One of my professors in a recent class made an interesting point about a perception a lot of us seem to have heading into the upcoming election. She asked us why we thought electing a bunch of government outsiders, with little governing experience, was such a good idea. Then, she asked us if we would have the same perception if we were to have brain surgery. Would we rather have a surgeon with 12 years of experience, or a new resident who was performing his or her first surgery?

Her point was well taken. Perhaps experience in governance, so long as it does not climb to the level of corruption, is indeed a good thing to look for in a candidate. According to the latest poll, there are three candidates with a realistic shot at the Blaine House this year. Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott continue to campaign, but neither of them is drawing more than five percentage points in any of the the polls. Since Maine’s gubernatorial election is just a few short weeks away, I thought I’d look at the experience levels of the three leading candidates this week, trying to remain as “fair and balanced” as possible.  (Did I actually just use Fox News’s slogan? Yes. But, I meant it literally.)

Eliot Cutler, the leading Independent candidate, has held a variety of positions in public service. He worked for Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, one of Maine’s most highly respected politicians, in Washington, D.C., and helped to craft the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which have been vital in cleaning up Maine’s environment. Following his time with Muskie, Cutler worked for the Office of Management and Budget, where he gained budget and policy oversight experience — a key skill for a governor. He was also an energy policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter. In addition, he has worked on four presidential campaigns over the last three decades.

Republican candidate Paul LePage’s experience in politics has been limited to local governance. He served two terms as a city councilor in Waterville. Following this, he was elected as the city’s mayor — a position he has held since 2003. In 2005, Waterville, by popular vote, restructured its executive leadership from a strong mayor system to a council-manager system. Strong mayor executives are popularly elected, whereas council-manager executives are appointed. LePage’s accomplishments include cutting taxes each year he has been in office, while managing to not cut any services. He has also managed Marden’s retail stores since 1996, which he says will help him manage the state government if he is elected.

Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell’s career in Maine politics dates back to 1974, when she was elected to the State House of Representatives.  Since then, she has served nine House terms and three Senate terms. In 2008, she was elected  senate president. Her strongest focus has been on public education, and this is reflected in the boards she has served in addition to her time in the Maine Legislature. She has served on the boards of the Jobs for Maine Graduates, the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education, and the New England Board of Higher Education.

Despite the fact that we, as a society, seem fed up with the career politicians, I think it would be unwise to resort to electing a candidate with no experience to a high-level position. The fact that the three leading candidates have the familiarity with government that they do speaks well to the idea that a majority of Mainers must feel the same way.  Whoever we choose is going to direct the course of our state for at least the next few years. I refuse to trust my brain to a novice surgeon, and, to extend the analogy a bit, it seems that the three candidate “surgeons” in this gubernatorial race have all held the “scalpel” of leadership for a number of years. In making your own choice, I encourage you all to look at where the candidates stand on the issues, and, of course, to vote on Election Day.

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