Recently, the CEO of a successful Maine company, when asked how public policy might lead to more businesses like his locating in Maine, said: “Just ask the Legislature to stop chipping away at business with bills like the mandatory sick leave bill now being debated.”
Indeed, the Legislature seems to delight in introducing bills each session that are aimed in ways large and small at making Maine business less competitive.

As the Maine Economic Growth Council’s annual report made clear earlier this month, the Legislature should be doing more to encourage business growth.

Maine is the eighth-highest-cost state in the country in which to do business.

However, it feels good, particularly if one is a Democratic legislator, to propose measures such as mandatory sick days and indexing the state minimum wage to inflation – both of which are currently pending.

We live in a relatively poor state – one in which it makes public policy sense to try to help reduce business costs and not to make Maine an outlier among other states when it comes to business-cost mandates.

These kinds of bills would be killed by leadership in most states so as not to force member votes on such sensitive and ultimately counterproductive efforts.

Not in Maine. Here, leadership proposes these bills.

It is true that the outcry from businesses and workers concerned about the impact of additional costs in this fragile economy has registered among some Democratic legislators on these particular bills.

The automatic indexing of the minimum wage bill has been tabled, and Senate President Libby Mitchell has substantially modified her bill on mandatory sick leave to remove the mandatory part and put in a provision that prevents workers from being dismissed when they are sick.

This is a novel twist, destined, if passed, to provide yet more employment for Maine’s legal community. In this sense Sen. Mitchell may view her bill now as economic development legislation.

In a broader sense, my concern goes beyond any specific legislative proposals. Somewhere over the past 30 years, the Maine Legislature has shifted from being republican-leaning (with a small “r”) to being progressive Democratic (with a large “D”).

The transition happened slowly. Much credit for this goes to John Martin in his long stint as speaker. He and his colleagues helped to recruit strong Democratic candidates for the 151 House races.

They were helped by crafting law that gave special dispensation to teachers, a strong source of talent for the Ds, to run for the Legislature.

And they also benefited by steadily extending the number of days the Legislature was in session as a way to make it difficult for small-business people, who had once been the backbone of the Republican members, to serve.

All of this strategy has worked brilliantly – though Speaker Martin’s heavy-handed approach was the major force in bringing term limits and ending his reign.

Of course, the wily Martin simply switched to run for the Senate and, now back in the House, remains a force in Augusta, term limits or no.

Thank goodness that we have elections coming up in November that will give Mainers the opportunity for new leadership in Augusta. The current leadership is not serving the people of Maine well.

It is time to start another seismic shift in state government to better reflect the majority centrist sentiment in Maine – a sentiment reflected in the fact that the largest group of registered voters in Maine is the independents.

We need a governor who has a strong vision for economic growth and who has the toughness and tenacity to stand up to both powerful unions and corporate interests when they are clearly counter to the interests of the state.

At the Legislature, my hope is that Mainers will take a hard look at the record of those running in their local races.

For the past several years, we have been sending to Augusta way too many nice people with little sense of what is needed to counter Maine’s downward economic trajectory.

Give us more doers and fewer do-gooders.

I am not suggesting replacing these folks, mainly Democrats, with card-carrying members of the tea party faction.

What we need are more moderates from both parties and, even better, more independents who are also moderate.

There will be opportunity for new leadership in both houses. Getting more moderates into leadership will require that moderates are a strong voice in each party caucus.

In the end, the choice is ours – and this November there will be several big choices.

Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant based in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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