Chandler Woodcock and Democratic Gov. John E. Baldacci both believe the best social service program in Maine is a job, but the Republican gubernatorial nominee maintains his opponent has done next to nothing to attract or retain new employers in the state.
“Maine continues to evoke a negative business perception among potential new employers,” Woodcock said. “If we could improve the perception and show that Maine is a good place to do business, the economy would improve because people would want to invest here.”
While touring businesses in the Rockland area last month, Woodcock visited the FMC company, a firm that produces carrageenan, a food-stabilizing agent derived from seaweed. One of the supervisors recounted problems the company experienced earlier this year after an odor problem developed at the Rockland landfill. The town hired a Kennebunk firm for $90,800 to conduct an odor abatement study at the facility.
Even though FMC, which disposes of its waste product at the landfill, contributed $25,000 to help pay for the study, some company officials believed that local and state officials saw them as part of the problem instead of the solution.
“Corporations are evil, that’s the message I heard,” said one supervisor.
Woodcock shook his head and wondered why state officials weren’t doing more to assist a facility that adds so much to the tax base and economy of the region. Later, he concluded that most of the problems facing Maine’s business community can be found right at the top of the food chain in Augusta, beginning with whom the governor chooses to oversee state departments.
“I think the first thing I would be doing is making appointments for commissioners that are meaningful to the business community,” he said. “The second thing that would happen is that I would insist on the business community having a participatory role in policy and actually act on their recommendations rather than create a task force and compile a study only to have it ignored. We feel there should be a partnership with business, and I don’t think there is one now.”
There aren’t many problems in government that Woodcock believes can’t be solved by redefining the state’s business landscape. More jobs will attract more employees and better income possibilities for Maine workers. More jobs equate to higher corporate income tax and personal income tax collections. The more revenue the state brings in, the more it can decrease existing tax rates that are blamed for discouraging job creation in the state.
Woodcock, a retired teacher, coach, three-term state senator and self-described “lay preacher,” presents himself as the “regular guy” in this year’s lineup of gubernatorial hopefuls which includes a career politician, a radio personality, a lawyer-lobbyist and a convicted felon. The Vietnam veteran’s desire to cut state spending is certainly not a new ambition among Republicans. But it’s his approach to achieving that goal that has some people talking – particularly state department managers whose jobs would be on the line in a Woodcock administration.
The Legislature now funds an Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to assess the success and value of state programs. Woodcock says the agency is flawed by its own design. As a creature of the Legislature, OPEGA’s direction is heavily influenced by the majority party in the House and Senate, which for most of the last 30 years has been Democratic.
“OPEGA’s credibility is tainted,” he said. “It has to be independent from the governor and the Legislature and make recommendations about programs. That’s what I would propose.”
Woodcock is convinced that such a review would verify his contention that Maine no longer can afford to maintain its current social service net, much less expand it. With education and health care costs consuming more than half of all state revenues, Woodcock knows the ax is likely to fall on those perceived as the state’s most needy residents.
“I would still make the needed cuts,” Woodcock said. “We’re not really addressing people in wheelchairs, and that’s what’s always bothered me about the process. I would pick up a paper with a headline that read: ‘Brain-damaged to be cut.’ Well, obviously we’re not going to cut services to the brain-damaged too much. We need to streamline Medicaid so that the people who are most needy – those in wheelchairs and those who are brain-damaged – have an expanded service. They need more services than they’re receiving now, but it is the recipients on the fringes that are hurting the system. There’s so much fraud in the system with people declaring wrong incomes, but nobody’s checking on it. I want the eligibility and accountability examined.”
While perceived as a tax-cutter and business promoter, Woodcock also is known among Mainers for his conservative positions on social issues that surfaced publicly during the Republican State Convention. Facing a three-way primary against two moderate Republicans, Woodcock made a strategic decision to capitalize on his personal beliefs in an early effort to lock up the support of the party’s right wing.
The strategy worked, and Woodcock won the GOP nomination with 39 percent of the vote. But his opposition to the state’s gay rights law – approved in a referendum by a majority of Maine voters, his strict disapproval of abortion except in instances of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is at stake, and his frequently misunderstood position on teaching biblical creationism in public schools sometimes have overshadowed his campaign. Woodcock believes creationism – and all other theories about the origins of human life – should be taught alongside evolution models and that decisions on curriculum should be up to each school system.
He has been assailed from the left for not attending some women’s issues functions that he said resulted from scheduling conflicts, not a reluctance to be confronted on the abortion issue.
Lately, he has been assailed by the right as well. When the candidate decided to attend a recent GOP function in Augusta that featured former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman as guest speaker, the pro-life Maine Christian Civic League blew its top. On Oct 16, the organization featured a picture of Woodcock with Whitman in its newsletter beneath the headline, “Senator Woodcock Attends Pro-Choice, Pro-Homosexual GOP Rally.”
All of the discussion about his personal beliefs is a distraction from dealing with the state’s real problems, according to Woodcock, who insists his positions on gay rights, abortion and creationism will never influence his agenda as governor.
“In the middle are all the people who really understand that while all of us have personal beliefs, that is not the agenda for me,” he said. “The agenda for me is improving the economy.”
Candidate in profile
State senator, 2001-06
Military experience: Vietnam-era Army veteran
Education: University of Maine graduate
Job: Taught high school for 26 years
Personal: Married, four children