2013-10-04 / Columns

Politics & other Mistakes

Boredom is just a state of mind
By Al Diamon

There’s nothing more exciting than the latest bestseller from a Maine gubernatorial candidate.

Except it turns out David Baldacci isn’t running for anything and isn’t even one of the local Baldaccis. His newest thriller has nothing to do with public policy. It’s just mind candy.

Which isn’t something that can be said about Eliot Cutler’s just-released book, “State of Opportunity.” “State” might best be described as mind-numbing.

This publication is subtitled “A plan to build a healthier, smarter, stronger, younger and more prosperous Maine.”

Smarter? To the best of my knowledge, there’s no cure for stupidity.

Stronger? Why would state government even care what the average Mainer can bench press?

Younger? The only way to do that is to replace old farts like me with newer models. Forcibly.

“When we make real progress on our critical challenges, it will mean the difference between stagnation and growth for Maine’s economy, between poverty and prosperity for many of Maine’s citizens, between hopelessness and opportunity for Maine’s youth,” Cutler writes.

He doesn’t explain what constitutes “real progress,” but if you read between the lines (which is more interesting than anywhere else), it would appear he defines it as getting himself elected governor.

I have some experience with books produced by would-be residents of the Blaine House. Independent Angus King wrote one in 1994, when he first ran for the office.

It was full of vague platitudes (“There is a school of thought in modern environmentalism that says that all economic development is bad for the environment. … I reject this notion categorically”), obvious conclusions (“I am convinced that the failures of Maine state government over the past decade can be traced to the lack of a consistent set of goals and a strategy for achieving them”) and promises the current U.S. senator didn’t exactly keep (“I’m not in this as a career or to set myself up to run for anything else”).

Then there was the thought-provoking volume produced by independent Barbara Merrill ahead of her 2006 gubernatorial run.

It was loaded with bright ideas (on school funding: “[T]he state will pay for the full cost of teachers, 90 percent of the cost of transportation, half of construction costs and provide a special supplemental contribution to communities with a low property evaluation-to-student ratio”), bold initiatives (“[O]ur long-term goal should be ending the income tax for all corporations doing business in Maine”) and sensible goals (“We shouldn’t be expecting to fashion policies that keep everybody here. We should be looking to make Maine a highly desirable place to live for about two million folks, with the skills and the values to create tomorrow’s jobs and guide tomorrow’s communities”). Unfortunately, once the campaign heated up, Merrill stopped talking about this stuff and began the usual pandering to voters.

Cutler’s book isn’t much different. Like King, he blathers on about how mismanaged the state has been (“our politics are broken”), which is true, but we already knew that.

Like Merrill, he wants to revamp the education funding system, but unlike her, he doesn’t dare to propose anything (“consider – in conjunction with a thorough reform of Maine’s taxation structure – whether a broader base for funding public education makes good sense”). And like both King and Merrill – and every other gubernatorial candidate before and since – Cutler is given to grand rhetorical flourishes fueled by mixed metaphors (“I deeply believe that opportunity can make magic.

It can make miracles happen. It can spell the difference between an entire state’s success or failure. Opportunity is a rocket fuel that can propel an economy to new heights”).

Cutler does offer some concrete proposals. He wants an open primary for governor, in which the top two finishers – regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof – face off in November. He wants runoff elections if nobody gets more than 50 percent of the vote (apparently unaware that such a thing can’t happen in an open-primary system).

He wants to form a special “Cleanup Commission” to hunt down waste in state government, after which the Legislature would be required to take an up-or-down vote on those recommendations without amendments (apparently unaware that under the Maine Constitution there’s no way to compel legislators to do that). He wants to lower health care costs by “rewarding healthy behaviors” (1 percent off your taxes for every serving of broccoli you eat).

This is nonsense, but it’s familiar nonsense, a mainstay of the usual campaign blather from candidates who insist they’re above the usual campaign blather.

Taken in large doses, it won’t cure any of our economic, environmental or educational ills.

But it will deal effectively with insomnia.

If gubernatorial candidates insist on writing books, we should recruit Lee Child or John Sandford to run. Other suggestions may be emailed to me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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