chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council, a declared Democratic candidate for governor of Maine in 2014, and CEO of TideSmart Global.

 

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