Is economic growth in Maine a catch-22?

You don’t have to look hard to find indicators Maine’s economy isn’t the best. The economy is not likely to improve before our next governor takes office either. Jobs, jobs, jobs is bound to the mantra for many candidates. Pine Tree Politics has examined Maine’s current economy. Comparing Maine to Virginia, PTP talks about how Maine’s next governor can make the state more business friendly. Continue reading

The Bolt to the Blaine House ’10 – Rosa Scarchelli (D)

Now that she’s announced her candidacy, it’s time to find out what Rosa Scarcelli is all about.

Yesterday I mentioned that the color scheme on Scarcelli’s website were a bit jarring. Not that it has much barring on the election, Matt Gagnon at Pine Tree Politics has an interesting comment on that strange matching of orange and blue.

from Pine Tree Politics:

Scarcelli’s website is a little odd – not because it looks bad (its decent enough), but more because its color scheme looks like something out of a political race in Virginia with its orange and blue accents (something very common down here in my neck of the woods). Usually in Maine you see variations of blue and green – so it looks a tad out of place, but then again should I really be picking on color schemes?

I can hear the shouts already. “She’s from away! She’s from away! Don’t let her within 50 miles of Augusta!” Of course those who would focus on that probably still think Obama is not an American citizens and we never landed on the Moon. Personally I just find it to be an interesting fact, much in the same way I enjoy Mental Floss. Maybe Scarcelli chose the scheme to highlight her difference from the other Democratic contenders, who have all been involved in politics in one way or another. Only she knows for sure.

As Pine Tree Politics points out, Scarcelli is already in the game with a Tweet and Facebook. Scarcelli’s Tweet already has 138 followers and 67 updates, while she is following 123 tweets. Steve Rowe, whose been in this thing for a while now, still only has 114 followers and a meager 3 updates. Democratic challenger Dawn Hill unaccounted for on Twitter. Scarcelli’s Tweet is an interesting blend of the personal and political. Everything from family outings to personal opinions to Maine political news is there. Some of that may sound trivial, but I argue it’s relevant to creating the well rounded image of a real person, not just a face on a poster. For someone who is running as a political outsider Scarcelli is hitting the right buttons with her Tweet.

Steve Rowe still leads in Facebook followers, 616 to Scarcelli’s 247. Though Rowe’s Facebook seems to have a lot of supporter commenting, Scarcelli is using Facebook as another way to present her platform. Scarcelli posts links to articles in MaineBiz, videos of speeches, and other announcements. There isn’t a whole lot to look at yet, but I’m sure that will change.

On to Scarcelli’s credentials.

Scarcelli, like many others in this election, does not come from a political background, but a business one. Scarcelli’s business experience differs from someone like Matt Jacobson or Bruce Poliquin. Jacobson and Poliquin’s experience are in running large organizations and investment in bringing business and jobs to Maine. Scarcelli’s background is rooted in a smaller scale public service business – providing low cost housing to those in need. Is this experience better or preferable than other candidates’ business knowledge? That depends on which voter you talk to. Personally any leadership experience is a plus for a candidate. Then again, how good a leader they actually were cannot be ignored either.

How about Scarcelli’s positions on the issues.

Scarcelli’s recipe for job creation is not all that varied from anything we’ve heard yet. Make Maine business friendly through tax incentives and trim the fat in Augusta, operate more efficiently. Not a bad plan, which is why almost everyone is using it. Scarcelli also advocates a reinvestment and refitting of our current failing industries such as logging and fishing. You’ve got to spend money to make money right.

Scarcelli’s education platform is nothing new either, just maintain current support of K-12. However, her commitment to link community colleges with businesses is interesting. Community colleges should be relevant options for those who don’t wish, or cannot at that time attend a four year school. Linking degree programs directly to employers will give graduates a leg up when they enter the already crowded workforce. And I can’t say I disagree with Scarcelli’s assertion that the UMaine system needs an overhaul.

Energy and environmental issues, though not as power as jobs or the economy, will still play an important role in this election. Scarcelli minces no words on her environmental policy. ” I will accept no compromise when it comes to enforcing our environmental laws and regulations.” ,Scarcelli says on her website. Before you start to think Scarcelli is a Green in disguise, Scarchelli doesn’t reject business over environment. Scarcelli believes job growth and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive. That is the thrust of Scarcelli’s energy policy as well. “And we can work with the federal government to encourage research and development of alternative energy sources such as offshore wind, solar and tidal energy – part of new green economy that creates jobs in Maine that can’t be shipped overseas.”

