Blowing away the rhetoric
To see the ideas — good and bad — we first had to blow away all that rhetoric, such as: "Undertake a thorough review of state agencies" (Cutler); "I want to be remembered as the education governor" (Mitchell); "Get government out of the way" (LePage).
We then looked for new (or, at least, somewhat new) ideas that had the weight of specificity and, if costly, had funding plans attached. We focused on the candidates' own ideas, though some we chose are shared by other candidates, like zero-based budgeting. And we concentrated on proposals the candidates consider important planks of their platform, making them likely to be at the top of the list if they were to be elected.
Below are introductions to the accompanying chart. Please show the chart to friends who don't pay much attention to politics. They should. Despite the candidates' similar rhetoric and some similar proposals, there are noteworthy differences among them, and we will all benefit from or suffer under the next governor.
In the chart and introductions we have mentioned how the candidates feel about several important issues — such as offshore drilling and gay rights — that are hardly new ideas. But they aren't throwaway political positions. They're apt to be pushed into a governor's face and require action.
Paul LePage wouldn't agree to an interview or answer questions by e-mail. We analyzed his Web site information and his remarks at a gubernatorial public forum.
Eliot Cutler, an independent, is the most progressive and, in a way, the most conservative candidate. In proposing the use of state government to expand health-insurance coverage and lower electric bills, he goes further in government activism than Elizabeth Mitchell, the Democrat. His ideas for a kind of state "public option" for health insurance and for a public-power agency are also the most innovative of any candidate.
But in refusing to make financial commitments to special-interest groups, he's more fiscally conservative than Paul LePage, the Republican. And he ridicules LePage's radical proposals for tax cuts.
To save tax money, Cutler would merge the university and community-college systems, consolidating administration, but integrating services has advantages, too, for students. Also in education reform, he wants a longer public-school year, bringing Maine in line with states and foreign countries where student achievement is high.
He has a number of bedrock progressive positions. In social issues, he's pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. He's an environmentalist, opposed to nuclear power and offshore drilling. "If anyone wants to drill off the coast of Maine, they will have to drill through me," he says.
On the other hand, he wants to get rid of the citizen boards of the Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Regulation Commission, seeing them duplicative of staff reviews of proposed developments. Many environmentalists would oppose these moves because the boards provide citizen input and another level at which developments can be stopped or modified. When development battles occur, it isn't as if developers are disadvantaged.
LePage is a Tea Party Mad Hatter. How he could be accepted as "conservative" is a comment on the emptiness of the word and on contemporary politics, when many conservatives are radicals. His most radical idea is his desire to cut state taxes by gigantic amounts. It would create such social turmoil that no business on the continent would want to locate in Maine.