Down East 2013 ©
No other political contest in Maine can match the inherent power of the governorship. If you’re looking for the best way to set the agenda, shape the political landscape, and make your vision into law, you don’t want to be a U.S. Senator or to have your party win majorities in the legislature — you want the Blaine House.
Sure, Maine has a history of electing influential senators, but the successes of Muskie and Mitchell were more about personality and the power of Snowe and Collins has more to do with their place at the center of a precariously-balanced ideological spectrum than anything inherent to the office.
The legislature has power, obviously, but its influence is diluted among its members, and can only overrule the governor with a two-thirds majority.
The governor often has first say and almost always has the last word on the budget and other important bills. It’s customary for the governor to propose a budget bill, setting out his (and so far it has always been a man) priorities and vision for the state. The legislature will then modify and amend this document, and the governor has a chance at the end to sign or veto the legislation. In practice the threat of the veto means that the governor has influence throughout the legislative process.
One example of this was the recent decision by Governor Baldacci to wade into the legislative debate over tax reform and eliminate proposed taxes on certain industries represented by lobbyists who supported his political campaigns . If Libby Mitchell wins the governorship running a clean elections campaign, one hopes that this particular breed of favoritism will be less common.
The budget process is where Republican nominee Paul LePage has promised to put his own stamp on the state if he is elected. He has pledged a series of massive tax cuts, which if implemented would lead to huge government cutbacks. Al Diamon has estimated  that paying for LePage’s plan would require eliminating a third of spending by state and local governments.
Diamon’s number chrunching reveals that LePage could get close to but not quite cover this gap by closing every middle and high school in the state, eliminating all funding to the University of Maine System and the Maine Community Colleges, putting up toll booths at most state roads and bridges, eliminating a third of the state’s courts, legislature and police force, getting rid of the state departments of Conservation, Marine Resources, Agriculture, Economic and Community Development and Labor and the state library and museum, and selling Baxter State Park.
Chris Potholm in This splendid game: Maine campaigns and elections, 1940-2002, discussing gubernatorial campaigns of the 1970s:
Patronage, a result of the ability of the governor to hire, fire, and make appointments throughout state government, is a way the office can make a lasting influence. Not only do appointees determine a great deal of practical policy (one example of many: a different insurance commissioner might not have stood up to Anthem’s attempt to greatly increase health insurance rates), but state positions are a way of boosting political and ideological allies (both John Richardson and Pat McGowan, for instance, recently attempted to use their jobs in the administration as launch pads for their gubernatorial ambitions).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Maine’s governor has an inherent ability to make news and shape conversation to advance his agenda. The bully pulpit has become even more important now, in a time of diminishing newsgathering ability among major media outlets.
Often, the loudest voice wins, and the Blaine House is quite a megaphone.