There will be a few questions Democrats will need to ask themselves before the upcoming primary: Is Steve Rowe too close to the old guard to win the state or does his experience and name carry him? Is an Augusta outsider a safer bet? Scarcelli could be that outsider Democrats are looking for in their nominee.

Unemployement rates hit new lows

Despite reassurances that the economy is improving, the jobless rates have not turned the corner. NASDAQ reported yesterday that hiring is still a challenge.

from NASDAQ:

“There is no question that the job market poses severe challenges,” said Alan Krueger, Treasury Department assistant secretary for economic policy, in a speech to the American Academy of Actuaries. “But the increased stability in financial markets and support for aggregate demand from the [Financial Stability Plan] and [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] provide indications that the rescue is underway.”

“Severe challenge” doesn’t quite highlight the unemployment mire some states are in. Reports late last week say that 15 states and D.C. have topped or exceeded 10% unemployment. The national rate, now at a 26 year high of 9.6%, will likely pass 10% by the end of 2009.

Michigan, slugged in the gut by failing automakers, has reached 15.2% unemployment. Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and D.C. are also at or over 10% unemployment, but trail Michigan’s high.

Maine has fared better than the rest of the country. Maine’s current jobless rate is 8.2% as of June. This is down from a high of 8.9% back in February of 2009. Maine is performing better or close to most of our New England neighbors: Connecticut 8.1%, Massachusetts 8.6%, Rhode Island 12.4%, New Hampshire 6.8%. Cumberland County has the lowest unemployment rate at 6.6% while Piscataquis County holds the state high of 12.8%. The discrepancy can be attributed to the decline in logging, the paper industry, and products manufacturing which the Piscataquis County economy relies on at this point.

This is the climate our next Governor will be elected into. Good luck. Whoever gets elected, just don’t tip the boat over. That’s all I ask.

Matt Jacobson a phenominal candidate says Next Right

In a piece on Gov. Baladachi’s tax reform plan, the Republican blog The Next Right’s wanders away from policy talk and into the 2010 gubernatorial election. The Next Right believes that Matt Jacobson is the candidate to beat in the primary and election.

Jacobson, claims The Next Right, is in prime position to monopolize on his business stance. In these economic hard times a candidate with the nick-name the “human jobs machine” will be difficult to beat.

from The Next Right:

Rather than the tired, poor choices presented to Maine voters in the 2006 election, there is actually an impressive crop of Republicans running for Governor in 2010 – cheif among them is Matt Jacobson, President and CEO of Maine & Company, an organization aimed at bringing businesses to Maine.

Jacobson has been carving out a decidedly pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs economic agenda for his candidacy, and it is already starting to resonate. Indeed, Jacobson has been described as a “human jobs machine”, as his position is literally devoted to doing just that – creating jobs. In this environment, that type of economic message can quickly light on fire.

Since we are struggling to bring new business to the state and diversify our industry, Mainers can surely get behind a message like this. We need to stop the bleeding from the fading paper, fishing, and logging industries here in Maine. Mainers are going to vote pro-business this election, that is almost a given. Jacobson’s reputation in the business world does give him a bit of a leg up. Jacobson is already pushing this point his site. However, most candidates have been quick to realize that jobs will be the number one issue in the next election. The ones who can hammer home that they have the best solutions to Maine’s economic woes will likely be packing for Augusta.

The Bolt to the Blaine House ’10 – Dawn Hill (D)

Well, it was only a matter of time before Democrat Steve Rowe had some competition for the gubernatorial primary. Rep. Dawn Hill has stepped up to challenge the Dem favorite.

Dawn Hill serves district 149 (Part of York, Kittery, Wells, and all of Ogunquit). Rep Hill has served two terms in the House. While in Augusta, Hill has sponsored or co-sponsored 83 bills, orders, or resolutions. We’ll get into a few of those votes later. Having that legislative history can be a double edged sword for a politician. Dawn Hill can reference votes she has made and has political experience under her belt. She is an Augusta insider of sorts. Opponents can use Hill’s voting record as fodder. A yea or a nay on a key bill could ruin a campaign, depending on how her opponents spin it.

