Gridlock. Food fights. Acrimony. These are the hallmarks of Augusta today, as they have been over the last five years. While the Legislature can be faulted, most of it starts and stops at the door of the governor.

A lot of LePage supporters – and there seem to be fewer of them with each passing day – like to say that LePage is good because he’s telling it like it is. “He’s blunt and forceful, which is just what we need,” they say. As though the problems of the world can be solved by being louder than everyone else. Call it politics by “Trump-et.” (I promised our 10-year-old I’d get that into a column, and there it is).

What should matter most, to everyone, is not how loud or nasty a leader is but how effective they are. The crucial question is this: Did anything get done? In LePage’s case, the answer is very little in his first term and nothing in his second term.

There’s a concept in economics that’s worth applying to politics once in a while. It’s called “opportunity cost,” and it’s a way to add up what wasn’t done because we took another direction. At the household level, it’s what you could have done to remodel the kitchen if you hadn’t gone on that vacation.

In politics, “opportunity cost” helps us tally both what was accomplished and what we could have done, but didn’t. Take, for instance, the thousands of hours and millions of dollars we’ve put into tracking down a handful of welfare cheats, which has saved us a few thousand dollars. While we were doing that, corporate raiders have made off with millions in phony tax breaks and incentives. When politics consumes itself with small things, big things get neglected.

The LePage administration’s history will include some smaller things that he got done, but it will also point to larger opportunities that were missed. Here’s a prime example among many. There are literally hundreds of smart and effective people in Maine working every day to move us away from our dependence on Middle East oil and toward alternatives like conservation, natural gas, home-grown wood pellets and residential or community solar.

Most of those folks don’t agree on what is most important to do first, but they do agree on the need for action. There’s a growing consensus today on a two-pronged strategy that couples the building of natural gas pipelines as we transition toward renewables. All of it has created a moment of opportunity for Maine to rapidly accelerate new industries here and lower costs over time.

Here’s a grand bargain waiting to be made that would move us forward dramatically: Expand natural gas capacity and redouble efforts to grow renewable energy and energy efficiency It’s an opportunity that effective leadership would recognize and act on, by helping people find common ground and mobilizing everyone into action. With that kind of leadership, in just a few years we’d become, once again, a national leader in renewable energy. And that, in turn, would put more money into the pockets of working people and businesses in Maine.

Legislative leaders saw that opportunity back in 2013, when they passed a comprehensive energy bill. It accelerated natural gas pipeline development and renewable energy in tandem, with everyone – and the state as a whole – winning. Gov. LePage, not surprisingly, vetoed the bill. And nothing substantive has happened since.

What’s LePage’s problem? Same as it ever was. He can’t support any ideas but his own. He has zero skills in listening or respecting differences, which are pre-conditions to bringing people together. Therefore, he cannot lead, and we’re finding neither common ground nor common sense.

So what are the ideas LePage insists will grow our economy and reduce energy costs?

 Build massive transmission lines to Canada so we can buy all that “cheap” Quebec hydropower, which will only be cheap until we hook up to it. Think of those satellite TV deals that give you a low price early on and kill you later. The Canadians aren’t stupid.

Kill – for no apparent reason – a massive offshore wind project that was privately funded.

Raid funds meant for energy efficiency.

No support for solar development.

Oppose everything else.

What’s the opportunity cost in all this? We’re not becoming a national leader in growing our own energy, creating jobs and lowering prices. We aren’t investing in both the short-term gas lines we need and the longer-term renewables that are essential to the future. We’re just spinning our wheels.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications, which is based in Freeport. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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