Second shutdown

The politics of the Georgia-Pacific decision
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  March 29, 2006

The big questions in state politics for some time have involved John Baldacci’s persistent unpopularity. Why is he so disliked, what is the meaning of his political collapse for other politicians (especially, fellow Democrats), and can he recover? Some answers may be discerned in an event that took place in Old Town March 16 — an event that could have sealed Baldacci’s fate.

It takes a lot for an incumbent governor, especially a politically experienced, down-to-earth guy whose party controls the Legislature, to make himself as weak as Baldacci has. His poll numbers have been awful for over a year. Two recent Rasmussen Reports surveys have him losing when lined up against not-well-known potential Republican challengers.

So now he has a baker’s dozen of opponents vying to deny him reelection this November: three Republicans, eight independents, a Green, and even a competitor (albeit an unknown) in the Democratic primary.

The conventional views on Baldacci’s disintegration are the telescopic and the microscopic.

The telescopic view sees him as too liberal for conservatives (for example, his support of gay rights) and too conservative for liberals (for example, giving corporations tax cuts while cutting social services). The galactic telescope sees Baldacci as a casualty of unpleasant economic times. A Critical Insights poll late last year found seven in ten Mainers believed the economy was worse off than a year previous.

The microscopic view examines what it sees as Baldacci’s many political errors, including his failure to properly design and sell LD 1, last year’s property-tax-relief law, so that it looked like tax relief; his construction of a highly unpopular borrowing plan to pay for state operating expenses, from which he was forced to retreat; and his politically insensitive and eventually abandoned proposals to allow Sunday hunting and require a registration fee for canoes and kayaks.

But an argument can be made that he is fundamentally unpopular because he overpromised on two subjects at the top of Maine people’s concerns: jobs and health care costs. Ironically, Baldacci is making these his campaign issues.

Let’s leave for another day the failure of his Dirigo Health Plan to live up to his promise of providing health insurance to Maine’s 130,000 or so uninsured people (Dirigo has insured about 2000 of them so far). The closing of the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Old Town cries out for attention to Baldacci’s overpromise of jobs.

Baldacci’s rhetoric has been: Stick with my corporation-friendly policies such as lowering their taxes and giving them environmental exceptions — and jobs will flower. Yet jobs are not flowering in Maine. Recently, Baldacci tried to argue they were, but the Associated Press’s Fran Quinn pointed out, politely, that the governor fudged the numbers from the state’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, which painted a bleak employment picture present and future. (Maine Public Radio’s Fred Bever earlier caught the Baldacci team inflating numbers for construction activity.)

And on March 16 Baldacci’s high-flying jobs rhetoric slammed hard, possibly fatally into economic bedrock when G-P announced it was shutting down its mill and four wood-chipping plants, putting 450 people out of work.

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