There must be some kind of law that kicks in whenever a prominent politician leaves office, requiring every columnist and pundit to blather on at length about the triumphs and tragedies of that esteemed figure's checkered career. Penalties for failing to comply with this statute range from being demoted to covering the zoning board of appeals to running your copy on the comics page below "Family Circus."
Having begun my journalistic career on the zoning-board beat ("After extended discussion of sewer right-of-way, audience members in coma") and having watched seemingly competent adults drool and use baby talk after tracing Little Billy's wanderings, those are punishments I'm not willing to risk.
Therefore, I'm obligated to announce a two-part series on the legacy of Democratic Governor John Baldacci, who departs next month as Maine's chief executive after eight years in office (seems longer). In this week's installment, I'll be discussing his successes.
(Note to editor: Please insert an enormous photo of Baldacci here, filling all my remaining space.)
Just kidding. I'm sure a little research will uncover plenty of glorious victories by the Baldacci administration. Such as:
(Note to editor: Quick, the photo!)
PINE TREE ZONES When then-gubernatorial hopeful Baldacci proposed this business development plan in 2002, it seemed sensible. If by "sensible" you mean "fatally flawed." The concept called for offering tax cuts to companies that created jobs in the poorest parts of the state. The problem was that even with those breaks, most entrepreneurs still weren't interested in locating in the boondocks. They told the governor that if he didn't reduce their taxes without forcing them into the hinterlands, they'd shift their expansion plans to more accommodating parts of the country. Soon thereafter, the entire state was designated one big Pine Tree Zone, which meant all the new development went where it's always gone — southern Maine.
ONE-STOP SHOPPING FOR PEOPLE IN NEED OF STATE SERVICES This never happened, but I count it as a success because Republicans now embrace the idea. Except the GOP wants it for businesses, and Baldacci intended it for poor people. You say welfare, I say Wal-Mart.
REDUCING TAXES OK, this didn't happen, either, but in the midst of a terrible recession, the governor did hold the line on increasing broad-based taxes, putting him in conflict with much of the Democratic legislative caucus. He deserves a couple of points for that. Unfortunately, he loses those points and more because his policies shifted the fiscal burden onto property taxes and failed to address growing debts to the state's hospitals and shortfalls in funding for the pension system, transportation, and education. His long-promised tax-reform plan turned out to be politically unpalatable and was repealed by the voters, as was his tax on beer, wine, and soda to fund the Dirigo Health program. Speaking of which:
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE You've probably forgotten that in his first run for the Blaine House, Baldacci promised everybody would be covered. That pledge was later downgraded to providing some kind of coverage to the working poor. Then, to some of the working poor. Now, he says he'll cover anybody the feds will pay for. "I think Dirigo is a modest success," he told the Lewiston Sun Journal in 2006.
(Note to editor: You haven't forgotten about that photo, have you? I'm drowning here.)