Gubernatorial candidates are quickly matching the number of raindrops.

Perhaps the incessant rainfall besieging Maine since the middle of Spring is having a more profound impact on the landscape of the state, reaching from the natural into the political. It appears that the 2010 gubernatorial race is seeing as much accumulation of candidates as our rivers have seen water.

On both sides of the aisle, some well known, and not so well known, names have made formal announcements or put together public exploratory committees to join the long list of candidates. An election nearly a year and a half away may not have the average John or Jane Doe carefully assessing options for a candidate to support, but this might be just what Mainers need to do.

Maine’s laundry list of challenges, likely to face our next governor, is equaled in length only by its list of opportunities. The question before citizens will be who is best equipped to lead us through setting priorities and making difficult decisions.
The best time to judge the qualifications of individuals, unfortunately, is not when they have already announced a bid for a particular elected office. So, with so many announcing so early, it could take some leg work to track down the details important to making that Election Day decision.

While name recognition is always a driver in campaigns, seeing beyond the popularity contests is easier said than done. At times, elections appear more like American Idol contests, where the most polished and visually pleasing contestant often wins out. Lucky for all of us, we haven’t moved to text message voting yet.

With a 24-hour news cycle, instant communication available through various media, and the sound bite driven culture we live in, the rise of political elite could be easily attributed to smooth talking and firm handshakes more so than strong policy positions and an ability to negotiate political compromise.

And as we enter the summer community festival and parade season, all of us can expect to see these candidates out and about shaking hands and kissing babies; a very predictable activity.

With the difficulties that Maine can’t seem to shake, however, we deserve a bit more than the typical wooing of voters by their mere presence.

Pulp and paper communities continue to struggle with the volatile global economy.

Our transportation infrastructure is aging, without a plan to fund its maintenance let alone strategic investments in expansion.

The aging population, while an opportunity with respect to attracting retirees and strengthening vacation or resort towns, creates a limit with respect to the available workforce.

Health care and K-16 education offer their own set of issues to be resolved.

And the most pressing issue may be one seldom reported in great detail: The disparities among economic and population growth numbers from south to north in Maine are creating a growing political chasm that, while not spoken of publicly, is a real threat to a vision for one Maine.

I would argue that this is further exacerbated by our continued parochialism and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) attitudes on a host of issues.

It’s not just about how many political appointments you’ve had, big titles you’ve held, or elections you’ve won.

Which candidate has a track record of inspiring with a vision, and of bringing others along to implement?

Which candidate has documented accomplishments in not only their field of specialty, but in broader issues affecting each region of Maine?

And when the clouds break, and the downpour of rain and candidates subsides, let’s hope the sun will shine and save some part of this summer. And shed some light on who our best choice for Blaine House resident might be.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal and an Androscoggin County Commissioner. E-mail: [email protected]


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