Gov. Paul LePage touts his background as a business turnaround specialist. Well, he certainly has turned Maine around, but in the wrong direction.

Speaking at a recent graduation ceremony, I was struck by the disconnect between the students’ talents and their confidence in the future. These were impressive, hardworking and responsible young people. Yet I heard great concern from graduates and their families. “I worry a lot. What if I can’t find a job?” one student asked. “If I do, will it be enough to pay off my student debt?”

Maine’s graduates deserve better. They deserve to be confident of Maine’s potential and their own. Our workers are well known as some of the best. Our entrepreneurs are thrifty and creative. Our quality of life is a magnet for growth.

Yet under LePage’s watch, our state lags badly in job creation. Maine has recovered only about half of the jobs it lost in the recession. By comparison, New England as a region has recovered all of them, and then some. The nation as a whole has recovered 95 percent.

A recent report from the Maine Center for Economic Policy tells us nearly 100,000 Mainers are actively seeking work, but can’t find it. This harsh new reality is worst for Mainers of prime working age, those between the ages of 24 and 45.

The governor likes to blame our schools. Speaking about Maine students, he has said, “I don’t care where you go in this country — if you come from Maine, you’re looked down upon.” He has issued grades for Maine’s schools, using a predetermined bell curve that ensures no more than 25 percent will receive better than a “C.”

I’ve given a few grades in my time. I spent 20 years in education, both here at home in Maine and for nine years in New York City. I’ve taught graduate-level classes for teachers and worked for an international education reform organization. In my opinion, Maine teachers and students deserve an “A.”

Outside Augusta, I work in the private sector. I am also a parent of kids in local public schools. I am floored by the quality of teaching at my sons’ schools. As an educator, I’d put Maine graduates up against any in the world, any day of the week.

As a Maine businessperson, I can say we actually do so, and we like our odds. The business I work for would not be in Maine otherwise.

For our state’s economy to succeed, Maine’s leaders need to believe it can succeed, and take concrete action to move our economy forward.

This legislative session, Democrats worked to boost our economic potential. For example, we improved early childhood education, college affordability and made important workforce reforms, such as improving incumbent worker training and making Maine’s community college credits transferable to Maine universities.

Members of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, which I co-chair, worked closely with our Republican colleagues to invest in Maine’s enormous potential.

Voters in November will decide on the bond proposals we developed. LePage, who as governor is the state’s CEO, vetoed our proposal to spur job creation by small businesses, but lawmakers stood firm and overrode the veto. Others would invest in key sectors, such as the marine economy and biotech, that hold particular promise for good-paying jobs.

LePage, meanwhile, stifled job creation by holding hostage voter-approved bonds, misusing taxpayer dollars and mismanaging his agencies. He gave a nearly $1 million no-bid contract to political ally Gary Alexander, whose late, faulty and plagiarized work included a $575 million math error. He spent $28.3 million more on a failed transportation provider, tossing out taxpayer money by not obtaining a legally required performance bond. LePage even neglected his responsibility to submit a balanced supplemental budget, the first governor in Maine’s history to do so.

If Maine were a business and you were a shareholder, what grade would you give your state’s current CEO?

Maine’s current and future workers, businesses and economy deserve a CEO who believes in them, makes smart investments, acts strategically and builds coalitions to achieve measurable results. Give Maine a governor we can believe in, and Maine will give our graduates reason to believe in themselves.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is the House majority leader and House chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future.


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