Say what you mean

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By AL DIAMON  |  April 7, 2010

I agree with Libby Mitchell.

Sometimes.

On other occasions, I couldn’t disagree with her more.

Trouble is, I often find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Mitchell on the same issue, depending on when, where, and to whom she’s speaking.

Maybe that’s because my opinions are in a constant state of flux, as I desperately try to decide which ones will result in the most people liking me and buying me beers. But it also could have something to do with Mitchell, the state Senate president and a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, being the kind of politician who’ll say almost anything to get a vote.

And it could be the result of her not being very truthful.

By that, I don’t mean that when Mitchell gets a pointed question about a controversial topic, she routinely tells lies. She doesn’t, mostly because in those circumstances, she routinely doesn’t say anything of substance.

She reserves the lies for really tough situations.

For instance, Mitchell appeared on Mal Leary’s Road to the Blaine House cable TV show in early February and was asked if she favored conforming the state tax code with the federal code so businesses wouldn’t have to keep two sets of books. The simple — and truthful — answer would have been no. Mitchell and legislative Democrats have opposed that change, which would provide companies with additional deductions and exemptions, because it would cost the state a large amount of revenue. But that’s not what she said.

Instead, Mitchell gave a convoluted answer that had something to do with “venture capital” — and nothing to do with the question.

Leary then asked if she favored consolidating campuses of the University of Maine System (which has three of them in Aroostook County, about one for each person living there). Mitchell brushed him off, saying, “I’m not sure that’s the right question.” She then went on to talk about what an “economic engine” the University of Maine in Farmington is.

To find out how she really feels about this politically sensitive subject (powerful Democratic state Representative John Martin is from Aroostook County, teaches at one of its UMS campuses, and furiously resists all efforts to cut back at the underutilized schools), you’d have to read a 2009 op-ed Mitchell wrote for the Lewiston Sun Journal:

“That issue has been floated in the past and has proved to be a non-starter. That does not mean it should never be looked at, it just means that if we want real reform we need to take realistic steps to improve the system and not jump straight to the nuclear option.”

Translation: I’m afraid of John Martin, just like everybody else.

How about school consolidation on the local level?

In a 2007 op-ed in the Morning Sentinel, Mitchell was firmly in favor.

“Recognizing the profound need to change the educational status quo,” she wrote, “lawmakers rose to the occasion against strong public pressure. . . . They did this in recognition of the need to reduce taxes and to improve education for our children.”

Two years later, after consolidation caused property taxes to go up in her hometown of Vassalboro, she reportedly told the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, “I’m not a real fan of how this played out.”

On her campaign Web site, she doesn’t mention school consolidation, but she does say she’s against “creating new bureaucracies or shifting resources to the latest fad policy of the day.” She then says, “[E]ntrepreneurship needs to be taught in all schools.”

Mitchell once championed Governor John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health program and the since-repealed beverage tax to pay for it. But Dirigo has been dubbed a failure by all but its most ardent supporters, which may explain why its name doesn’t appear even once in the health-care section of her Web site. During the question-and-answer period after a speech in Machias in early March, she was asked specifically how she’d improve the floundering effort.

Her reply: “Perhaps Dirigo is a name that is so maligned that we probably need to rename this child.”

Sign up here for the Cute Li’l Puppy Health Plan.

Mitchell is at her best (or worst) on economic development and energy issues. From her Web site: “Together, we have made great strides to modernize our economy.”
We have? Name one.

Well, apparently there’s the production of electricity. On the Web, Mitchell quotes “several experts” as saying we have to “vertically integrate the value chain,” which has uncomfortable implications of sticking something large up somewhere unpleasant.

And that seems to be just what she has in mind. After saying, “The cost of energy is the biggest threat to Maine, its economy, and its standard of living today,” she endorses the work of the Ocean Energy Task Force, which has already admitted that any electricity it generates from wind and tidal projects will be much more expensive than that from conventional sources.

Mitchell is all anyone could ask for in a governor.

Or two.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, University of Maine,  More more >
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