Dear Gov.-elect LePage,

Congratulations. However thin the margin of your victory, you did get the most votes and now assume the responsibility of being our leader for the next four years. That’s the genius of our democratic system — the electioneering ends and the governing begins.

I, for one, am ready to turn the evening airwaves back to antacids, purple pills and lakeshore bathtubs and get on with the task at hand.

I’ve lost more than 30,000 jobs since the end of 2007, and, as you must be from all the campaigning, I’m pretty worn down. But before I go back to scratching for sales, paying bills and hunting for qualified workers, I’ve got a few things to say to you.

First, I’m thrilled that we’re going to have an honest-to- goodness businessman in the Blaine House, the first in a long time. Your story — working up from poverty to the top of an iconic Maine enterprise — is one that can (if you tell it frequently and well) serve as an inspiration to our young (and many not so young) people who so desperately need close-to-home role models.

In addition, your experience can change the tone of our policy debates. For too long all business has been portrayed as BP — a giant, impersonal corporation milking “obscene” profits for a select few by shortchanging worker safety and the environment.

However subtly hidden, that attitude lies behind much of the belief that we can always raise taxes “just a little” to get the things we want. As someone who knows, from intense personal experience, just how difficult it is to squeeze a few pennies of profit out of a dollar of sales, you can bring a much-needed new perspective to the halls of the State House.

Profit is not a dirty word. Profit is the engine that drives broad social prosperity in our free enterprise system. As one of your predecessors, Joe Brennan, used to say, “the best social program is a good job.”

I hope that every night for the next four years you ask yourself not, “What did I do to create a job?” but “What did I do to help a Maine business create a job?”

Second, I hope you’re ready for some hard thinking and the thankless task of holding my feet to the fire.

Helping a Maine business create a job is a daunting task. It’s a competitive world out there — and it is the world we’re competing with. Many of the 30,000 jobs I’ve lost are long gone. No amount of tax cutting or regulatory reform will bring them all back.

And no amount of begging for federal dollars for “green” energy subsidies and “shovel-ready” projects will replace them.

One of the first tasks you’ll face when you sit down at your new desk in Augusta will be to look at a small sheet of paper from the Revenue Forecasting Committee. It will show more lost jobs for 2010 and, if you’re lucky, maybe 2,000 new jobs for 2011.

I’ll generate another 30,000 new jobs only when I’ve convinced thousands of people like you — imaginative, hard-working and persistent people — that they can pursue and achieve their dreams here in this great place. And I’ll do that only after I’ve held them and their teachers to a standard of performance and accountability that matches the standards to which we hold those who would alter our environment — high, strict and unwavering.

My problem is not the unemployment rate. It’s the unemployability of too many of our people, young and old.

My greatest advantage in this increasingly competitive world is this place we all (and many others across the globe) know as Maine.

My only way to turn that quality of place into good jobs is to couple it with quality of people, people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to match wits with those anywhere.

Everything else is noise — the scratching of deck chairs sliding around on a ship I hope won’t be the Titanic.

Finally, I applaud your desire to restructure our governments, both state and local. But remember, a healthy economy needs a healthy government. Cut too much, and the public services and infrastructure on which I depend will decay, discouraging business investment.

Cut too little, and the unsustainable mistakes of the past will continue to accumulate, draining us all of our money and our spirit.

I urge you to keep a copy of the EnvisionMaine report “Reinventing Maine Government” on your desk right next to the revenue forecast. It is full of apt examples of “right-sizing” government.

But remember, Maine’s inefficient government didn’t cause my decline, and restructuring our government won’t ensure my revival.

The global forces that have radically changed the manufacturing base on which I have relied since the 1840s are largely separate from the inertia that has kept our governmental structures from adapting to these emerging economic realities.

Restructuring government is a necessary but not sufficient condition for economic revival. You have the unenviable challenge of tackling both.

But then, anyone who has come from where you’ve come from knows how to walk the walk. I just hope you’re prepared to take us all with you on the next leg of your journey.

 

Sincerely and hopefully,

The Maine Economy