Be careful what you say about Libby Mitchell

Old and in the way
By AL DIAMON  |  October 13, 2010

You can get in a lot of trouble if you use the words "Libby Mitchell" and "old" in the same sentence.

Just ask Republican gubernatorial candidate and Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, who got called ageist and sexist for suggesting that Mitchell, his 70-year-old Democratic rival, should be resting quietly at home because she was past her best-used-by date.

But being in trouble is more fun than being in Waterville. So, let's give it a try.

Mitchell isn't all that old. But her ideas are.

Some of her campaign brainstorms are leftovers from current governor John Baldacci's administration. Others have been gathering dust since in the 1980s, when Joe Brennan lived in the Blaine House. A couple may have tags on them requesting that they be returned to Ken Curtis, who hasn't been governor since Herman's Hermits were hip. And Mitchell's themes are hollow echoes of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called his program the "New Deal," although it's now known as the "Senior Citizen Discount."

If Maine's motto is "Dirigo" — Latin for "I lead" — Mitchell's is probably the Latin equivalent of "I'll be blundering along behind everybody else."

There's a certain irony here. Liberals like Mitchell are supposed to be about changing the way government operates. It's the essence of their political philosophy and has led to such innovations as school consolidation, selling the state's wholesale liquor business, and putting the Department of Health and Human Services' Medicaid program on a new computer that didn't work for five years.

But in this election, the guy who's all for changing stuff is LePage, who's supposed to be a conservative — which is defined as somebody who's fundamentally opposed to change. Meanwhile dowdy Mrs. Mitchell (sorry) keeps doddering along (sorry) trying to make sure state government continues to operate in the same old (sorry) way.

If elected, she'd keep the Dirigo Health program (motto: I'd Lead If I Had The Money, But I Don't So I Guess I'll See What The Feds Do And Then Follow Them) with only minor changes. Such as a new name. Also, she'd create a "global" health-care budget. "Global" is the term policy wonks use when they have no idea how to solve a problem.

She'd reform welfare by leaving it pretty much the way it is now. As she told the Bangor Daily News, "I don't think it does any good to beat up on the people who are most hurt by this recession."

She'd improve education by opposing charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and merging university campuses. She'd instruct bureaucrats at the state Department of Education to be more helpful to teachers by explaining how to instruct their students on such topics as "innovation and entrepreneurship."

She'd improve the state's finances by engaging in "robust" borrowing, including $100 million over four years to buy public lands. "The state has the capacity to pay bonds," she told the Bangor paper.

Economic development? On her website, she proposes merging the Department of Economic and Community Development and the State Planning Office into the "Governor's Office of Strategic Initiatives and Job Creation." Yeah, that seems better. Also, she'd eliminate tax provisions "that put Maine at a competitive disadvantage." As a legislator, she voted for most of those tax provisions.

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