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Alex Hammer

Is It Fair to Blame Governor Baldacci?
By Alex Hammer
Dec 30, 2007 - 12:08:54 AM

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To my mind, there are different types of criticism.

There is criticism that propels its recipient (or is truly intended to) towards greater performance and accountability. This is "constructive criticism" in the positive and not negative connotations of that term. It's meant to lift us all up, not put one person down.

Although not exactly the same, I think about this in a way similar to playing organized sports. I ran track and XC in college. All of the runners on the other teams were my opponents, but in a way, and not an insignificant one, that they were helping me. Increased competition often does, and can, propel us to higher performance. So even though they were "against me" they were in effect working to my benefit.

A second form of criticism

A second form of criticism is veiled opportunism (a third might be hostility). We try to push another person down so we look better in comparison. Happens all the time in politics, and also in life. Needless to say, this isn't meant to be constructive, and isn't.

I was an opponent of Governor Baldacci's in the 2006 race for Governor. Yes, of course I wanted to win, which would have meant him not winning. But like the competitive athletics situation above, I also viewed us (and all the candidates) as on the same larger (big picture) team as well. The "Maine" team. This includes not only all Maine politicians but all those who live in Maine and all those who care about the state.

When you start thinking in this way - try it if you like and tell me if I am wrong - then a lot of problems, even difficult ones, start to somewhat recede.

In sports they say winning solves all problems (can you say Red Sox Nation, Pats undefeated regular season if they win tomorrow), but it's a little bit of a chicken and the egg problem also, because winning mindsets and actions precede winning, not only follow them.

Governor Baldacci

Governor Baldacci is under a lot of stress these days, according to a recent BDN Op-Ed. In Liz Chapman Mockler: Baldacci runs out of options she writes in part:

"Gov. John Baldacci looks more stressed than usual lately, as he should. Forever the consummate politician, Baldacci held off the piper just as long as possible and now faces the truly hard work of governing - setting priorities and balancing the state budget honestly, as directed and expected in our state constitution.

As a former longtime political reporter who covered Baldacci and interviewed him for stories over a long career - his and mine - I knew from the start he would have a hard time in Augusta. I had seen how the place worked and I knew Baldacci eventually would have to make the really hard spending choices he avoided in Washington but, as governor, would haunt his days and nights."

I've written several recent pieces on the Governor, as I do on all of Maine's major politicians. These include:

  • The Legacy of John Baldacci; and
  • Alex Hammer on: Baldacci: It's not about being comfortable - Morning Sentinel; and
  • Governor Creates Council on Competitiveness to Foster Maine Economic Development; and
  • Governor Baldacci Says Time is Right for Alternative Energy - Alex: Definitely!, but also more than meets the eye

In my most recent piece, which actually is focused on broader topics, I write in regard to Governor Baldacci:

"But our current Governor is not effectively dealing with the challenges that we face. (Note: I was one of Governor Baldacci's opponents for Governor in 2006, but I speak as someone who grew up in and loves this state, not as a political opponent. I want Governor Baldacci to be successful because he is our Governor and I want Maine to be successful). I want us to work together more and emphasize a positive vision for Maine, including in the world of government and also politics, so that we can be more successful as a state. Sometimes I believe that our Governor has his head in the wrong place (and here and here), although he is a workaholic for Maine."

Have I been critical of the Governor? At times yes. Sometimes significantly so. At other times, for example, I have praised him lavishly.

Blame is another category apart from criticism. I do not blame Governor Baldacci. For one thing, the will of the people of Maine elected him as Governor. Twice. For another, the way that he performs strikes me as not too different as one might expect to find also in other states (although at times I wish also that that was not the case).

The criticism that I have for our Governor is meant to be that first type of criticism, truly constructive. Focused on solutions for us to work well together. As noted above, Governor Baldacci's success is our (Maine's) success. So such success is a win-win.

Our Responsibilities (and Opportunities) as Mainers

Another form of criticism abdicates personal responsibility, such that it always becomes someone else's responsibility to fix the problems and not ours. In an earlier Magic City Morning Star piece entitled A Citizen's Responsibility I wrote in part:

"Many people will tell you how great Maine is. I myself say Maine is, can, will and should be great And this is true. But at another level we've fallen far short. And I mean that in a collective we, myself as a Mainer included. We need, I believe, to pick ourselves up, look ourselves in the mirror, and talk to ourselves in regard to what each one of us is willing and going to do to personally make things better - for ourselves, for our children, for our families and for our state.

I mean that. If you agree, make a promise to yourself that you will do your part. In an ultimate and philosophical sense, our own actions are truly all we really are guaranteed of controlling in this world.

John Kennedy asked us not to consider what our country could do for us, but instead to ask what we could do for our country (Note: small edit for grammar).

So I ask you. While you're standing in front of this mirror, I want you to reflect on all the things that are wrong with this state. Mull it over in your mind so that you don't miss or forget anything. And then I want you to stare into the mirror in a determined (even ferocious) glare, and say in a loud voice (or softer if there are other people around) with all the courage that you can muster:

"It's your fault."There is a famous line that "we have met the enemy and it is us". I don't really blame us collectively either, I just think it is (or can be) helpful to focus on our specific decisions and actions that can lead collectively to productive solutions being found.

And using that constructive criticism of our elected officials if need be also as one tool - while being appropriately hard on ourselves also to insure that we also always do our part - that more greatly holds them accountable towards being part of that mix.

Finally

So if the Governor is feeling stress, I would say that is an appropriate situation not only for the magnitude of his position as Governor but also for the enormity of the challenges that we as a state face. But if he's feeling stressed out, then that would become counterproductive to optimal and effective performance, especially over the long run, and would serve also as an indication, to my mind, that we aren't doing enough collectively, as well, help him out.


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