In two debates this month, Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has said he was a “job creator” during his 35 years in private business.
The 2nd District incumbent contrasted his record with that of his three opponents in the Nov. 6 election, including Democrat Jared Golden, who allegedly haven’t created any jobs.
In a letter to voters recently, Poliquin said he spent his career “helping create jobs and grow the economy” while Golden “has no job creation experience.”
Asked to explain where and when Poliquin created jobs, his campaign responded only that the two-term U.S. House member “has 35 years of job creation experience” and that “Bruce’s business background is well-known.”
“Poliquin is the one candidate in this race with job creation experience, while Jared Golden has absolutely zero,” said Brendan Conley, Poliquin’s campaign spokesman.
The campaign turned down the opportunity to produce anybody who got a job because of Poliquin or to detail how Poliquin’s career as a banker, Wall Street executive or real estate developer created any permanent jobs.
Golden’s campaign declined to comment on the issue, but independent challenger Tiffany Bond said she has “yet to see these jobs Bruce keeps talking about.”
“Job creator” has become a commonly used term on the campaign trail, but it doesn’t have a long history or a clear meaning.
The first reference to the term in The New York Times came in 1912 when it was used to describe efforts to add a batch of new government positions. Someone in the bureaucracy was trying to be a job creator for his buddies.
More typical is a 1965 U.S. Department of Commerce report about recreation and tourism. It noted that “studies of tourism as a job creator” reflect seasonal variations.
By 1977, a congressional study on the impact of tax simplification mentioned that if government income caused by new jobs in the private sector were “made available to the job creator,” more cash would flow into federal coffers.
Most of the time in the years since, what’s been cited as a job creator is a particular industry or place, such as a thriving city that is adding jobs at a good clip or a new invention that serves to create jobs, such as the computer revolution that created jobs in Silicon Valley.
One of the first to use the term the way Poliquin does was Cesar Conda, the executive director of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. He wrote in 1993 that “jobs are not being created and upgraded because of the costs government imposes on the job creators in the private sector, particularly the small and medium-size businesses that create the majority of the jobs.”
But it wasn’t really until the 2012 presidential election that “job creator” became a term used by candidates with a business background to assert that they were responsible for creating the jobs that others hold.
Even so, the the term is still most often used to describe entrepreneurs who carve out a new niche in the economy.
Poliquin’s business career followed a different path.
After he graduated from Harvard University in 1976, he went to work for a bank in Chicago and then moved to Connecticut and New York, where he moved up the finance ladder to become a successful partner in a firm that invested pension holdings for companies.
Poliquin proved successful at convincing companies, including Bath Iron Works, to put their investments into his firm’s hands. Nobody questions that his firm grew substantially with his help.
What isn’t clear, though, is whether it added any jobs to the economy given that if the pension money had been invested with a different firm, positions related to the investments would still have existed.
After his Wall Street career, Poliquin sought to make money in Maine real estate, developing property on the Maine coastline.
When he ran for governor almost a decade ago, Poliquin said, “I have started, invested in, and managed a number of businesses that have provided hundreds of jobs for Maine workers.”
No doubt that he created some temporary construction jobs in erecting condominiums, but beyond that, it’s hard to pin down anything specific.
Bond said that if anything, she’s the one creating jobs these days.
Her online #MaineRaising campaign, which tells supporters to spend money at local businesses or give to charities or to help teachers, is making a difference, she insisted.
“I’m the only person in this race who rounded up clients for small businesses in rural Maine as a part of my campaign,” she said, urging voters to “pick a representative that uses their campaign to help rural Mainers in a real, obvious way.”
Poliquin has praised others for being job creators.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, he said that Republican Donald Trump was “a major job creator,” though in the end the congressman refused to say whether he voted for Trump.
This isn’t the first time Poliquin has argued that his business experience is a key reason to vote for him.
Two years ago, when he defeated Democrat Emily Cain for the second time, Poliquin said, “I have 35 years of experience creating jobs. I’m a job creator.”
Sometimes he goes even further than pointing to his 35-year career in business to drive home the point.
On his website, Poliquin said, “I am not a politician; I am a lifelong job creator.”
Golden’s campaign has shrugged off the assertion.
It pointed out that while Poliquin chose to make money after getting a topflight education, Golden quit college after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to serve two combat tours in the Marines. Golden said that after he returned and completed his studies at Bates College, he wanted to continue to serve the public rather than go into business.
A new poll by The New York Times and Siena College shows the race between Poliquin, who is seeking a third term, and Golden is essentially a dead heat. It did not factor in how Bond and independent Will Hoar may affect the ranked-choice voting race.
Tiffany Bond, left, Jared Golden, Will Hoar and Bruce Poliquin