Let’s dissect Rep. Hill’s website. Now technically this is her House member website, but it seems to be serving some campaign purpose at this point. The site is informative with news, legislative updates, and a breakdown of her positions on education, environment, economy, healthcare, and consumer protection/animal rights. Considering some sites have already touted Hill’s challenger Steve Rowe as the Democratic front runner, Hill’s web site does little to show what she will bring to the table that Rowe can’t or wont. She says she is a “fiscal moderate and a social progressive.” I will not dispute those positions, but I will say that I don’t see how that is all that different from Steve Rowe’s stance.

Hill’s campaign is borrowing a page from President Obama’s play book. Is this page his deftly executed grassroots campaign? Or maybe his keen fundraising machine? No. Hill is choosing to ride the Change Train.

from Seacoast Online:

“All of the rules have been broken,” she said. “Look at Barack Obama. If everyone followed the people who think traditionally, he would not be there. People are looking for change. Coming up the standard ladder is not expected by the populace anymore. Party officials think that way, but the people ask, ‘Who can do the best job?'”

I may try to avoid painting myself as some rebel outsider in the political game when I clearly wasn’t. Hill would not be the first legislature who practiced law for ten years to run for governor, nor would she be in exclusive company. I one of the other candidates, who actually does come from outside this typical background, does not jump on Hill’s statement I will be surprised.

Obama did not only win on “Change”. He had a tide behind him that wanted to push out all remnants of the Bush administration. Obama also had the charisma to make people believe in change. The public opinion is against the current Democratic governor. Though I have not heard Hill speak, I would question if she has the level of charisma that President Obama does. You cannot just copy and paste Obama’s 08 campaign and hope to win an election.

Hill is not ignorant of Maine’s problems. How to we attract more and better paying jobs, how do we keep young graduates in Maine, and at the same time preserve Maine’s character? Her solutions are vague. We need to reinvent and innovate. How? Mine the collective experience of business , agriculture, fishermen, retailers, and tourist industry successes? Yes, we do need to cull advice from all those involved. I’m going to need more than that from a self proclaimed “mover and a shaker” and an “independent thinker“.

Perhaps most disturbing is Hill’s use of Maine as a “brand”. In support of protecting the environment Hill refers to the natural beauty as a brand we must market. Our special memories of Maine are a brand. Even you, presuming you are a Mainer too, are part of that brand. See what I just did there. I took something that is a clear truth and turned it sour. Of course we want tourists to come visit the natural beauty of Maine. That’s a big part of our economy. We sell that “brand” just like Tim Allen is hawking Michigan or Missouri markets Branson as a squeaky clean Las Vegas. Words are so important in politics. How something is said can make or break a candidate. Will voters warm up to the idea of being a brand? Will those who battled against Plumb Creek, Poland Spring, and Wal-Mart buy into that phrase. Even if, economically speaking, it is something we sell?

Hill is not devoid of concrete ideas on improving Maine. Hill sponsored a bill to protect Maine’s shoreline bodies of water and forests in LD-340. Hill also supported low-interest loans for geothermal heating, swifter approvals for wind turbines, and efforts to reduce carbon emissions. This stance could swipe votes from Lynne Williams should Hill win the nomination. It also helps preserve that brand.

When it comes to education Hill is hardly innovative. Hill did vote against the school administrative consolidation, which is sure to sway some votes. During the legislative life of the bill, Hill fought for greater flexibility in the consolidation and fair economic burdens on each town. Hill did vote against the recent charter school bill LD 1438. The rejection of the cutting-edge virtual charter schools in such a rural state is nearly unforgivable. It’s a disappointing blow to the state, especially when we are struggling to prove we can be an innovator and a leader.

A peak at Project Vote does show some of Rep Hill’s strengths. Hill received an 80 out of 100 from the Maine League of Conservation Voters. The Maine AFL-CIO gave hill a 100 in support of labor. Hill scored high in civil rights (75) from the Maine People’s Alliance. Hill voted for LD 1020 the same sex marriage bill, giving us the only clear gay marriage stance from a candidate. Hill did not fair so well when it comes to business however. Hill scored 25 out of 100 from the Maine National Federation of Independent Business. That is a poor rating considering Hill is a small business owner.

You might think from my harsh treatment of Hill I think she has no chance against Rowe. That’s not true. She has the voting record to promote her cause in some cases. From her writing, it’s clear that her heart is in the right place. Hill understands what is wrong in the state and broadly what it needs to get there. Can she connect with voters statewide and give them some concrete examples of how she will improve the state? More importantly, can Dawn Hill convince voters she is a superior choice to Steve Rowe? Don’t underestimate Rep. Hill. If Hill can get her ducks in line she could mean trouble for Rowe. Hill has plenty of time to get her game plan together. Then again so does Rowe.

