There was an important aspect of the last election that’s been entirely overshadowed by the gubernatorial election. While voters were supporting a pro-business Republican running on a platform of less government and lower taxes, they also endorsed, by healthy margins, every one of the small-business and innovation bonds on the same ballot.

Some would say that supporting a smaller government and spending more on bonds is an indication of the voter confusion, but it was nothing of the sort. Voters overwhelmingly wanted two things: a better economy and someone to get things done. As they saw it, supporting Gov. LePage and the bond issues gave them the best shot at both.

That fact offers a key to how to move Maine’s economy forward and bridge some of the partisan divides in Augusta. To understand why, it’s important to look at what these bonds did and how they were developed.

At least five of the six bonds were originally a package of ideas that would provide dollars directly to businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs who are busy growing Maine’s next economy.

Among other things, they provided funding to lending and mentoring organizations like the Maine Technology Institute and the Finance Authority of Maine. They also supported new research at innovation centers like the Jackson Laboratory and the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

Unlike so many bonds that seem to expand government or suggest short-term make-work jobs, voters could see these dollars going into the hands of people who are growing good-paying private sector jobs every day.

How these bonds were developed is a story that offers a model of how to work across party lines to find commonsense, common-ground strategies that voters are looking for.

The bonds were the product of a long conversation between Democrats and Republicans on a rather obscure legislative panel, the Workforce Development and Economic Future Committee. They worked for months to hear directly from business leaders and entrepreneurs across the state, and to listen carefully for new ideas that would support business growth.

It was a conversation that didn’t get bogged down in vaporous generalities like “improving business climate” or broad-based tax breaks that may or may not provide jobs. Instead, it focused on ideas that would produce tangible, measurable results.

The committee put its emphasis not on comforting ideological “principles” but on how to support the doers of Maine who are working in the private sector. Along the way, they managed to find a balance between those who want a leaner government and those who want investments in the future.

Leaders in Augusta have a chance this year to learn from and expand upon that small but significant example. To do that, they’ll have to do more of what the committee members did, which is to listen to each other and find areas of agreement. They’ll also need to focus on the drivers of tomorrow’s prosperity, which are innovation and entrepreneurs.

While they’re doing that, Democrats can pay more attention to improving the business climate and Republicans can learn that government can be a positive force for growing the next economy when it invests in things that work.

Given the many challenges Maine faces today, nothing is more critical to our future than a nonpartisan, commonsense economic plan. We’re a small state with limited dollars that’s in bad need of new economic energy. We spend more on government, as a percentage of our incomes, than just about any other rural state in America. At the same time, we spend a lot of money on economic development and tax breaks without knowing where the money goes and what is actually producing results.

I think the people of Maine sent a memo to Augusta on Election Day. It urged our leaders to spend less time talking about ideology and more time on specific ideas that make sense. It showed that voters will support ideas that focus on growing smaller companies with roots here.

And it suggested that instead of looking for instant jackpots and ribbon-cuttings, they should place more bets on the bootstrapping little guys here in Maine who are innovating and exporting great products to the world, and hiring people every day, one job at a time.

It turns out that the idea of growing the economy from the bottom up in Maine might be the closest thing we’ve had in decades to a nonpartisan plan for the economy. It may also be our best hope for Maine’s future. We can only hope that people in Augusta are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]