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Scorecard for candidates shows Cutler gets best grades

When undecided voters make up their minds, there's only one logical option.

We are getting to crunch time in the race to be Maine's next governor. A new poll last week suggested that Democrat Libby Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage are in a dead heat with approximately 30 percent of the vote each.

Independent Eliot Cutler is at 9 percent. The two other independents, Shawn Moody at 5 percent and Kevin Scott at less than 1 percent, are essentially out of the race. Neither has the financing nor the experience to be viable candidates.

The big message in this polling is that the more people take a hard look at LePage, the less attractive he appears. LePage lost nine points from polling two weeks ago.

Mitchell only gained a little support, and Cutler didn't gain any, so it looks as if the election will be determined by the way the unusually large bloc of undecided voters (26 percent) moves. Mitchell may get some, but it is Cutler who will likely start picking up real support. This is just about where independent Angus King was in 1994 when he started to make his move.

Why do I think the undecideds will start moving to Cutler? Because he is the one candidate who can deliver on an agenda to change Maine – as he says, "to make Maine the comeback state of the next decade."

LePage talks a change game, but has neither the grasp of real solutions nor the temperament to make change happen. Libby Mitchell would simply hope that things get better.

I believe the next governor of Maine needs to be able to address four questions. I have listened to the candidates in debates and have reviewed the programs they propose on their websites. These are the grades I give them on each of the questions:

1. How will these candidates get the Maine economy growing again and creating jobs?

Cutler – A-minus; LePage – B; Mitchell – C-plus.

Cutler has put forth specific ideas to improve Maine's economy by addressing the high costs of energy, health care and government. He also has proposals to make investment easier, to improve the regulatory climate and to invest in the Maine brand.

Mitchell's specific proposals to grow the economy are generally small bore. Her proposals would be more credible but for Mitchell's record in the Legislature. She talks about economic development but proposes legislation that would further increase business costs. And she has been part of a leadership team in Augusta that has not created any meaningful net new jobs in Maine over the past 10 years.

LePage has several specific ideas for reducing taxes significantly, streamlining the regulatory process and cutting back government costs with zero-based budgeting.

Many of these are sound ideas. For example, his proposal for a 5 percent flat tax would be great if he could show a way to actually reduce the state budget by the billion dollars or so that would be required. Here he is not so specific.

2. How will candidates address the substantial budget deficit facing the state in the next biennium?

Cutler – A; LePage – B-minus; Mitchell C-minus.

Cutler is the only candidate who flatly states that he will not restructure taxes until the nearly $1 billion state deficit is addressed.

LePage has an approach that would confront some of the deficit issues, but his tax cut plan, as Cutler has recently noted, would add at least another $1 billion to the deficit.

Mitchell's approach is to assure us that she has done this before in the last session of the legislature in a bipartisan approach. However, she has shown herself unwilling to address fundamental tradeoffs in Medicare and K-12 spending.

3. Where will the state get the money needed to invest in higher education?

Cutler – B; Mitchell – B-minus; LePage – C.

Cutler and Mitchell are both strongly committed to more investment in higher education.

He would fund improvements through the streamlining of the university system, at least until the state economy improves.

Mitchell is opposed to any consolidation and has been a major roadblock during attempts to restructure the university system.

LePage talks about education mostly from a K-12 perspective and seems to have little energy for higher ed.

4. How do we get better bang for the buck in K-12 education?

Cutler – A; LePage – C; Mitchell – C.

Cutler has a well-designed and detailed approach here that improves cost effectiveness though lower class sizes, improves accountability and pledges real results in improved student performance.

His approach is a quantum leap beyond what is proposed by either LePage or Mitchell.

Mitchell in particular is handicapped by her close association with the teachers union – a major force against any real reform in Maine's K-12 system.

On this report card there is only one clear choice for governor – Eliot Cutler.