Heavy is the head that wears the crown of being a newspaper columnist. In my case, every two weeks I’m tasked with compiling 750-800 words of profound insight, subtle wit and topical perspective for billions of (potential Internet) readers, and for the few of us Jurassic Parkers who still enjoy the feel of newspaper in our hands.
Most weeks, thoughts are clear, words flow, fingers type and something semi-coherent ends up on this page; a symbiotic process that then allows a small army of Internet trolls to follow up with mean-spirited comments frequently sniped from behind the dark cloud of digital anonymity.
But lately, writing this column has been hard for me. Not hiking the entire Appalachian Trail hard, or remembering each Kardashian sister name hard (Khloe, the short one, right?), but more along the lines of, “why am I doing this” hard?
It’s not to display my literary skills, a mantle of achievement that I respectfully bestow upon my crafty columnist colleague, Edgar Allen Beem. And unlike another Forecaster columnist from North Yarmouth, I have no interest in using this space as a vehicle to satiate and fuel the rabid partisan views of one segment of the audience while inciting readership riots with another – seemingly for sport.
Me, I just want to fix Maine. And my sole objective during my involvement in local government, my pursuit of higher elected office, and now as a columnist, holds no agenda beyond simple repair.
Maine is a wonderful state, the best actually, and I’m quite fond of the people, too. But our state is broken and among my approximate 1.3 million friends and neighbors in “Vacationland,” I often feel a weird sense of isolation in regard to the sensation that I’m the only person within these 35,385 square miles of space to see the broken truth.
So instead of writing another column describing what’s wrong here in Maine, today I offer a concise, Five-Point Plan, which if followed over the next 10 years, will come with my “guarantee*” to “fix” Maine and put us firmly on the path to universal happiness and prosperity. (*One-time guarantee offer dependent upon this column receiving five or more positive comments.)
Education is neither the chicken nor the egg in Maine’s future; it’s the root system for health care, job growth, and improvements to our entire infrastructure.
This must be our highest priority, from kindergarten to advanced graduate programs. We must quickly evolve from knowledge-based education to critical processing and collaborative learning models.
My iPhone gives me instant access to practically every nugget of knowledge in existence – we don’t needs kids to spend $200,000 or more and four years learning things my iPhone can provide in a split second. We must start with a meaningful effort to consolidate our state university system and community colleges into one smart, efficient academic platform, significantly smaller, but with greater and more relevant academic power for the future.
Recognize the simple and undeniable truth that Maine is too big and too fragmented, with (only) 1.3 million people living in 488 (too many) municipalities spread over 35,000 square miles, to ever compete in a new economy where speed, density and efficiency are the core values.
This is less of a debate than a simple exercise in math and physics. We can either wait decades for the inevitable slow attrition and decay to naturally occur in a long, painful and costly process, or we can recognize this truth and act now by implementing a more rational revenue sharing/taxation policy.
We must break the governmental insanity cycle of raising tax burdens and hurdles every year to pay for our gross inefficiency, which causes an outflow of skilled labor and a reduction of new capital entering Maine, creating even greater inefficiency, etc., etc. (This step, by the way, is wholly dependent upon Step 4.)
Find every person in Maine with a title that includes anything to do with “economic development” and fire them today.
We continue to grow an army of individuals, groups and do-gooders that meet daily, weekly and monthly, and after they consume a vast mixture of charts, data and croissants, all they produce is blind hope and the delusion, self-directed and mass-distributed, that they’re making a difference. They don’t.
In reality, capital (money) is much like water and electricity, in that it goes in a natural direction towards the quickest and most “efficient” path – a “path” we should be laser-focused on improving. (See Step 2.) Spending so much time and money on “economic development” is a waste of both. Smart people and smart companies know where they want to invest, they don’t need or want junk mail and random calls from Mr. Economic Development Manager.
Our state government needs a massive overhaul, from our $70,000-a-year budget-priced governor, to our Legislature with 186 elected members, followed by our 16 counties with their own burdensome infrastructures.
With a stronger, smarter, more appropriately paid governor (paid according to an index that should average the pay of the top 10 managers of local, Maine municipalities, or about $145,000 a year), smaller Legislature (118 lawmakers), consolidated county governments (down to nine) we would greatly elevate and improve each role, save lots of money, have less myopic territorialism, and be more responsive to our many challenges. (See Steps 1, 2, 3 and 5.)
Focus on what makes Maine so special.
Not casinos. Not fireworks. Not cheap liquor. Not billboards cluttering our roads. Maine is a rare blend of people and place that we should celebrate. But, until we recognize our institutional challenges, there is no hope we’ll ever solve them.
I guarantee it.