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Alex Hammer

This Great State
By Alex Hammer
Jan 10, 2006 - 5:33:00 PM

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Maine is – those who live here and others would agree – a great state. But it can be greater. Politicians and others over the course of time offer their thoughts and visions in regard to how Maine can successfully meet its challenges and prosper or lead the way.

In this election year as I run for Governor, I offer my own thoughts in regard to a leading and bountiful Maine. Here we go.

In an earlier Magic City Morning Star column, entitled "A Crowded Field for Governor," I discussed my experience that most individuals, regardless of their political preferences, consider the 2006 Maine Governor’s race to be an important if not critical election. Why is that? Many Mainers realize, I believe, that we have come (or more precisely remain) at that proverbial and oft-cited crossroads. It is a crossroads, to cite a few dimensions, between economic well-being versus lack, between traditions versus modernized change, between urban (and suburban) versus rural, between globalization versus protectionism or isolationism and between development and environment to name but a few.

In such dichotomies, it is easy to move to and fro, railing against one and then the other, seeking a balance that can seem elusive and ever in flux. What is that balance and where is it to be found? Of course it is multi-faceted and (importantly) multi-voiced, but I believe that it includes the following:

Perhaps most importantly it involves a successful transition in which a significant enough portion of Maine’s economic mix profits from (rather than is diminished by) the 21st century information-rich global economy that the world has become. In addition, and this is the critical piece, this success incorporates Maine’s quality of life traditions and values. In other columns I address my views regarding building successful bridges generally across common divides for better government (Lewiston Sun Journal November 6, 2005) as well as a beginning detailing of successful economic development in Maine (Bangor Daily News September 15, 2005). Maine can reconcile dimensions that often seem to be at odds, building, supporting, and buttressing each aspect rather than tearing its opposite down.

In the present column I would like to focus on the notion of fundamental versus minor change, and provide examples in regard to how it can contribute towards our greatness as a state. Much of what is typically considered change or reform in Maine is in my view more accurately described as tinkering around the edges of less than advantageous (or flawed) strategies and policy. Within these often small areas debates emerge that serve to reinforce the validity of the (limited) scope of inquiry and focus.

What exactly am I talking about in practical terms? An example: In the area of Maine being able to compete successfully in a full manner with other states, not just in small sized areas but overall, I propose the development of a Maine Competitive Council. Multi-discipline and multi-agency in its composition, the Maine Competitive Council would be charged with integrating and coordinating Maine's efforts such that they are maximized for profit and success. The Council experts could, in each respective area (e.g. economic development, education) work collaboratively with or possibly within the state agency(ies) responsible for that area. Hence, a Council with expert members focused on Economic Development could work hand-in-hand or as part of The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

The Maine Competitive Council and Maine generally will employ a list of strategies to have us working as smart or smarter than other states, not just as hard. Some ways in which this will be accomplished include:

  1. The use of coordinated statewide networks that focus on identified areas in which Maine can be a National and/or International leader in that 21st century economy. Such networks will research, identify and then integrate Maine’s unique and difficult to replicate strengths such that they can be more powerfully leveraged and marketed for export to address identified market needs in high growth areas (see the Maine Environmental Science Network detailed in BDN article as one example of this).
  2. The use of best practices such that rather than re-creating the wheel Maine is able to profit from the most efficient and effective processes and program elements utilized elsewhere.
  3. ROI-sensitive technology investments that increase productivity and profits. This can include business intelligence software that helps to optimize in line with desired goals and parameters projects and project management, schedules, inventory, distribution, vendor relationships etc. By ROI-sensitive in this case I mean that we will be looking at the investments carefully before making them to make sure that they provide real benefits in highly needed areas and that we possess the necessary expertise (or can successfully import it) to insure their success (that includes phasing things in at manageable levels rather than trying to do too much at once and all heck breaking loose).
  4. Other ROI-sensitive investments. No state can afford to waste money. Maine certainly cannot. We must be certain that we are investing in the right areas in the right amounts. By investment I mean spending that financially gives back (yes, over time) more than what was put into it. Otherwise it's only an expense. In regard to tax-break advantages – let them earn it. How about less or no money up front until promises are delivered and maintained? I realize that we are in competition with other states, but indiscriminate use of business tax break incentives is simply in my view “buying jobs”, which anyone can do if you pay enough for them. This competition, when it goes beyond the point of what makes logical economic sense for a State, is simply, as is termed, “a race to the bottom” that Maine does not need and cannot afford. In addition, I would refrain from giving any tax break considerations to those that do show the proper respect for the health and vitality of the State of Maine by being good corporate citizens, both in their history and continuing forward. And they must respect Maine’s environment. Let us reach out as a state, as I have said previously, for Maine to be a beacon for all businesses that are environmentally friendly worldwide, for them to stay, grow and come to Maine and prosper.

To insure that statewide interests do not transgress local concerns, I would like to develop five Regional planning committees: Central Maine, Down East, Northern Maine, Southern Maine, and Western Maine, that would each provide representatives to the Maine Competitive Council to insure that local and regional interests are being adequately addressed. Citizen input is also crucial and I would like to see a substantial percentage of representation on the Competitive Council come from these ranks. Maine is a bright state, and when we bring together the best of what we have, well harnessed and directed, we unleash the full capabilities of what we have to offer.

Finally, I believe that any discussion regarding greatness of a state would be remiss without a few words about expectations. It’s easy to get used to lowered expectations, especially when one experiences a lack of optimal performance over time. That, I believe is why we accept debates in which both sides of an argument are still focused around the edges in contrast to fundamental, positive and progressive change.

Mainers are as good as anyone anywhere, but I hear from many quarters throughout the state that we don’t always fully know it in terms of what we expect from ourselves or others in the state. I realize that it is of course always a little dangerous to generalize on any matter. Raised expectations, in my view, can also be thought of as embodying positive self-esteem. While not being overly prideful or boastful, when you know as a state that you’re good or as good as anyone else, you want and yes expect the best things available in life for those you love as well as yourself, and will not accept less.

Why should we accept less?

There is a saying that if you shoot for the stars and miss you may still hit the moon.

Maine is a great state. It’s future is in our hands. I personally am tired of nibbling around the edges of less productive policies that don’t fundamentally solve the problems that we face.

Let us work together and take honest stock of where we are and assess and determine realistically what we need to do, and are able to do, to make real progress.

And then let’s shoot for the stars.

Alex Hammer is a candidate for Governor of Maine residing in Bangor. The campaign or Alex Hammer may be reached at P.O. Box 202, Bangor, ME 04402.

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