Mr. Obama Can’t Be Serrious All The Time

The Bolt to the Blaine House ’10 – Bruce Poliquin (R)

Yesterday I covered Independent candidate for governor Alex Hammer. Today it’s the GOP’s turn. I’ll examine Bruce Poliquin.

A special note – It may seem that I have been much harder on Poliquin than I was yesterday with Hammer. This is only because Poliquin had more information available for me to pick apart. It is in no way an endorsement of one over the other at this point.

Bruce Poliquin is one of two GOP candidates at this point. Poliquin is not going to be left behind on the internet superhighway. He already has a decent website, facebook, and twitter. The majority of his platform seems like it could belong to any Republican candidate for governor in Maine. Lower taxes? Check. Less regulation of business? Check. Curb state spending? Check. Poliquin is even so bold as to state that education needs to be made a top priority! I never expected a politician to support education in such an unique way. OK maybe I’m being a little cynical. I’m 27. In my short amount of political experience I have never heard a politician not make education a “top priority”.

Before I’m accused of Bruce bashing, let me break down a few points of his platform. The highlight of Poliquin’s platform so far is his Plan to Help Maine Families. Poliquin’s plan contains ten points to address what’s ailing Vacationland.

from Bruceforme:

  1. Lower Taxes to National Averages or Less.
  2. Create Positive Attitude Toward Business Development and Jobs.
  3. Carefully Reduce State Spending to National Averages or Less.
  4. Reform State Programs to Do More With Less.
  5. Promote Competition Among Health Care Insurance Companies to Lower Premium Costs.
  6. Improve Education System to Better Prepare Students for College and Beyond.
  7. Simplify Business Regulations to Create New Jobs.
  8. Complete Infrastructure to Enhance Our Quality of Life.
  9. Explore Ways to Lower Energy Costs.
  10. Protect Our Environment while Promoting Job Creation.

Though not as bad off as our Massachusetts cousins, Maine taxes have been above the national average for some time. While the national average tax burden is 9.7%, Maine’s is 10%. Of course the median household income here is $44,000, about the same as the national average. Lowering taxes will certainly win some voters. Will it be practical when our infrastructure is crumbling? Maine’s infrastructure grade is a C- overall. Maine roads received a D and bridges a D+. That is beyond scary. There is a $400 million gap in funding for Maine DOT bridge repair. Not to mention that the ASCE labeled 17 Maine dams high public hazards and 153 significant to high hazards. Add to that numbers 6 (improve education) and 8 (complete infrastructure) and lower taxes seems more and more difficult to accomplish. In all honesty, I don’t think lowering Maine taxes to the national average is a poor goal. It would have to be coupled with large spending cuts, especially considering the cuts Maine had to make just to balance the budget recently.

Number 2 (creating a positive attitude toward business) is important for Maine at this juncture. Governors have tried to court companies into the state for some time. Their approach has been flawed. It has been too narrow. Governors have focused on getting this particular business or that one. The whole time they have neglected the broader business picture. Maine should open itself up to businesses of all types, not just existing industries or things like phone centers. Diversifying Maine’s economy is the only way for the state to proceed forward and to stop the flood of Maine’s graduates from the state.

How does Poliquin plan to do this? Well his recipe is not innovative.

from Bruceforme:
To attract businesses and jobs we must: tax less, spend wisely, simplify regulations, lower energy and healthcare costs, complete our infrastructure, and improve education. Some initiatives can be implemented relatively soon. Others are longer-term. It will take common sense, hard work, and competent management. For all of us who call Maine home, it will be worth it.

Poliquin’s solutions to taxation (across the board cuts), spending (cutting wasteful programs), regulations (streamline and simplify), energy costs (pursue alternative energy & upgrade grid with Canada) and healthcare costs (strong reforms) are a mix of Republican staples moderated with a generally liberal concern for the environment. Comparisons between the politics of Poliquin and Senators Snowe and Collins are sure to come. Will that link be enough for Poliquin to get to the Blaine House? To win his parties nomination for even the chance? It’s far too early to tell. Without more specifics I can’t say either. I will say a Republican that is not as least as moderate as Poliquin seems to be will last as long as a lobster at a tourist trap on Route 1 in this election

Tomorrow: Lynne Williams (G)