Dear candidate for the Maine Legislature:

First, thank you for running in these challenging times. Whether you win or lose, the experience will be good for you and all those you meet.

If you win, you’ll be quickly plunged into a sea of crosswinds and rogue waves. The most recent session of the Legislature focused its time on patching holes in the ship of state and bailing like crazy just to keep afloat.

Unfortunately, much of the water bailed out spilled directly into the dinghies of our school districts and town governments.

Many costs were not eliminated; they were simply shifted. The problems of the mother ship were solved while the surrounding boats got swamped.

The worst of the storm may have passed but the conditions on the water remain treacherous. Our children are leaving Maine after college. Our test scores on national exams are dropping. More children live in poverty than we care to imagine. Our aging population is producing fewer children for our work force. And, sadly, mid-to-high-wage jobs are scarce.

As one who hopes to serve in the 125th Maine Legislature, you and the next governor of Maine have a chance not only to redesign the vessel but to set a new course toward government efficiency and economic renewal. With that in mind, here are some things to think about as you pursue this opportunity for public service.

First, how do you view the relationship between the private and public sectors?

While one creates resources, the other redistributes them. What’s the right balance to foster prosperity?

Second, how is your peripheral vision? Seeing and thinking with a 360-degree view of your district and state make navigating much easier. Also, understanding the route you have traveled will help you anticipate what lies just over the horizon.

Third, when push comes to shove, what will you do? Don’t hesitate to send people up into the crow’s-nest for more information. Ask good questions of those inside and outside Augusta, particularly of the people who create jobs. Question authority. Trust but verify.

Fourth, when confronted with a problem, will you look first to government or the private sector for solutions? Is the problem you want to solve an anecdote or is there pervasive evidence that thousands of citizens are adversely impacted and only government can address the issue?

You may find that in the absence of a preponderance of data, it is sometimes best to just say “no” or to wait while you get more information.

Fifth, seek consensus and do your homework. You’ll be one of 186 people who have been elected to serve in the Legislature. Your best ideas will require that at least 76 members of the House and 18 members of the Senate support your proposals.

Often, the best ideas come from collaboration and can muster a strong bipartisan majority.

Also, becoming an authority by doing your homework on an issue will advance your probability of success.

As former Maine Gov. and longtime U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie used to say: “Explain, justify and persuade.”

Sixth, think about how bills in the Legislature will be viewed from outside the state.

While Legislatures often are incubators for national policy, they also can make a state an outlier in a competitive environment.

The people who create jobs in the United States have 50 choices as to where they invest their money. Policies that advance distinction for superior education and job creation are better than laws that make creating or retaining jobs more difficult.

Seventh, what do you think about placing a “sunset” provision on programs and regulations? Such language in a bill can ensure future legislatures are compelled to determine if the outcomes are working.

Eighth, do proposals for new spending or mandates address a clear need or are they discretionary? In your list of priorities, where does any particular bill rank in the lineup?

Unlike the federal government, the state Legislature cannot print money and must balance its budget.

Ninth, do you know where Maine stands relative to the nation? We know we have one of the best rankings for health care coverage, but Maine also is one of the most expensive states for health care costs.

With Maine at the wrong end for income, ease of doing business, energy, cost of K-12 education, cost of Medicaid, etc., moving toward the national average would be a wonderful and exciting achievement.

Finally, do you have time to be a role model? Public service is a high calling and needs good people with good information to do its work.

Please encourage others to become candidates in service to the community and state. Voluntary public service is rewarding but with it comes the responsibility of ensuring its renewal.

Enjoy the voyage.

What do you think and what am I missing?

Tony Payne is executive director of the Alliance for Maine’s Future, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on the effects of public policy on the state’s economy.


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