In politics, it's known as the dreaded "L word."
No, not "liberal."
Or "lactose-intolerant" (although, a pro-lactose faction in Augusta has been pushing for stricter enforcement of civil rights laws to protect those who insist on drinking milk in public).
The L word stands for "legacy." In some sad cases, it also denotes a "lack thereof."
Which brings us to John Baldacci.
The former Democratic congressman and governor is best remembered for leaving the state in a financial mess. After four terms in the US House, during which he managed to leave no lasting impression, and eight years in the Blaine House, during which he never quite grasped the concept of matching expenditures to revenues, he retired to an inconsequential federal make-work job and then became a lobbyist.
As governor, Baldacci often appeared more incompetent than he actually was. Although, the more I think about it, the difference wasn't all that significant. While many of his worst foibles can be blamed on a stagnant national economy, his persistence in believing that recovery was about to get under way led him into a pattern of offering spending plans that consistently proved to be beyond the state's means.
I can't blame Baldacci for not wanting to be buried under a tombstone that reads, "An Optimistic Oaf With A Tendency To Blow Other People's Money." But the only way he could possibly change that impression is to do something astonishing, such as manage the 2013 Boston Red Sox to a World Series championship or negotiate a successful peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians or be arrested for appearing naked at the Democrats' next Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
Sad to say, Baldacci is pursuing none of these goals. Instead, he's considering another campaign to recapture his old position. He said he'll decide by April whether to again run for governor.
Republican Governor Paul LePage's reaction when he saw a report on Baldacci's plans: "I could hardly believe my eyes."
Asked by reporters about the prospect of facing off against his predecessor in office, the governor quipped, "Christmas comes early sometimes."
LePage owes his 2010 plurality win at the polls in large part to Baldacci's inept performance, which convinced many otherwise-moderate voters that Maine needed drastic change. LePage gave them just what they asked for, thereby convincing many of those middle-of-the-roaders that they hadn't meant for it to be quite that drastic. But polling numbers show that if confronted with the opportunity to oust LePage and return state government to the bad old days of Baldaccism, voters would likely decide there were some things worse than drastic.
Nevertheless, Baldacci is seriously considering becoming a gubernatorial candidate because he believes that regaining his old office is the only way he can retrieve his legacy from the hazardous-waste dump where it's been deposited.
That's understandable. Nobody wants to wrap up a career notable for its lack of highlights (and its excess of body slams on the bottom) by being perceived in perpetuity as an incapable dolt. But just because we can empathize doesn't mean we have to sympathize.