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John Baldacci concludes what is likely to be his final political campaign with the same focus on issues, the same attention to Maine and the same admirable work ethic he has had throughout his career. Though he has been attacked politically during his nearly four years as governor, had to face down difficult economic events and made a few missteps himself, he has built a strong record of achievement. He deserves to be returned to office as governor of Maine.
Any leader who can close a $1.2 billion budget gap without raising broad-based taxes, who could begin Pine Tree Economic Zones, enact Dirigo Health, lead on the creation of the Community College System and launch Maine’s broadband access program has built a commendable record. But John Baldacci did all this while successfully fighting to keep mills open and while joining the effort against a federal attempt to shutter military bases here.
This record began with an ambitious agenda in 2002 when he left his safe seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to return to Maine to run as governor. A look back at his goals shows generally positive results. For instance, he promised to raise the state’s share of K-12 funding to 50 percent, up from 43 when he began, and he hit that target in the current budget. He promised to eliminate the business equipment tax and did so. He promised to hold spending flat against gross state product and he beat that measure handily. He pledged to raise international trade by 25 percent, and it is up 39 percent from the first half of 2002 to the first half of 2006.
On other issues he can claim partial success – research-and-development funding is up, though not as much as he suggested; progress has been made on Maine Learning Results, but it’s not completed; Dirigo Health is running but still needs reform. More than any single issue, however, the governor should have been stronger by articulating a persuasive vision for where Maine should be going.
Gov. Baldacci’s willingness to too often let others explain the policy and its implications inadvertently hid a record that is better than its reputation. He has acknowledged recently that he should have been out front on issues more often, a positive sign of a stronger governorship in his second term.
Gov. Baldacci’s major opponents have each run commendable races. Most surprising was state Rep. Barbara Merrill, who wrote a policy book, qualified as a Clean Election candidate without a party and attracted voters through a combination of pragmatic fiscal arguments and moderate social positions.
A gentleman and a valued member of the Legislature, Republican state Sen. Chandler Woodcock provided commonsense ideas about Maine, but also showed himself to be on the far right, and therefore in the minority, not just on social issues but on almost all issues. Green Independent Pat LaMarche added creative energy often lacking in political races, and her reminder that Maine a decade ago devised a much more ambitious health-care plan was much needed.
The challengers to Gov. Baldacci, however, had to make a case not only for themselves but against returning the incumbent, and they did not do this. Gov. Baldacci has ably placed Maine in a stronger position for growth, and he deserves another four years in the Blaine House.