Matt Jacobsen for Governor
If you give Matt Jacobson the job of governor, he'll work to get you a job as a cruise ship captain, or maybe a wind energy technician or a railroad conductor. That's the message I got from digesting a host of interviews with Maine's first Republican gubernatorial hopeful after he announced the formation of an exploratory committee last week. Every public statement from Jacobson has been about his experience creating jobs, (as President of Maine and Company, a non-profit focused on attracting companies to the state) and his big plans to create jobs, (one of which is a detailed strategy to corner the market in cruise ship attraction, provisioning and crewing). What I didn't hear was anything about his other policy stances or his plans for actually winning the 2010 election.
Let's clear some of that up right now.
Jacobson describes himself (as many Maine Republicans do) as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. He took a nuanced position on the recent federal stimulus package, writing in a column for MaineBiz that he had reservations about the debt Americans were taking on, but could also see how the money could be used effectively to improve Maine's economy.
On the issue of abortion, often a litmus test of conservative Republican bona fides, Jacobson is clearly pro-choice, but has made some personal choices that might make his position more acceptable to those on the religious right.
"I would never outlaw it," said Jacobson. "I adopted two children and I know we need to find ways to make it less of a first choice, but I would never outlaw it."
He also explained that he hopes creating more jobs and improving the economy will make abortions less necessary.
Less clear is the candidate's position on another social hot-button issue, gay marriage, which is being debated vigorously up and down the state and may make it to the governor's desk before the end of the current legislative session. Jacobson repeatedly declined to voice either clear support for or opposition to the proposed legislation.
"We can't keep anybody's civil rights from anyone," he said. "I need to understand the ramifications, though. I haven't read the bill yet."
Jacobson pleaded a similar lack of knowledge about three of the four referendums that will be on the ballot in 2009. He was only willing to take a position on the revamped Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, which he supports.
The first issue Jacobson would tackle after moving into the Blaine House would be energy. He'd like to advance Maine's use of wood fuels, tidal power and offshore wind, and sees the issue as key to Maine's prosperity.
"Right now, it's a big problem that only five other states have higher electricity costs," said Jacobson. "Our industry is at a competitive disadvantage with almost every other state in the country."
On health care, Jacobson thinks that, structurally, the current system is fine and that strengthening the economy will fix many of of Maine's health care problems without direct government intervention.
"People having jobs would improve that as well," said Jacobson (notice a pattern here). "A lot of those social issues will go away if we can make this economy more robust."
Jacobson's plan is obviously to position himself as the candidate of jobs and recovery, and that may be a powerful message for an economically depressed electorate, but he has some political hurldes to overcome before then.
The first is the fact that he has only lived in Maine for a total of seven years. He spent four years in the state in the 1990s as COO of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad, then left for a job in Chicago and returned in 2006 to run Maine and Company. This may be a weakness in a state known (perhaps not entirely fairly) for its nativism.
The second hurdle is Jacobson's lack of anything even approaching political experience. He has never held elected office and admits that his involvment in the GOP has never before gone beyond simply being a registered Republican. According to FEC records, he has only made two large federal political contributions, $1,000 to Susan Collins and $1,000 to Democrat Adam Cote, both in 2008. Jacobson claims he also gave to Republican Charlie Summers, but no such contribution was listed in any of the databases I checked.
Rather than being a stumbling block, Jacobson says his lack of political experience could actually bolster his campaign.
"This campaign and this candidacy is new," said Jacobson. "I haven't been in Augusta or been a bureaucrat and I think that may help."
Jacobson also says he's ready to dive into the kind of retail politics necessary to win a primary in Maine.
"I'm looking forward to it, and so are my kids," said Jacobson. "They're going to enjoy going to every fair in the state."
In other Maine political news this week...
There likely won't be enough clean elections money for the 2010 race unless the legislature replenishes the fund.
Governor Baldacci has proposed a bond package.
Could tax reform actually happen this session?
The budget is sailing through the legislature, but declining tax revenues could complicate things.
The state's long-term economic outlook is mixed, at best.
There's still at least one job open in Maine - U.S. Attorney.
And former Representative Tom Allen has found work as well, albiet as a lobbyist out-of-state.
Maine political history has a way of repeating itself (when it isn't sold to Virginia, that is).
The economic downturn has created a crisis in Maine's health care system.
More pot may be more legal if a bill to decriminalize marijuana passes.