Forgotten in the campaign

The would-be governors on serving Maine’s most vulnerable people
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  November 1, 2006

Click the image above to read the chart in PDF form.
The big gubernatorial-campaign issues are taxes, jobs and economic development, and health care affordability. The candidates occasionally talk about other issues such as environmental protection and education. But what are not being talked about are the state’s services to people on society’s margins, even though these services constitute a lot of what state government does.

If you add up just the budgets for the Departments of Health and Human Services and Corrections, the sum is about 40 percent of the state’s General Fund budget, according to the legislative Office of Fiscal and Program Review, and many services to disabled people and the elderly, for example, are in the Medicaid and other budgets.

These populations are being ignored in this year's campaign rhetoric, though the state’s mental-health system was taken over years ago by the courts because it was so inadequately serving its clients (under a so-called "consent decree"); Maine has one of the highest percentages of elderly people in the nation; the number of people who get food stamps increased by 50 percent from 2002 and 2005; and the state prison is wracked with stories of abuse of mentally ill and suicidal inmates.

To see if the candidates were at all addressing the needs of these people, the Phoenix first looked at their Web sites. We found nothing related except the discussion of the affordability of health care — largely, a debate over Governor John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health Program.

Next, we asked the gubernatorial candidates to submit anything that they had published in any form on how better to serve these folks. Nothing came back.

Then we asked the candidates to submit brief descriptions of what they would do for these populations, which they submitted.

Next, we asked representatives of the categories to comment briefly on what the candidates had to say. Then we created this chart.

Steve Hoad of Windsor, an activist for the disabled who helped us connect with several regular folks for this story, noted that many people fall into several of the categories we listed. He also mentioned, “There is some fear among people who receive services to make public statements regarding individual candidates because if that candidate should win . . . The word ‘reprisals’ is the only thing that comes to mind to characterize what’s been told to me in meetings, both private and public.” So these commentators may be not only independent but courageous.

What does the chart show? We leave it for the reader to decide. The silence of the blank columns may speak loudest. Politicians tend to address people who vote, who press their views, and who contribute money to them. These tend to be people with money or, at the least, who have enough wealth to be concerned about the taxes they pay. Thus the dominance in the gubernatorial debate of issues of interest to businesspeople and property owners. But by adding up all the folks in need, and the people who love them, we find a very large number of voters who have been forgotten in the campaign.

Read the chart (PDF)

  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Politics,  More more >
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