I returned home last week, from an Allagash canoe trip, to find an unusual photo of Maine’s Governor in the news. The full-length photo depicted LePage standing on a small patch of carefully manicured lawn as he spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for a casino expansion in Oxford.
The contrast of his shiny black dress shoes against that small patch of living earth caught my eye. Another photo showed him about to turn over a ceremonial spade-full of sod along with other dignitaries.
We almost never see Maine’s chief executive depicted in physical contact with the earth or even outside and off-pavement for that matter. His vacations seem to be spent mostly out of the state. There is never any indication that he takes part in the outdoor recreation economy that Maine relies upon so heavily for its livelihood.
On Wednesday LePage will be the featured witness at a congressional field hearing in East Millinocket. The hearing is an attempt to influence President Obama’s upcoming decision on whether to designate lands east of Baxter State Park as a national monument.
The outcome of the hearing is a foregone conclusion — given the one-sided nature of the witnesses and the pre-determined position of the committee chair. With or without LePage’s testimony the political hearing will end with another futile and partisan finger-wagging at the executive branch,
But as long as the Governor is in the Katahdin Area and has some time to kill perhaps he could lead the press corps on a short hike. Barnard Mountain, located in the proposed monument area, would be an appropriate destination. Sometimes a short hike can be more instructive than even the longest political hearing.
Mr. LePage identifies himself primarily as a businessman, not an outdoorsman. There’s no shame in that — plenty of Mainers choose not to engage in outdoor recreation. But plenty of Mainers don’t preside over a state which gets $1.5 billion in wages and salaries from outdoor recreation, and annually collects $382 million in state and local tax revenues from its participants.
If Maine’s casino industry (total revenues $130 million, $15.5 million in taxes) can entice LePage to step off-pavement, however briefly, for a photo op– shouldn’t we in the outdoor recreation industry rate his attention for at least a day hike?
It’s more important than a photo op of course. Prudent businessmen don’t ignore, or stand in opposition to, the sector of their operation which brings in 10% of the total annual income.
Sixty-five thousand Mainers are employed by the outdoor recreation industry in the state.While we universally and publicly mourn the recent loss of 214 paper-making jobs in Madison, the governor is set to speak out against a gift of public land that would add substantially more jobs to the outdoor recreation sector. Meanwhile, failure of the monument proposal will not return a single job to Madison or any other shuttered paper mill in the state. His time would be better spent outside.
Which policy decision about Maine’s outdoor economy would not be better informed by personal experience with the outdoors? Has the Governor ever seen a clear-cut from ground level? Has he ever walked the property line between the restricted zone along the Allagash and the adjoining private landowners? Did the silence of a still summer evening at Russell Pond in Baxter State Park ever engulf him?
Maybe the only thing the Governor would find extraordinary about the proposed monument property is the epic number of black flies. But maybe some time spent off-pavement and outside would give him a glimpse of why the majority of Mainers favor the idea.