The Poetry and Prose of a Maine Campaign
Pat McGowan loves to campaign.
When we spoke last week in the early afternoon, he had already put in an eleven-hour day. He was on the road since 3 a.m. in order to shake hands at the gate of the Rumford mill at 4:15, had already appeared on Biddeford public access television, met with local officials, and toured a wind power site. After our phone interview, he was headed out to distribute campaign signs and then a fair trade forum at Oxford Hills High School and then to bed at 10 p.m.
McGowan estimates he’s done two to three public events every day for the past hundred days.
While this may not be an unusual schedule for a man running for governor, McGowan does seem to attack the campaign trail with a higher level of enthusiasm than his opponents, and certainly with more pageantry. His campaign recently released their official song and he plans a series of “old-fashioned campaign rallies” around the state.
McGowan says that the famous line about “campaigning in poetry and governing in prose” (usually attributed to Mario Cuomo) speaks well to his philosophy.
“That’s the art of campaigning – poetry. I like to meet people. I like seeing the expressions on their face as they talk to you. I love it and I’ve been out of it for too long.”
That’s not to say that his campaign lacks for innovative prose on policy issues.
One of the more interesting policy proposals that McGowan supports is a significant increase in funding for higher education. If governor, he promises to increase spending on post-secondary every year and expand the percentage of the budget spent on colleges and universities from 6.5 percent to 9 percent.
When asked for a breakdown of where that money would go within the system, McGowan lists flattening out tuition increases in order to increase access and affordability as the top priority, followed by increasing program opportunities, especially those that align with “the modern economy,” and then providing research and development grants.
It’s great to see a candidate make a specific funding commitment on an issue as important as higher education. My only quibble would be that, to reach the stated goal of increased access and attainment, most studies on post-secondary affordability show the money could be better directed towards either actual reductions in tuition (which has increased by 74 percent since 2005), or, even better, targeted grants directed to those students who need financial help the most.
McGowan also has some thought-provoking policy recommendation in two areas where he has some personal experience: small business and conservation. McGowan served as the New England Regional Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President Clinton and as Conservation Commissioner under Governor Baldacci.
One of the first things McGowan says he would do as governor is work to achieve third-party certification of Maine’s forestry industry in order to cash in on the demand for green paper products.
Another is to use cash reserves from different areas of state government to provide loan guarantees to small businesses, with the aim of shaking loose more private capital for investment. He also sees the state taking a direct role in assisting entrepreneurs with business plans and wants to decrease the “state government burden” on businesses, which would include reducing or eliminating certain licensing fees.
Like many candidates, McGowan has also made energy issues central to his campaign. He focuses on the importance of both a diverse mix of energy production methods and increasing Maine’s energy conservation measures.
“We have the oldest housing stock in the country,” said McGowan. “That’s a real problem when it comes to conservation.”
On this issue, McGowan has practiced what he preaches, and recently conducted a very public energy audit of his own house in Hallowell.
On health care, McGowan says he supports a universal, single-payer system for the country, but doesn’t believe such a system would be financially possible on the state level.
He would like to see some elements of the federal health care reform law that are scheduled to go into effect in 2014 nationally be put in motion in Maine much sooner and says he would immediately begin working with neighboring states to create a strong health insurance exchange.
McGowan says he wants to allow Maine people to buy insurance across state lines, but has a very different definition of what that would mean than the conservative politicians and groups who usually use the term. Rather than eliminating or by-passing state regulations like community rating, McGowan would instead work to create pools of Maine residents who are attractive to insurers and personally pitch the state’s market to insurance providers.
In our brief conversation, McGowan didn’t show the same depth of knowledge on health care that he displayed on conservation and energy issues. He seemed unaware that “buying insurance across state lines” is such a loaded term and he’s off the mark on the affordability of a state single-payer system. A report commissioned by the state and conducted by Mathematica Policy Research found that a single-payer system in Maine could cover everyone in the state for the same health care costs we currently incur, and that was before the recent federal reforms made such a system significantly more feasible.
Similarly, when asked how he would be able to keep his two campaign promises of increasing funding to higher education and increasing the state share of primary and secondary education to 55 percent while holding the line on taxes, McGowan replied that demographic changes would mean fewer students and thus less cost.
Asked if those same demographic changes wouldn’t mean an older population with more health care and other needs, McGowan said that he “wasn’t worried,” because the new health care reform law would reduce those expenses.
When I noted that the health care reforms enacted so far will likely just “bend the curve,” making health care less expensive than it might have been otherwise but still increasing at a rate greater than GDP, McGowan admitted that he wasn’t familiar with all aspects of federal reform.
“It’s a really long bill – 1,900 pages, as Republicans kept saying over and over,” he said jokingly. “I haven’t read the whole thing.”
My overall impression on McGowan’s “prose” is that it’s innovative and deep in certain areas, but that, at the moment, he lacks some of the broad policy knowledge of his opponents Steve Rowe and Libby Mitchell, who have both had recent roles in state government that required exposure to and knowledge of a wider range of issue areas.
As of the last reporting period, McGowan had the most cash on hand of any Democratic candidate and last week he became the first Democrat with an ad on TV. He is running a clean elections campaign.
A poll released by the Mitchell campaign seems to show that the other candidates, including McGowan, have a lot of ground to make up in order to equal the name recognition of the current Senate President (and the word from staffers in the various campaigns is that the poll isn’t too far off) but McGowan has been down before and come back to surprise everyone. He is still well remembered for the 1990 and 1992 campaigns during which he came from behind to nearly unseat then-congresswoman Olympia Snowe.
Interestingly, McGowan now says he supports Snowe 100 percent. He recently told A.J. Higgins at Maine Public Radio that he would vote for her “until the day she died.” When I asked if that meant supporting her in potential matchups against prominent members of his own party (including, for instance, Representatives Pingree and Michaud), McGowan responded in the affirmative.
If he loses the June primary or the November general election, McGowan, whose reputation as an outdoorsman forms an important part of his campaign narrative, knows exactly what he'll do.
“First thing I’d do is find this place where I know there’s a three-and-a-half-pound brook trout, and I'd go there and catch it. I know right where it is.”