As Goes Maine . . .
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
One of the races we’ll be watching November 2 is the gubernatorial election in Maine, where a three-way contest is underway between a left-wing Democrat, a tax-cutting Republican who is a conservative on social issues, and an independent, Eliot Cutler, who is a pragmatic centrist. Mr. Cutler started out as an aide to Senator Muskie, was a top figure in President Carter’s budget office, and made his career as a Washington and international lawyer, while settling with his wife and children in the Maine in which he was born. It happens that we’ve known Mr. Cutler for more than 40 years. There are few people whom we admire more for their intelligence, integrity, and commitment to public service.
For those who want to know how a so-called third-way candidate — meaning, an independent with a record for practical excellence in government, business, and law — can fare outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s New York, the governor’s race in Maine is one to watch. The polls suggest that were the election held today, the conservative, Paul LePage, a Republican, would win. He is a self-made businessman and the successful mayor of Waterville. But the trend line of the polls suggests that Mr. Cutler is gaining rapidly, which is all the more impressive because Maine is a state in which the opening field included more than a dozen candidates.
One way to visualize the Maine race is to think Secretariat. Those who have seen Disney’s triumphant new movie about the legendary racehorse will be able to visualize Mr. Cutler’s advancement in this contest. That most famous of all steeds started the Kentucky Derby at the back of the field but, as he approached the last turn, he began an astonishing surge and crossed the finish line first by two and a half lengths. Even the cynics of the press box started cheering.
The press box in Maine lit up in the last few days, with the major dailies endorsing Mr. Cutler. They are uniformly of the view that the independent centrist is the way to go for the state that was created by the Missouri Compromise. What caught our eye in the latest endorsement, from the statewide Maine Sunday Telegram, was its prediction that Mr. Cutler would be a tax-cutter. In the campaign he has, in contradistinction to Mr. LePage, refrained from overt promises on taxes.
Instead Mr. Cutler has said he favors major tax reform, including cutting the marginal tax rate on income by more than half and putting through a structural reform of all the state’s taxes. But he insists that this has to be preceded by spending control and a restoration of credibility to state government. So his approach can be seen as a sign of character, particularly in a state that was recently described by Forbes magazine as the worst in the nation as a place to do business. Forbes’ ranking factors in business costs, labor supply, and the regulatory environment, among other things.
That in itself makes Maine a race to watch. Mr. Cutler’s mantra throughout the campaign has been “Maine Can Work.” No doubt his plan is to focus his total energies on the state’s problems and begin to move Maine up the Forbes ranking — and the many other rankings. But it is in the nature of his personality, capabilities, and experience that he would, were he elected, instantly become a player on the national scene among those who want to dispense with party loyalties and carve out a tough, pragmatic, results-oriented approach to governing. It would be a gift of Maine to the rest of the nation.