Janet Mills must have superpowers.

If you listen to the critics, Maine’s governor had the ability to shut down the state’s economy and make 150,000 jobs disappear.

And all she would have to do bring them back is snap her fingers.

Her power must not stop at the state line: Mills’ economy shutdown switch is effective as far away as Texas, where 2 million people have applied for unemployment benefits and California, where nearly 3 million are out of work. She must have been the one who made 36 million jobs disappear nationally – Great Depression-level unemployment that is reverberating in the other 49 states, even the ones that don’t have a supervillain governor like ours. She probably made oil prices go negative, too.

When will she use her awesome powers to bring back global supply chains, consumer confidence and leisure travel so we can have our economy back? 

Sadly, the critics leave out one important detail – COVID-19.

It wasn’t Mills who shut down the economy – it was the novel coronavirus, which spread around the world from one Chinese city in a matter of months. So far, it’s infected 1.4 million Americans and kills about 2,000 a day.

And since Mills didn’t shut our economy down, she can’t turn it back on. Decisions made in Maine can and have made a big impact on public health, but when it comes to the global economy, there isn’t much that Mills can be expected to do.

Don’t expect that to stop opportunistic Republicans from trying to turn a global pandemic into a story of economic mismanagement on the state level.

They charge that Mills was too quick to issue a stay-at-home order in late March and too slow to lift it.

Their proof is that Maine was not hit hard by the pandemic – “only” 1,500 cases and 69 deaths. They believe that we could have ridden out the storm leaving our economy in tact.

Now that we are in an economic crisis, they argue, the only way forward is to lift all restrictions on Maine businesses and grow our way out of this.

But this analysis is based on a very shaky assumption: That COVID’s relatively light toll in Maine had nothing to do with our unprecedented public health mobilization. For the first time in anyone’s memory, schools were shut down. Restaurants and bars were closed. Businesses sent employees who could work from home to do so by the thousands.

Maine’s “low” body count was a product of social distancing, not proof that we didn’t have to do anything.

The pressure is now on Mills to use her powers to restore the economy, but what does that mean? Ending the rule that requires out-of-state visitors to quarantine for 14 days when they come to Maine.

That rule pretty much means that there won’t be a summer tourist season this year, at least not the kind any small-business owner in the tourism industry could have planned for.

It is a serious blow to Maine’s most important industry, but could Mills give us a normal summer with a flick of her pen? About as much as she could change the course of mighty rivers or bend steel in her bare hands.

This is a global pandemic, not just a Maine event. And even if there were no deadly communicable disease spreading around the world, we are in a national recession unlike any we have ever seen.

People are out of work everywhere. There is less money around to be spent on things like hotel rooms and restaurant meals. Inviting the world to visit Maine this summer might recover some of what’s going to be lost, but it’s not going to be enough for many struggling small businesses to survive. And it would come at a great risk to the health and safety of people working in that industry.

This problem did not originate in Maine, and the solution won’t magically appear here either.

It will take the super powers of the federal government – which can print money when it’s needed in a crisis – to bail out the Maine tourism industry, just as it did for the big banks a decade ago.


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