We’ve become used to campaigns without content. That, as much as any level of frustration over a “gridlocked” Congress or state legislature, is behind the discontent that at times seems the only thing voters can agree on.

It was not always like this. Once upon a time, state (and national) party platforms made specific promises — to use the powers of government to build roads, improve schools, and set clear environmental and health standards.

No more. You can look long and hard through documents the Maine Democratic Party and the Maine Republican Party provide and find few specific statements, and the vague promises included make no reference to how much anything will cost.

Thus we have the Democrats’ “A Better State of Maine,” complete with full-page photos of a fisherman’s net and a kid riding a bike. Nice shots, but this is a political document, not an L.L. Bean catalogue.

We have the usual vows to “invest in our infrastructure” and “foster the kind of environment that young families want to live in” without even a cursory explanation of how that might be done. OK, on “infrastructure” we are supposed to “modernize” by “building and repairing our roads, bridges, ports and rails.” We need further investments in “clean energy” and “expanded broadband access.”

Where would the bridges or fiber optic cables or rail lines be built? What will we do at the three state-owned ports — Portland, Searsport and Eastport — not that they’re ever mentioned? This gauzy, insubstantial offering trifles with voters who might happen to read it.

The Republicans have no campaign document. Instead, you can check the party platform which, like the Democrats, says nothing specific about anything state government might do or provide.

There are Republican specifics, however — everything government must not, under any circumstance, do — trespass on individual rights, state’s rights or municipal rights. Republicans re-fight battles already over, such as defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman” and they proclaim that “federalization of the Maine woods will not be tolerated.” But that’s about it.

If there’s any role for government that Maine Republicans believe it should play, you will not find it here.

Still, we’ve become used to a Republican Party that wants government to do less of whatever it’s doing now, and by no means ever do anything new. Until relatively recently, Democrats did see a role for government, and spelled out what that might be.

I sense Maine Democrats are caught amid the contradictions of what they’ve done since the advent of the LePage administration, and most of the Baldacci administration before that. “A Better State” proclaims that “Democrats fought — and won — a battle in the Legislature to ensure tax cuts for the middle class and working Mainers, not giveaways to the super wealthy.”

This is a whopper on a par with some of the daily fabrications of Donald Trump.

In fact, Democrats supported Republican demands to cut the state income tax’s top rate, benefiting the “super wealthy,” and the merely wealthy, while increasing the regressive sales tax. In the same budgets, they OK’d slashing the municipal revenue sharing that moderates property taxes, and gutting “circuit breaker” relief that once helped individuals with high property tax burdens.

The resulting reductions in state revenue, which have still not recovered to pre-2008 levels, have made it impossible to maintain support for the state university system, public schools, and a long list of programs once considered vital to Maine’s well-being. Since Democrats couldn’t really explain this, they papered it over.

Is it any wonder the real policy proposals in this election are on the ballot as referendum questions? There, we can vote to increase Mainers’ wages, boost school funding, and raise new revenue by taxing marijuana.

What is telling about the Democrats’ statement is what it doesn’t mention. Nothing about health care, nothing about the numerous programs decimated by the governor, nothing substantial about agriculture, which has shown recent promise, or how to interrupt the downward spiral of the forest products industry. And, of course, nothing about global warming and the multiple threats it presents to coastal communities.

Since voters aren’t being offered anything else to vote for, they understandably focus primarily on the personality quirks of candidates.

So here’s a prediction: The first political party with a real agenda that can be tested for soundness, and then judged on implementation, is the party that will win support from Mainers for decades to come. Otherwise, we’ll continue through an endless spin cycle, unable to realize the many opportunities we have before us to actually build a better state.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 31 years. His new book, Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible, is now available. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]


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