According to polling released earlier this month, inflation has come to eclipse other issues generally regarded as “hot-button” in the minds of Maine voters.

That includes education, access to health care, the state of the labor market, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and even – despite the events of the summer and Democrats’ best efforts to bring it to the fore – the legal status of abortion.

At the national level, the focus is much the same, with no shortage of hand-wringing over the cost of living and the prospect of recession. Campaign ads are tangled up in gas pump hoses and lined with grocery store shelves.

And last Thursday night on the debate stage in Portland, one of Maine’s two leading candidates for governor dove right in. Asked – it was the News Center Maine event’s very first question – what he believed the most important issue to voters was, former Gov. Paul LePage replied “inflation,” which, he said, he believed was “manmade” and “started here in Maine.”

“The fact of the matter is the economy is not doing well,” LePage said later, going on to call Gov. Mills “a hell of a bad economist.”

Gnawing economic concerns like those facing America right now tend to make the criticisms and pledges of challenger candidates for office ring more clearly. Rightly or wrongly, a feeling takes hold that the incumbent candidate either had something to do with the way things changed, or found themselves unable to do anything to change them back.


LePage, touting himself as “the guy that’s got a business background,” rattled off some figures with a view to comparing the performance of his prior administration with Gov. Mills’ record since January 2019, as if the world hasn’t changed forever in the intervening period; as though Maine’s recent numbers can be brandished as somehow separate from a deep and frustrating national trend.

It’s no surprise that the collective focus on increasing prices is as heightened as it is. On Friday, we learned that the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation again hit roughly three times the annual target of 2% last month. The central bank will raise rates for the sixth time this year this week. That’s causing people a lot of pain. It follows that consumer sentiment has been in the tank for some time.

But it would be more accurate to say that the economy is doing weirdly rather than badly. War, manufacturing and shipping disruption and the other lingering effects of pandemic paralysis can do that. Although the pressure on household budgets is immense, unemployment is at record lows. The morning after the Portland debate, we also learned that the American economy grew for the first time in the third quarter of this year and consumer spending increased.

No matter your politics, the recommended tack right now is “hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” a cliché that rightly sets the focus on the uncontrollable nature of global macroeconomic forces and far-off supply chain snarls, which no variety of “business background” can hope to rein in.

Inflation – which did not, in fact, start in Maine – is far more stark in many other parts of the world. And economists expect it to level out in the U.S. during 2023. Prolonged finger-pointing and bluster about “fixing” the economic picture will be, in the end, for naught.

Though it would be a lot easier were it the case, the governor’s office isn’t responsible for the price of eggs. It is responsible for the safety of our communities, the quality of our drinking water, the education of our children and the support of society’s most vulnerable.

These and many, many other more pressing and immediate issues are the ones that Mainers need to have their attention trained on. Weaponizing a one-of-a-kind economic moment for political ends is a diversionary tactic.

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