Policy Wonk: LePage town halls offer no new ideas

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For over a year Gov. Paul LePage has relentlessly pursued his town hall meeting agenda. Dozens of such meetings have been held; they have taken on a more or less predictable format: a call to further lower taxes, reduce energy costs, broaden corporate tax incentives, reduce regulatory burdens, end welfare fraud.

In each one, the bogey man of the moment is assailed: legislative leaders, immigrants and asylum seekers, proposals to raise the minimum wage, Land for Maine’s Future bonds, the Natural Resources Council, wind and solar energy proponents.

The audience for the most part consists of LePage supporters, local officials, the press, and some dissidents who get by the watchful eye of staffers ostensibly charged with keeping order, but who, in reality, are there to stifle dissenting points of view. The question-and-answer period is completely sanitized: questions must be presented in advance, in writing, and few contentious issues are raised, much less responded to.

What is sorely lacking is anything that could be called a package of new ideas aimed at addressing persistent and long-standing Maine problems, i.e., the fact that we are one of only a few states that have not recovered the job losses of the recent recession; that senior and childhood poverty is high and rising, and among the highest in the nation; that real per-capita income remains below the national average, and is lower today than it was in 2007;  that the backlog of essential road and bridge repairs has grown steadily and Maine’s roads and bridges are among the worst in the nation.

The governor has been in office for nearly six years. He has cut taxes, he has benefited from the growth in natural gas and oil production that has reduced energy costs; his appointees have reduced regulatory standards/burdens, and welfare costs have been reduced.

But his agenda, his appointees, have not produced economic well-being. The problems have not been reduced, and many have grown worse. Doing more of the same, and hoping a different result will emerge, is insanity.

A recent book (focused on national problems) by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, “That Used To Be Us,” offered five useful remedial steps – a renewal of ideas that made the country great. These ideas seem particularly well-suited to Maine. In my view, these five areas of renewed, consistent, and long-term investment in Maine are essential if we are serious about addressing the problems noted. They include:

1 — Statewide investment in public education at all levels – preschool, K-12, community college, the university system. Creating a handful of charter schools does not offset the long-standing disinvestment that our systems of public education have endured for far too long.

2 — Statewide investment in infrastructure – roads, bridges, ports, water supply, sewage and treatment systems, high-speed communication and electrical grid transmission system upgrades. Our miserly and piece-meal approach to infrastructure needs compromises public health and safety, and stifles economic growth.

3 — The jobs/economic and biomedical success of Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor cries out for statewide replication. Investment in research and development at facilities such as the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at Orono, the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, the Gulf of Maine Aquarium, and research arms at Maine’s larger hospitals offer a jobs/economic and social multiplier effect far greater than current corporate welfare programs.

4 — In a state with one of the oldest populations in the country, we need a totally different attitude toward, and investment in, our small but growing immigrant communities. They provide Maine a long-needed racial and cultural diversity. Moreover, Portland data indicates that these communities are on average better educated than the general population, and they seek more education; they are succeeding in Portland-area schools; they seek and find work; they have larger families, offsetting the loss of young people in the general population.

Investment in these immigrant communities in the form of housing assistance, adult education, access to job training and employment, English as a second language courses, will have a stimulating effect on our economy and within the society as a whole.

5 — Maine’s environment is the single largest job creator in the state. We annually host millions of summer (and an increasing number of year-round) visitors; corporate efforts to weaken or compromise state and local regulations that protect the health and safety, the air and water quality of Maine people and visitors is economic madness. We need to invest what is needed to enforce, fine-tune, and upgrade this regulatory framework.

In short, Maine’s economic future and long-term quality of life does not turn on LePage’s town hall meeting agenda – his “scapegoating” of one group or another, and his penchant for “trickle down” economics. It turns on whether Maine has the courage to make the investments needed in the areas that make Maine a great, unique state.

Orlando Delogu of Portland is emeritus professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and a longtime public policy consultant to federal, state, and local government agencies and officials. He can be reached at orlando.delogu@maine.edu.

  • Charles Martel

    Spoken like someone who has worked in academia for most of his life.

    1 An investment in “public” education run by the unions IS the problem. Why dump more money into a failing system pushing an agenda such as Common Core?

    2 Wasn’t there an offer by a private citizen to build an east-west highway at his own expense which was shot down by environmentalists? Didn’t King and Pingree stump for the “national monument” which is just another land grab by the Feds?

    3. Always scapegoating corporations is getting old and is not a new idea nor is your other favorite mantra of re-distribution of wealth. Perhaps you should investigate why Nashville’s medical industry is growing at such a rapid rate? I’ll bet there are some incentives from the state and city attracting the caliber of people in that industry to move there and it isn’t biomass.

    4.Why is racial and cultural diversity such a wonderful thing if we need to subsidize and educate recent immigrants who will not assimilate? How did the rules change from taking in already educated immigrants with professional credentials who go through a tough screening process and will immediately make a positive contribution to the state?

    5. Why is the progressive’s answer to everything more regulation? Haven’t you heard of Brexit? The people of Britain wanted their sovereignty back, greater control from the invasion of fake refugees and far less regulation from Brussels. We the people would like to move in that direction as well.

    We need more of the same from Governor LePage, not ivory tower B.S.

