In LePage’s Maine, little trust in state government

Somewhere out there are 30 Mainers who told someone from the Gallup poll that they trust Maine state government “a great deal.” That works out to about 5 percent of the 601 people the organization polled.

You have to wonder what those very trusting 30 people would say to the rest of us. Admittedly, though, the number starts to look better when combined with those who trust state government “a fair amount.” These two categories together add up to 40 percent.

But 40 percent is not very good when you consider that Maine sits in the bottom three of states for trust in state government. And it looks even worse when you realize that the other two of the bottom three states, Illinois and Rhode Island, are states with significant histories of corruption that has led to politicians going to jail.

So what’s going on in Maine? Why is there so little trust in state government? It’s really odd when you consider that Maine has such a strong pattern of strong civic participation. Usually when many people are involved consistently, they have good feelings about the political system and their ability to make a difference.

Perhaps the mystery can be illuminated when we look at the polling question. When Gallup called, the pollsters asked, “How much trust and confidence do you have in the government of the state where you live when it comes to handling state problems — a great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?”

Mainers — 60 percent of them — are not confident about how state government is handling state problems.

And who can blame them?

After all, Maine’s economy is still a problem. Job growth is lagging and, as Gallup noted in comparing all states, “Healthy economies are generally associated with higher levels of trust in government.“

Every state suffered from the recession but most have done better.

How unhealthy is Maine’s economy? As a detailed study by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found, “Maine ranks 49th among the 50 states and District of Columbia in total job growth since January 2011. Maine has recovered 49 percent of jobs lost as a result of the recession compared to 96 percent for New England and 93 percent for the U.S.”

Job gains have been localized, with the vast majority in Bangor, Lewiston and Portland. Rural Maine’s economy is especially hurting.

With this poor record, how has Maine government handled this problem? When Gov. Paul LePage was elected, he and the Republican Legislature cut taxes by $400 million. They promised that would lead the state’s economy to soar. It hasn’t.

The governor held back bonds approved by the people. These would have put millions of dollars into the economy.

Other economic development opportunities were spurned.

LePage, who talks about making capital welcome, pushed away a Norwegian energy company’s planned $120 million investment. After Statoil announced it would instead spend its money in Scotland, an international business consultant said, “you need to have the reliable commitment to have a big company say, ‘this is where we’re going to spend the money.’”

And in opposing Medicaid expansion, the governor and the vast majority of Republican legislators turned their backs on nearly $1 million a day in federal money. Those funds would create 4,400 jobs at a time when Maine’s hospitals are hurting and the health care sector is a critical part of many local economies.

They cited a study with a half billion dollar error conducted by an ideologue about whom another state’s auditor warned us.

Medicaid expansion also has effects beyond jobs. The 24,000 who can get no other coverage without expansion will have higher rates of preventable deaths, illnesses and bankruptcies. No expansion is a lost opportunity to address health and economic problems.

When Maine’s poor job record was publicized, the administration’s allies at the Maine Heritage Policy Center claimed it really wasn’t bad, not if one statistically controlled for another factor, population growth. And the same allies said that a study that found 10 percent higher deaths among the uninsured would find no difference if one used a similar statistical sleight.

Now that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and trust, does it?

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.