A leader’s most important job is setting priorities. By that standard, Speaker of the House Mark Eves showed strong leadership last week when he announced the committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session.

Eves, D-North Berwick, made it plain to the members of his caucus where their focus should be: “I urge each and every one of them to put jobs first,” Eves said. “I urge them to focus on growing our economy so that more Maine families, workers and businesses can succeed.”

That is the right priority, and the clearest reading of voters’ wishes, based on the results of the Nov. 4 election. Gov. Paul LePage, the candidate with the clearest economic message, won a strong victory. Democrats, who at times appear more interested in saving government jobs than in creating new ones in the private sector, lost control of the Senate and much of their majority in the House. The charge is not always fair, but it sticks because the range of issues that Democrats say they care most about is so wide, from toxic toys to gun control.

Eves will not have an easy job of keeping his caucus in line. Every member is permitted to introduce as many bills as he or she wants, and virtually every bill gets a committee hearing, a work session and a vote by the House and Senate. Eves has little leverage to use on the members who don’t show discipline, so it will be up to their colleagues to hold all members accountable.

No one should be willing to push a pet issue if it will distract attention from the state’s No. 1 problem — its lagging economy.

Republicans also should be willing to show the same kind of resolve.

It’s true that LePage stayed on an economic message throughout his campaign, but he still has some work to do on his job-creating agenda.

For instance, he says lowering the top income tax rate is a priority for him because it would stimulate the economy, bring back wealthy former residents and attract out-of-state businesses to move here. But Maine lowered its tax rates in 2011, and none of those things happened.

Maine job creation has lagged, as the nation and the New England region recovered from the Great Recession. Our unemployment rate is low, but our economy is hardly growing. Our population has been flat since 2008, and as our the median age climbs, we have fewer people of working age. If tax cuts made a difference in that trend, we should have seen at least some population growth and a tighter job market that puts upward pressure on wages.

The governor also has claimed a mandate on welfare reform, and he is right that there is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with the system. But he has not made a strong case that cutting health care and nutrition services help the economy grow. There is a much stronger argument that having more sick and hungry Mainers slow the state’s growth.

Welfare reform that provided supports for people to find and hold jobs, get secure affordable housing and adequate health care is a growth strategy, although it might not be a short-term cost saving.

The way the Legislature is configured, no side can have its way without working with the other. Although they disagree on many issues, Republicans and Democrats in Augusta have an opportunity to work together on pro-growth policies that can get the economy moving.

The members of the Democratic caucus in the House should listen to Eves and spend the next six months working to end these years of stagnation. Republicans should consider applying the same discipline to their own ideas, putting jobs and the economy at the top of their priority list as well.

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