Cutler says, “We need leaders.” Will he be the next? Eliot Cutler lectured at the Wishcamper Center on Oct. 17 as part of the Muskie School Fall Lecture Series on public service.
Cutler, who ran for governor in 2010, has a great deal of experience in conservation and public service. He has a comprehensive plan for restoring what he perceived to be a dismal economic landscape in Maine. After making claims about the nation’s wealth gap, as well as the failing partisan system, Cutler took a very specific look at what needs to happen immediately in Maine to make long-term change. His emphasis was on the importance of the tourism industry in this state, as well as the “creative economy.” He challenged the Maine state government to a difficult but attainable goal, to double the number of tourists who visit Maine annually by 2020.
For Cutler, the solution appears to be as simple as “A, B, C,” and in fact, this was the structure of his lecture. “A” stands for “Accelerating Infrastructure,” which Cutler indicated could be achieved by re-investing primarily in roads. “We tolerate among the worst roads in America,” Cutler said. “We are 32nd in the country for the quality of our roads, and we’re going to need to spend more than $3 billion dollars in the next decade or so to bring our bridges up to snuff and to keep them safe.” He was not afraid to talk about spending money. A major point in his lecture was that the “pie” of Maine’s economy is shrinking while people bicker over who gets the largest piece. Cutler thinks that rather than delegating who gets the largest piece of a “shrinking pie,” we should be making plans to increase the size of the pie. He thinks we should do this by investing in our coastal communities, even if it means increasing our debt. “Maine is in a good position to borrow,” said Cutler. According to Cutler, there has never been a less expensive time to borrow. His goal is rooted in supporting the tourism industry that surges the state’s wealth and economic development.
Part “B” of his plan is to build a name brand for Maine. “There are a few states in America that are mythic. That hold Americans enthralled, and Maine is one of them,” he said. Cutler claims that our slogans have not lived up to our ‘mythic’ status. “Over the years we’ve moved from one slogan to another faster than our weather changes. For a few years, our slogan was, ‘it has to be Maine.’ That was a brand that an analyst for Businessweek Magazine said, ‘Isn’t well known, because it is bland, dreary and vague.’”
The “C” in Cutler’s plan is “championing the creative economy.” The effort is to bring creative people to Maine by promoting and investing in the creative industries, as well as its artists. Cutler claims that we need to create a name brand for ourselves by investing in our most profitable sectors. “We should establish visible arts districts throughout the state that provide and protect affordable workspaces and housing. We ought to make available, affordable health care coverage for people engaged in the creative economy.” Cutler spoke of investing more in art schools, suggesting that we create a magnet high school for the arts, similar to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. Furthermore, he said we need to improve our availability in search engines and new media.
When asked whether or not Cutler would be attempting to employ his plan by running for the governor’s office again in 2014, he replied, “I haven’t said no, and if I am as motivated by the circumstances of the state – granted that they have not changed or have gotten worse than they were in 2009, when I ran last time – then I would. But I haven’t decided.”