Someone needs to organize a search party for the governor. After years of wandering in the backwoods of Maine, searching for a way out, he’s no closer to the light than ever.

In decision after decision, these last seven years, Paul LePage has confronted the question of whether the state should go forward or backward. And in almost every case, he’s chosen to retreat into a comfortable time from Maine’s past that doesn’t exist any longer.

It’s as though he doesn’t understand that we can honor and celebrate the past, but we can never return to it.

The latest example of this tendency is the governor’s crusade to reverse the decision to create the Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument in the North Woods. To many people, the monument is a painful reminder of the loss of the mills in places like Millinocket. And they don’t want that.

Of course we’d rather have the mills, but that is not the choice before us. The mills, as they once existed, aren’t coming back. The Katahdin national monument isn’t the answer to all our problems, but it is one piece of a changing economy that will bring more people to that part of Maine, and open new opportunities for the region.

The debate on the monument has gone on for five years, which is more than long enough, in countless meetings and places. The decision was made to move forward. Now it’s time for the governor to do the same.

LePage’s main argument against the monument is that it isn’t supported by the people of Maine. That’s a particularly ironic and cynical argument from someone who has, for years, ignored the will of the voters when they passed bonds and referendums he didn’t like, including those for land conservation and the two most recent ones on education and the minimum wage.

Apparently, the will of the people only matters when the governor agrees with their decision. This is the kind of blatant hypocrisy that makes too many people despise politics.

The deeper problem here, though, isn’t LePage’s inconsistency but his inability to support any new idea that didn’t first appear on some right-wing talk show.

It’s worth remembering that when LePage first ran, he promised to grow the economy through forestry, fishing and farming. It was, perhaps, the most revealing and illogical thing he’s ever said. It was also, as I’ve said before, a terrific campaign slogan for a candidate in 1900.

That was a time when tens of thousands of people still worked in the forests and 90 percent of Mainers lived on family farms. It is also when a new and transformative technology emerged that would change all of us — the small internal combustion engine. It brought with it chain saws, cars and big trucks, tractors, skidders and trawlers. And the end of thousands of jobs.

A single tractor could replace 10 farmers. A chainsaw replaced a crew with axes. Refrigeration killed off the ice industry in half a decade. Small motors replaced hand line fishing in coastal boats with trawlers and draggers. And motors with computer brains that we call robots are now replacing factory workers

Even if LePage could bring the old economy back, it would be a terrible idea. Economies built entirely on extracting resources are always vulnerable to the newest and poorest resource-rich region, and, even more profoundly, to technology. They can only sustain themselves, over time, by evolving from the pure ‘extraction’ phase to the ‘invention’ phase.

This week LePage is spending time with the president, urging him to overturn the national monument designation, ignoring the fact that no president can arbitrarily do that.

As the governor is fond of pointing out, the two are very similar. LePage promised to bring back forest jobs in the same way that Donald Trump promised to revive coal mining and manufacturing in America. Unfortunately, both of them seem to be unaware of some basic economic constraints.

Demand for paper is way down and isn’t coming back. Coal is too expensive and dirty to compete with natural gas, wind and wind. And manufacturing jobs replaced by robots don’t magically reappear simply because we want them to.

Government can do many things, but it can’t make the clocks go back or reverse technological progress.

Here’s a better way to spend your time, governor. Pay attention to what Maine people outside your small circle are saying. Visit the people in the region who are actually coming up with new ideas and building the foundations of a new rural economy. They’ll tell you that there’s room enough in the northern forests for both traditional uses and new ideas.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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