2018 is set to be a blockbuster year for politics in Maine. We’ll have an open race to succeed Paul LePage as governor. Angus King is up for re-election to the U.S. Senate. And we’ll have a pair of primaries, among Republicans in the First Congressional District and Democrats in the Second, to pick challengers to our two incumbent House members. Add to that a closely divided state legislature, and you’ve got the makings of an epic campaign season.
There may be 15 or so candidates vying for federal or statewide office, and more than 300 for the state legislature. They will come from all parts of the state, with all kinds of backgrounds. But once they hit the campaign trail, every single one of them should be talking about the same thing:
Every poll I’ve seen in Maine for the last decade shows Mainers consider jobs and the economy to be the No. 1 issue. By a wide margin, too. No matter what issues are driving the day — war, terrorism, stock market crashes, etc. — jobs and the economy always poll at the top of the list.
And it’s no accident that Maine voters care primarily about jobs. Our state has lagged economically for so long, and the one thing that would improve every voter’s life is a better job.
It seems obvious to make jobs the central theme of any campaign, but it’s remarkable how seldom Maine politicians actually frame their arguments this way. Democrats, in particular, seem to have a cultural aversion to discussing job growth, but both parties are guilty of pushing themes that don’t resonate with voters the way jobs do.
Don’t get me wrong, Mainers care about things like welfare reform, the opioid crisis, the environment, and infrastructure. The problem for candidates is that these issues are too complicated to resolve in soundbites, and most voters don’t have the bandwidth to research the pros and cons of complex issues to decide which candidate has the best solution.
Candidates in 2018 would be wise to bring everything back to a discussion about jobs. And it’s not a hard thing to do.
How do you solve the out-of-control drug epidemic in Maine?
A scourge like heroin addiction has a number of factors that feed into it, but the primary driver is a lack of opportunity in Maine. A thriving economy does not collapse into a heroin-addicted morass the way rural Maine has. Sure, we need treatment and law enforcement solutions to deal with the problem. But if you want a comprehensive, long-term path up and out of this situation, get our economy going.
How do you get Maine’s social services system on track and deal with the welfare problem?
Jobs create tax revenues. Tax revenues fund social service programs. Jobs simultaneously pay for and reduce the need for welfare programs.
How do you protect our environment?
States with thriving economies don’t have to make the difficult decisions between development and protecting the environment. Development projects anathema to environmentalists such as oil pipelines lose much of their leverage when our state is not starving for investment.
How do you reduce the cost of health insurance?
Good jobs subsidize health care costs. A more affluent population reduces a number of factors that drive health care costs up, like emergency room over-utilization. More access to affordable health care makes our population healthier overall, which puts more downward pressure on the cost of health care and health insurance.
How do you reduce taxes?
More jobs, less welfare. Less welfare, lower taxes. Plain and simple.
How do we keep our kids from moving away, and reverse our aging demographic trend?
Young people leave Maine to look for better jobs. If the jobs are here, they’ll stay. This would reverse our “oldest in the nation” demographic problem, which in turn reduces pressure on our social services and health care systems.
How do we improve our roads and bridges?
Jobs create tax revenue. Tax revenue pays for infrastructure. The same is true for funding education.
This is not a complicated message.
Actually spurring job growth is complicated. But we’re talking campaigns here, and details don’t win campaigns. What wins is connecting to voters, and in Maine, there’s one issue on virtually everyone’s mind.
The most successful candidates in 2018 will be the ones who can make voters believe they understand the problems they face, and that they know how to fix them. And nearly every problem we have in Maine can be fixed, directly or indirectly, through job creation.
Regardless of political party, there’s a path to victory next year for the candidate willing to take on the jobs mantle. It’s a simple message to articulate, it resonates with voters, and it happens to be what Maine needs more than anything.