Thu, Dec 25, 2014 ●
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The Universal Notebook: Gov. LePage? Maybe it won't be so bad

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: Gov. LePage? Maybe it won't be so bad

What we have in the race for governor is the most liberal Democrat, the most conservative Republican, a Democrat-turned-Independent positioning himself in the moderate middle, and a couple of guys wasting their own and other people’s money tilting at windmills.

Given the mood in the state and the country, I’m sorry to say I think the race is Paul LePage’s to lose.

People tend to vote for people with whom they can identify – people like us. LePage, a Franco-American who rose from poverty to run the Marden’s thrift store chain, is a made-for-recession candidate. He is thrift personified. The average Mainer can identify with him – humble origins, up by his bootstraps, a success in business, a kick-ass mayor of Waterville, and everyone shops at Marden’s.

I was just re-watching the Meet the Governor videos (meetthegovernor.com) that Portland art dealer Andy Verzosa produced during the primaries, asking candidates to address Maine’s creative economy, and the differences among the three major candidates was very instructive.

Republican LePage could be talking about anything when he prescribes cutting taxes, reducing the size of state government and reducing government regulation as the keys to the success of the creative economy. I'm not sure he has the slightest idea what the creative economy is, but he’s sure it will flourish along with everything else if we pinch enough pennies.

Libby Mitchell, the Democrat, talks about her support for government spending on the arts – the Percent for Art program and the historic renovation of the State House. Something tells me this is not going to be a good year for politicians identified with government spending. And I don’t think being the only publicly financed candidate will help.

Independent Eliot Cutler had the best response of the bunch. He, too, sees cutting spending as job No. 1 in Augusta, but he then goes on to lay out a four-point program to promote the creative economy – create an arts magnet high school, designate arts districts in every major town, tie the arts more closely to tourism, and tie the arts more closely to job training.

If Cutler, who has something of an officious demeanor, can somehow acquire the common touch between now and November, I can see him coming from the back of the pack to upset LePage. As it is, Cutler will probably just take moderate votes away from Mitchell, helping to ensure a LePage victory.

But maybe a LePage administration won’t be so bad. Lord knows Maine state government could use an overhaul. If LePage restricts himself to fiscal restraint and doesn’t get nutty with Tea Party social issues, he may end up just being another James B. Longley.

Jim Longley was, like LePage, a Lewiston native, and, like Cutler, a Democrat-turned-Independent. He chaired the the Maine Management and Cost Survey Commission and, when the Legislature did not enact the commission’s cost-saving recommendations, ran for governor on a fiscal responsibility platform. Longley upset Democrat George Mitchell and Republican James Erwin and, as promised, served just one term (1975-1979).

Gov. Longley spent most of his time in office battling the Legislature, in 1977 setting a record for bills vetoed (49) and for vetoes overridden (22). That’s what I see ahead for a Gov. LePage: lots of opposition in the Legislature, not to mention the public outcry when he tries to lop off social programs.

Maine survived Jim Longley and it can survive Paul LePage, too. And if the economy rebounds, as it did toward the end of the Longley administration, the Tea Party may be over, Paul LePage can go back to peddling tube socks, and it will be time to elect Libby Mitchell Maine’s first woman governor.