2014-03-07 / Things to Do

Politics & other Mistakes

Have you heard this song before?
By Al Diamon

Can you name the Maine politician who said this?

“At a time when American workers are facing new challenges, efforts must be made to enhance opportunities for prosperity and economic success.”

That’s the kind of bland, nearmeaningless soundbite that results in the state being papered with warnings not to drive or operate heavy equipment while listening to Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. But that quote didn’t come from Michaud.

It’s from a 2002 interview in the Bangor Daily News with John Baldacci, then a Democratic congressman and candidate for governor.

Let’s try again.

“Innovation is the key to Maine’s economic future, and I believe that entrepreneurs are at the heart of the innovation process.”

Obviously, that’s independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler making another of his vague pronouncements on the economy. Except it’s not Cutler.

It’s Baldacci again, from a speech the new governor gave in 2003 in Calais.

Here’s a triple-decker of quotes, all from the same person.

“Maine needs to be in a more competitive position in terms of taxes, utility rates and other costs.”

“Maine needs to lower our overall tax burden to below the New England average.”

“Maine’s regulatory burden must be simplified.”

Clearly, that’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage laying out the basic platform he’s promoted for four years, although usually with more bombast and occasional profanity. But that absence of swagger and swearing should have tipped you off that it isn’t LePage.

It’s Baldacci, of course, this time from a 2004 report called “An Economic Development Strategy for Maine.”

Could it be that all the major choices for governor in 2014 are little more than slight variations on the former two-term governor best remembered for his failed Dirigo Health program, his failed Pine Tree Development Zones, his failed consolidation of the county jails and his creation of a Department of Health and Human Services so big it was bound to fail?

It could be argued that three sets of quotes don’t prove much of anything. Just because Baldacci occasionally said something that sounded like Cutler (“I’ve never been partisan. I don’t intend to be. I think you’ve got to solve problems” – interview with the Associated Press, Dec. 25, 2003), LePage (“We must provide tax relief as the first order of business in the next legislative session. I won’t let the Legislature go home until the job is done” – op-ed, Portland Press Herald, Oct. 22, 2004) or Michaud (“Leading the state forward in keeping with Maine values requires vision, planning, listening and experimentation. This is what I have been offering as we work together toward our goals” – op-ed, Morning Sentinel, August 6, 2005) doesn’t mean that everything the current crop of candidates says is just regurgitated blather from a guy who couldn’t deliver the goods.

Michaud has been praised for presenting a plan to boost Maine’s economy, including a proposal to give tuition-free sophomore years to students at state schools. “We want more of our people to have college degrees. At the same time, we want economic opportunities for them once they graduate.”

Oops, sorry. That wasn’t Michaud. It was Baldacci, from a speech he gave in Waterville back in 2001.

LePage has made it clear that he won’t bail out cities and towns faced with rising expenses and declining revenues. “No one should sit and wait for Augusta alone to solve the state’s tax and budget problems, including the mounting property tax burden, because the solution is right there in your own community.”

Damn, that’s not the current governor. It’s Baldacci from his 2003 inaugural address.

Cutler touts his nonpartisan status, claiming it will free him from the constraints of special interests. “Sometimes in governing, you’re going to make some unpopular decisions. I’m readily admitting that I’ve made decisions that aren’t politically motivated … I just want to do the right thing. The politics will work itself out.”

Uh, as you’ve probably guessed by now, Cutler didn’t say that stuff. The first part is a quote from Baldacci from a 2004 story in the Bangor Daily. The second part is the then-governor from a Press Herald article in 2005.

Hidden among all this mulch, there’s probably a lesson to be learned. Perhaps it’s that in spite of what appear to be vast differences, we’re all pretty much the same underneath.

Nah, that can’t be it.

Maybe it’s that what politicians say isn’t as important as what they do.

That seems unlikely.

Or it could be as simple as realizing that politicians are beset with such a total inability to engage in creative thinking, that even candidates who agree on almost nothing end up sounding virtually the same.

“Looking for an original idea in politics is like trying to buy health food at a hot dog factory.”

For once, Baldacci didn’t say that.

I did.

On the off chance all this has been said before and more cleverly by someone else, let me know by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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