Maine's Next Governor?
According to Edgar Allen Beem, a columnist for the Forecaster, Democratic candidate Rosa Scarcelli will be Maine's next governor. Well, I'm glad to have that wrapped up. Now we can move on to the 2014 election.
Wild speculation aside, Scarcelli does seem to be a candidate worth taking a look at. She may not have any electoral experience but she has a strong business background and what seems like a solid campaign.
Scarcelli is, first and foremost, a businesswoman. The main point she makes in her campaign materials and in our conversation is that she believes her management experience will translate directly into an ability as governor to create new jobs and make state government more efficient and focused.
Scarcelli notes, however, that unlike some other businesspeople in the race (all on the Republican side so far), her corporate experience is as the head of an affordable housing company with what she terms a “social service component.”
Scarcelli's parents have a history in Democratic politics. Her mother ran for a house seat and later worked for the State Housing Authority. Her father taught at the University of Maine at Farmington and founded the local St. Patrick's Day Democratic Party pancake breakfast. Together they ran restaurant and a clothing store and her mother started her own housing company. Scarcelli got her start in the family business.
Like every other candidate I've spoken to so far, Scarcelli said that her main focus as governor will be job creation. She hopes to make it happen by reducing taxes and providing incentives and institutional support for certain key industries.
“We need to focus our limited financial resources on those assets that we are good at and that we're naturally inclined to have, and those are agriculture, aquaculture, certainly our timber products, our offshore wind and tidal,” said Scarcelli. “We need to decide what we're going to be as a state and put all of our resources and our energy into that vision.”
Scarcelli believes that part of this reallocation of resources includes the programs and structure of Maine's community colleges and the University of Maine System. As governor, she says she will seek to have these institutions provide more direct workforce training based on the local economy of the part of the state in which they are based. She also cites accessibility and affordability as important problems to tackle.
“We need to look at a structure where tuition becomes less costly,” said Scarcelli.
When I asked about her own degree in Art and Art History, not exactly the most employment-directed major, Scarcelli said that this new focus on workforce development “will not preclude a high-quality, high-caliber liberal arts education, because that is necessary.”
While Scarcelli seems to have put a lot of thought into improving Maine’s economy, she’s less clear in expressing her views in some other policy areas. On health care reform, a perennial state issue and now the major political focus nationally, Scarcelli says that the problem in Maine is too much regulation of insurance companies.
“The state of Maine has got to change how we regulate our health insurance companies so we have greater competition,” said Scarcelli. “The regulations that have been in place have really crippled our ability to compete.”
Surprisingly, despite this view, Scarcelli would not endorse repealing Maine’s guaranteed issue or community rating regulations. She hopes instead that we will “find another way” and says she doesn’t yet have an answer.
She also wouldn’t rule out the other end of the political spectrum on health care, declining to support or oppose the implementation of a universal single-payer health care system in the state. She said she would oppose any system similar to Dirigo Health, but that universal care would be the “biggest economic development tool you could find.”
On the federal level, Scarcelli similarly avoided expressing support for a public option, the current Democratic shibboleth on health care, citing what she termed the “inequitable reimbursement” that takes place in other government health programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
I was surprised by Scarcelli’s lack of a strong stand on the issue of health care, but even more surprised by her lack of knowledge about a subject central to her career and to her campaign, affordable housing.
When I asked Scarcelli about the recently passed green housing bond initiative, the major legislative priority for Maine affordable housing advocates this year (and which has received plenty of press coverage) she didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. I tried to jog her memory by mentioning that fellow candidate Libby Mitchell was the main sponsor, but Scarcelli said she didn’t have any knowledge of the particulars of the legislation.
“I haven’t studied her bill so I don’t think I can give you any direct comment on her bill,” she said.
Scarcelli noted that the affordable housing work done by her company is sponsored by the USDA rather than the state of Maine. Still, one would think that a candidate for governor would have at least a passing familiarity with such a large and recent piece of state legislation within one of their areas of expertise.
While Scarcelli may lack somewhat in detailed policy knowledge, she certainly doesn’t lack in the slickness of her campaign. Her site is the best-designed of any current candidate (and the orange and blue color scheme warms the heart of a Fighting Illini fan) and she has an introductory video with enough “change” and “hope” to be right out of the Obama playbook. In fact, in the press release announcing her candidacy, Scarcelli uses the word change three times in one sentence (“Maine people want change[…] and if we want change, we have to change who we send to Augusta”) which I believe is a new record for Maine politics. She has also hired Dennis Bailey, one of the state’s top public relations experts, as an advisor.
Scarcelli has chosen not to run using Clean Elections funding, saying that “When we’re furloughing people and making cuts, it would be inappropriate to take taxpayer money to run a campaign.” She doesn’t, however, plan to make campaign financing an issue in her campaign and says she would never fault her opponents for using public funds.
When I asked why she chose to go for the Blaine House in her first run for elected office, and not, for example, a state senate seat, Scarcelli said that the governorship is the only elected position in Maine that really fits her background.
“I currently live in Portland and you can’t run for mayor in the city of Portland,” said Scarcelli. “There isn’t an elected office at an executive level that would be appropriate for my skillset that I could run for.”
Despite her belief in the importance of having a business-minded governor, Scarcelli says that if it came down to a contest between a Democrat and one of the Republican businessmen who have announced so far, she would stick with her party.
“They haven’t been in a social service business like I have,” said Scarcelli. “I would rather see a Democrat win because I think that there is a change happening and the Democrats still need to have that mometum move them along so they can implement some of the changes that they started to make.”
Scarcelli is confident of her chances in the primary and says she finds that the campaign so far is a lot like running a start-up business, something that's right up her alley.