Rural cleansing. That will be Steve Woods’ economic plan, should he be elected governor. You may remember Woods as an independent candidate who dropped out of the U.S. Senate campaign in its final days last year.
Well, he’s back, this time seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He recently unveiled his stunning proposal, “Maine Forward: 2020 Vision for Maine’s Economic Future.” Trust me, his vision is a lot worse than 20/20.
Woods targets the inhabitants of 108 rural towns that receive more in state and federal funds than they generate in local taxes and fees. Apparently he is unaware that Maine gets $1.50 in federal funds for every $1 it sends to the feds in taxes. When he finds out, I guess he’ll suggest we all move to Boston.
Woods outlines a strategy to move rural residents to more populated areas, including giving them publicly owned properties and tax waivers. I’m not sure I want to live on Cape Elizabeth’s state-owned Crescent Beach, but the idea is intriguing.
I must thank Seth Koenig of the Bangor Daily News for his March 12 report on this plan. I might have missed it. In the U.S. Senate race, I found Woods to be intelligent and interesting — a guy who wanted to set aside divisive partisan rhetoric to bring Maine together.
Now he wants to divide the state, with us rural noncontributing bumpkins on one side, and the prosperous elite fashionable folks of suburban and urban Maine on the other. It’s very tempting to point out all the things I don’t like about southern Maine, but that would be wrong.
Instead, at least today, let’s offer Steve a bit of insight into the small towns that define our state and its quality of life. Because, you see, Steve contends that these communities “make very little contribution to the wealth and capacity of our state.”
That is so amazingly arrogant and wrong it leaves me speechless — but, thank goodness, not wordless. I’m not even feeling worthless, despite the fact Steve has decided I contribute nothing to our state and live in “economic despair.”
Let’s start with Mount Vernon, my hometown for the last 34 years, a thriving and vibrant small rural community with a village square, a general store (if they don’t have it, I don’t need it), an outstanding library, an awesome café, a volunteer fire department, a community center where we often gather, a superb elementary school, beautiful forests, hills, lakes, ponds and a wonderfully diverse collection of eccentric and talented people. And yes, Steve, they all contribute to our state. Perhaps you should swing up this way sometime to see for yourself.
Woods focuses some of his ire on the amount of roads we have in rural Maine. I’d actually be happy to rip some of them up — but how would Steve and his friends get to Sugarloaf? A main route to the mountain goes through Mount Vernon. Also, perhaps we need to remind Steve that we rural folk are subsidizing his train rides, even though Amtrak comes nowhere near our towns.
And I’d love to keep the fish and game up here to myself and my friends and neighbors.
I’m wondering how much of his hunting Steve does in his town, Yarmouth. I’m also wondering if Steve thinks all his fresh food comes from down his way.
As I read Koenig’s interview with Woods, I got more and more angry. It seems as though Steve was aiming right at me when he said, “You can have your 2-acre plot, but somebody in Lewiston-Auburn shouldn’t have to be subsidizing it.”
It just so happens that Linda and I will be in Lewiston on Saturday, attending a performance at the Public Theater and dining in one of the city’s fine restaurants. We rural folk do venture out occasionally to subsidize businesses in the city.
Let’s remind Steve of the findings of GrowSmart Maine’s excellent “Charting Maine’s Future” action plan, prepared by the Brookings Institution. “Accessible wild places and tranquil country towns, human-scaled Main Streets and working waterfronts: These are what differentiate Maine from other places and in many respects drive its economy,” reported Brookings.
The Brookings study concluded, “As its world-famous brand declares, Maine has — in its vivid small towns and waterfronts, its lakes and fields and rocky coastline — exactly the sort of authenticity and quality of place that can set a place apart. Maine is unforgettable and distinctive, and that matters.”
Yes, Steve Woods, while that may not matter to you, it matters to us.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or george [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmith maine.com.