Fri, Sep 19, 2014 ●
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Short Relief: GOP's LePage fills leadership void left by Maine Democrats

Opinion

Short Relief: GOP's LePage fills leadership void left by Maine Democrats

According to the latest data, more than 318,000 of the state's approximately 1 million registered voters turned out to vote in the June election – about 31 percent.

That was significantly higher than the 15 percent to 20 percent that the secretary of state predicted on the basis of historical turnout for gubernatorial primaries. Nearly 131,000 were Republicans, more than 120,000 were Democrats and almost 67,000 were either Green Independents or unenrolled voters.

More than 193,000, or 61 percent, favored the peoples’ veto of LD 1495, the revenue stabilization bill that Democrats promoted as tax relief. That means that if every Republican who turned out voted for Question 1, another nearly 63,000 Democrats, Greens or unenrolled voters supported it, too.

That’s a resounding repudiation of a major piece of legislation. And it was led by Republicans. It's hard to understand how Mainers can be so displeased by such a major policy initiative and not more displeased by the Legislature that produced it.

But then, it’s hard to understand how the Legislature could be so dismissive of Mainers’ desires. We have been asking for tax relief for years, with the Paleski tax cap and two TABOR initiatives. Rather than cut taxes and spending, the Legislature produced a convoluted bill that was designed to disguise its true purpose, sold as tax relief.

That’s one of the factors that motivated Republicans.

The other was the national situation. President Obama’s honeymoon was over. He was faced with difficult problems such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economy, and the Gulf oil spill. He had implemented controversial policies such as the bank bailout, economic stimulus and health-care reform. He was considering others, such as financial and immigration reform. People were looking for a way to register their displeasure.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, that mood redounded to Paul LePage’s benefit.

On one hand, the Republican gubernatorial primary was less than a model of well-disciplined party machine politics. It was a seven-way race for its most significant leadership position, where four of those candidates were relative outsiders, and five were vying for the same range of the ideological spectrum. On the other hand, all seven were very credible candidates in their own right.

It’s the American way. Everyone is free to pursue their dream, work hard and succeed or not on the basis of their own merits.

I was disappointed that my guy came in fourth. But LePage won decisively with nearly 49,000 votes, or 37 percent. His win was not totally unexpected. His margin of victory was a bit of a surprise. I knew that he had real appeal and inspired deep commitment. I just didn’t know how widespread that commitment would be.

LePage has a compelling personal story. He left home at the age of 11 because his family was a mess. He pulled himself up. Got an education. Went to Husson College and the University of Maine. Worked a variety of jobs before ending up at Marden's, where he worked his way into management. Was elected the Republican mayor of Democratic Waterville, where he has been able to control spending and the budget. He campaigned with a passion that resonated with others who were passionate. His priorities are welfare reform, reduction of taxes and regulation, and education reform.

The question is, how far can LePage go in the general election? Some are skeptical. They think he’s too rough, too conservative. He’s only the mayor of Waterville. He won’t be able to raise the money and assemble the organization needed to compete statewide.

This much I am sure of: The Democrats are not the answer. They are the architects of our state’s problem – too much government and too little private sector.

Leadership is not yet a hard science. We choose different leaders, for different tasks, in different ways: coaches, teachers, CEOs, politicians, military leaders. Some are outstanding. Some are awful. Most are adequate, if undistinguished. It’s hard to predict who will be good and who will not. People will surprise you. Talent and greatness can be found in unexpected places.

It may be time for a governor who has had first-hand experience with overcoming adversity.