My favorite columns to write could just as easily be formatted as eyes-only campaign or communication strategy memos. I recognize it is easy to sound superior when offering unsolicited political advice without the obligations of implementation.
I am going to try to be less preachy just as soon as I get done explaining why Gov. Paul LePage is doing irreparable damage to the jobs narrative he needs to secure another four years in the Blaine House.
LePage’s Open for Business Zones economic development proposal includes the establishment of right-to-work zones for employers who will commit to creating 1,500 jobs and investing $50 million in Maine. Under LePage’s plan, employers could build their factories knowing that their employees would not be compelled to contribute to the costs of collective bargaining.
Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws that give workers a choice when it comes to joining unions and contributing to the costs of collective bargaining. Some believe that organized labor has less workplace and political influence in states where fees for representation are voluntary, reducing costs and labor issues for employers.
I believe free economic choice is the best way to ensure that price-paying customers and fee-contributing members receive a product or service they value. Any organization, be it a YMCA or the AFL-CIO, should have a vested financial interest in delivering tangible benefits that members are willing to pay for voluntarily.
The establishment of the weekend, an institution organized labor has long and aptly taken credit for, is an appreciated but dated accomplishment. What else have they got?
One answer to that question is political influence. While their membership as a share of the workforce continues to decline, unions remain one of America’s most effective political forces. Their campaign dollars, endorsements and grassroots support almost always go to Democrats.
Partisan Republicans know that denying a union’s obligatory dues revenue can make it harder to organize and therefore can limit labor’s political influence. Despite the partisan reasons for a Republican governor to favor right-to-work, LePage is motivated by the belief that right-to-work is the ticket to attracting big employers to Maine.
The political problem is that the general public does not understand the issue, it remains a die-on-the-sword issue for labor interests, and LePage has been unable to convince Republicans and economic development officials that right-to-work is a must-have.
LePage’s best chance to pass right-to-work was when he came into office, along with the Republican controlled 125th Legislature. Ultimately, however, LePage could not get enough traction because a Republican candidate for the Legislature has never once knocked on a door in Maine and been told, “Go to Augusta and pass right-to-work legislation.”
If a credible employer was willing to come to Maine and openly talk with elected officials about creating 1,500 jobs in a right-to-work zone, the governor’s proposal would have a much better chance of advancement.
One economic development official I heard from had not seen that kind of opportunity in 25 years in the profession, while another promised to eat a sock if a company was ready to commit that many jobs to Maine.
Given that Maine has no recent experience attracting an employer of that scale, and the entire state has only 13 employers with more than 1,500 jobs, the proposal seems like a long shot. Pushing a cornerstone economic development proposal on a too-big-to-be believed opportunity takes focus away from the work LePage has done to make it easier for small employers to create jobs.
Democrats need something better than “right-to-work-for-less” to push back against LePage’s Open for Business proposal. The phrase is not that catchy, and it is not conclusively supported by the data. Democrats need to find ways to make the case that LePage’s plans are too unrealistic and come too late in his term.
Democrats need statistics. The one they use most effectively is the charge that Maine is 50th in the nation in private-sector job growth under LePage. The data point originates with a progressive Maine-based think tank, but if people come to believe the figure is true it will be devastating to the governor’s job narrative.
Democrats also need stories of economic development shortcomings from LePage’s tenure. He is giving his opponents an unbelievable opportunity by overplaying his hand and refusing to issue job-creating bonds that were authorized by the voters.
The story of the bonds is simple and straightforward. Investments are going to be shelved and jobs lost because the governor is trying to achieve after-the fact influence over a budgetary process in which he refused to participate. LePage refused to produce a supplemental budget earlier in the year and then failed to veto a bipartisan revenue sharing bill that he now suggests has created a credit rating and solvency crisis for the state.
LePage has used his power over the bonding process to achieve unrelated concessions from Democrats before. While I believe Democrats in the Legislature should work toward a solution, LePage has overplayed his hand, and they would be smart to make sure their fix for his crisis in on their terms.
Dan Demeritt is a Republican political consultant and public relations specialist. He is a former campaign aide and communications director for Gov. Paul LePage. He can be contacted at: [email protected] Twitter: @demerittda