    • Just Sayin’

      I’d like to lend my voice to these topics as I may, as I feel that Mr. Martel has approached things from a very narrow viewpoint of his own in areas.

      1. Public education needs to be improved. I think we can all agree on that. While Mr. Martel is the only one to bring up either unions or the common core, it is safe to say that the public education system is not going to get any better if we take money away from it. We need to fund public education to make sure that we have good schools, strong teachers, and the necessary resources for a robust education.

      2. One privately funded deal shot down is a non-factor. There are plenty of infrastructure issues in Maine that need addressing. Roads, bridges, and water systems all need repair and improvement in Maine, and a new east-west highway wouldn’t have fixed any of those issues. Let’s not forget that infrastructure projects lead to a great number of jobs being created, directly stimulating our economy.

      3. Mr. Martel, with all due respect, you’re raving when it comes to this point. There are several businesses that have been pointed out as successful that are being encouraged as models or opportunities for greater economic expansion. Your mention of the Nashville medical industry doesn’t factor into this at all. I could talk about Idaho’s potato crop, but it doesn’t make it relevant. If you want to bring Nashville in there, how about including information that makes it relevant to Maine and current economic issues, and indeed that trying to copy them would be beneficial here?

      4. In case you haven’t noticed, Maine is already home to a growing immigrant population. What’s better for Maine? Supporting an immigrant population who are stuck here with few resources to help them overcome linguistic and cultural differences to become contributing members of the state, or ignoring that need and simply hoping the immigrants will move on elsewhere? Or do you think we should be building a wall around the state?

      5. It isn’t an attack on your sovereignty to ensure that we continue to have clean, drinkable water or breathable air. In fact, not only are those regulations there to protect the health of you and I, but living here in Vacationland we rely upon having if not pristine nature, than certainly clean, respected, and well maintained wildlands, park, and natural retreats to continue to bring the tourist economy to our great state.

      • Charles Martel

        One of the attributes of progressives is attrition, i.e. wearing out conservatives with their agenda and talking points. I have a real job to go to and don’t have the luxury of those in academia, for example, about having the luxury to opine and get paid for it.

        • Just Sayin’

          What an empty blowhard you are, Mr. Martel. Half of your points weren’t even relative to the issues at hand, and then this? You have time to write a long opinion piece, time enough to monitor the forums and see that you’ve gotten a response within hours, time enough during a workday to come on and respond, but when it comes to supporting your own opinions with something that resembles a reasoned argument you sudden’y don’t have the time, and somehow you try to blame ‘academia’ even then.

          • Charles Martel

            Not interested. Shut your yap.

          • Just Sayin’

            Awww. Did I hit a sore spot?

            Thankfully, you don’t get to tell anyone to shut up on a public forum. If you can’t handle it, I’d suggest you keep yourself nicely tucked away in your own private little safe space where you don’t have to deal with dissenting opinions and facts.

          • Charles Martel

            Wow. You really put me in my place. Safe spaces are reserved for progressive snowflakes such as yourself. End of discussion so as not to fall into your teenage playground antics.

          • Just Sayin’

            I’ve never had need of a safe space, nor do I want one. You were the one demanding that others stop speaking on a public forum because you didn’t like what you were hearing, which is traditionally safe-spacer behavior. I see that behavior from the right with increasing frequency these days, interestingly, so I wouldn’t call it a progressive thing any longer.

            Personally, I’d rather debate the points you raised, but you’re the one who seems more interested in shutting me up than backing up your own argument.

          • Kevin McCarthy

            Martel is a troll who is proud of his bigotry. He’s also an avowed liar and freely admits to propagating complete and total bs in support of his ideology. That he is also s self- aggrandizing coward should also be evident from his screen name.

          • Charles Martel

            “A troll who is proud of his bigotry” and “self-aggrandizing coward”. Clever. It’s easy to be a politically correct kumbaya liberal but guess what? You can’t shut me up.

          • Queenie42

            Well, it’s pretty obvious you haven’t even tried.

          • Charles Martel

            Your points are always the same. Why bother?

          • Just Sayin’

            How would you know what my points are? You’ve run away from actually engaging me on the points you raised at every opportunity.

          • Charles Martel

            Not interested in what you have to say. I was originally commenting on Delogu’s article not your omniscient wisdom. Especially since you probably think Bill Clinton was meeting with Lynch on the tarmac in a private plane in Phoenix to discuss their grandchildren and not how to absolve Hillary’s role in Benghazi. Are you and Kevin McCarthy related?

          • Just Sayin’

            If you’re not interested in what I have to say, why do you keep replying to me? Why are you so very interested in shutting me up?

            It couldn’t have anything to do with your total lack of substantive knowledge and intellectual cowardice, could it? It’s certainly how it appears.

            I’m not going to take the bait of your accusations and let you off by changing topics and making wild assumptions about who I’m related to. My offer to sincerely debate the points you raised stands, but I think we all know you have nothing to add other than your own unsubstantiated opinions.

            One does wonder why you asked so many questions on a public forum if you didn’t want to deal with anyone answering them or opening a dialog.

  • AverageJoe99

    What a wonderful display of discourse vs. lack of discourse. My scorecard reads “Just Sayin’ – 10, “Charles Martel – 1. And that “1” was just for starting the “discussion.”