Maine: An Encyclopedia

King Inaugural Address 1999

Governor Angus S. King, Jr., January 7, 1999

A little less than a year from now, at the end of a cold New England night, the sun’s first rays will strike Eastport, Cadillac Mountain, and Mars Hill and a new millennium will come to Maine, and America.

The sun’s warmth will spread east to west, from coastal Washington County to Portland, to the frozen fields of Aroostook, across the forests and mill towns of our central plateau, to the mountains and on to the border with New Hampshire and Quebec.

But for a few minutes, at least, the day, the decade, the century, the millennium itself, will belong to Maine.

Skeptics tell us it’s only an arbitrary date–just one more turning of the mid-winter solstice, or even that the real beginning of the new century is a year ahead. But somehow, all those zeros in the date have an awesome, almost magical feel to them.

Normally, we’re day-to-day creatures–feeding the kids, paying the bills, folding the laundry. But those zeros make us think, remember, speculate, hope. They force us to pause, to contemplate who and where we are, to imagine life a thousand years ago and a thousand years hence.

And still the millennium sun sweeps across Maine.

And where we are is at a kind of historical tipping point–one of those rare moments when things change, really change, and the old rules no longer apply. Here are some thousand-year-old rules, which have certainly applied in Maine: geography is destiny, and, if you remember your high school physics, work consists of moving a weight through a distance.

For our geography has largely determined who we are and what we do–the ocean, the forests, the fields–as we have drawn sustenance and value from the land and the sea. If you add tourism–which is, if you think about it, a natural resource-based industry–almost half the value created every year in Maine springs directly from the hand that geography dealt us. There are few states where this is still so true.

Paper, drumsticks, rolling pins, chairs, studs, whole houses made of logs–6 billion dollars worth from the woods. Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, and now broccoli. Vegetables, milk, blueberries, cranberries–20, 000 jobs and a whole way of life from the land. And of course, lobsters, shrimp, salmon, sardines, flounder–alas, not so many cod–and the wonderful striped bass, maintain our connection to the sea.

And the millennium sun is coming to Maine.

And almost overnight, we find ourselves doing things without much regard to geography–suddenly Maine is fish and silicon chips, hardwood and software, the back forty and the back office. The lathe, the purse seine, the chainsaw, the harvester are still the tools of our trades, but so are the computer, the telephone, and eighty thousand miles of spun glass that links us to Calcutta as surely as Cornish and Concord.

For the first time, we are free–free to build on what nature gave us, but free as well to strike out into the world.

And if we’re smart, we’ll do both. We’d be foolish to turn our backs on the resources that have sustained us for so long and have built the unique character of our people.

But while we continue to make paper, French fries, and fillets, we have to also find ways to unlock new value from the land and the sea.

For example, did you know that with the application of a layer of fiberglass and the right kind of glue, a beam of hemlock becomes as strong as steel? Maybe Millinocket can be the next Pittsburgh–fabricating the materials that with build America in the next century– generating good jobs without the soot.

Did you know that there are 1800 species of plants and animals in the Gulf of Maine, and that we use less that 75? Maybe the cure for who-knows-what dread disease is out there in the plankton, the algae, or, as a joke on me, in the eel grass. The Gulf of Maine is as fertile as the plains of the mid-west–but we must learn how to plow and plant it in such a way as to tap its riches without depleting its life.

And why not a rebirth of agriculture? We sit next to a market of 50 million people and I think each of them should start their day with a blueberry muffin. And that rebirth is coming. This year, for example, in addition to all those potatoes, we’ll ship a million cases of broccoli from Aroostook County. And the success of the new farmers’ market in Portland has proven that if given a chance at freshness and Maine quality, people will come and buy.

But to really make it happen, it will take new technology, new markets, and new business skills. Our farmers must be as good at milking the consultants and the bankers as they are the cows.

And all the while the millennium sun is rising on Maine.

But what does this all mean? What difference will it make?

Like Robert Frost’s road not taken in the woods, all the difference in the world. It will change the way we work–moving information through a wire will be as important as moving a log to the saw, and the secrets of a lobster’s chemistry may be as important as its taste in my friend Patti Le Blanc’s wonderful stew.

And, if we play our cards right, it will also make us richer–richer in options, richer in opportunities, and richer in just plain money. Because in our on-going struggle with this beautiful but tough country has built a people with a special character—and the qualities that make up that character will prove ever more valuable as the new century unfolds.

If character counts, this place is Fort Knox.

And finally, the millennium sun will warm our children, as well.

That’s where it all starts; that’s where we turn that mystical key that will unlock the opportunities before us. It starts with reading to them before they can talk; helping out in classrooms where some real heroes are transferring the stuff of civilization day by day; and just plain being there as parents, mentors, and friends—in the words of my church’s birthday prayer to “strengthen them when they stand, comfort them when discouraged or sorrowful, and raise them up if they fall”.

In the prayer, we’re asking God to do all those things; wouldn’t be a bad idea if we also did ‘em ourselves.

The task before us, then, is to seize this moment, to welcome that warming millennium sun, to give our people the tools to reach out and make an extraordinary future their own.

And all the while, the millennium sun is rising on Maine.

“The task before us, then, is to seize this moment, to welcome that rising millennium sun, and to give our people the tools to reach out and make an extraordinary future their own.

There’s a powerful assumption built into that sentence–the idea that we’re in control of our own destiny, that we can make instead of just take, the future. Sure, we’re part of the national and the global economy–what happens in Boston or Bangkok is going to make waves in Berwick or Brewer–but we can define our role, we can play on our own terms, and it’s up to us to decide–to consciously decide–what those terms should be.

I don’t want to gloss over this point, because everything else rests upon it. Our future as individuals, as a group of people, as a society, as a state, isn’t written in the stars, and it hasn’t been assigned to us by someone in Boston, Washington, or anywhere else. That’s the wonderful, amazing thing about this country. We’re in charge, and we have it within our power to decide who and what we want to be–and then to make it happen.

So who do we want to be; what’s our vision of the good life in Maine, and how do we get there?

An old man in northern Maine summed it up pretty well for me during the campaign–“What we want up here is a nice place and the money to enjoy it.” A pretty neat formulation that takes in environmental protection, quality of life, and economics, all at the same time.

Let’s start with money. We don’t have enough of it.

We have too many people in poverty, too many people working in low wage, no benefit jobs, too many people under-employed, too many people working two and

three jobs just to hang on, one paycheck away from disaster.

Except for a brief blip in the eighties, we’ve been stuck in the lower third of the states in income for as long as anyone can remember.

And so the first challenge is economic—how to raise incomes—or, more accurately, how to support the private sector in raising incomes–across the state, and especially in those communities which so far have been left out of the boom in southern Maine.

The other part of the old man’s formulation was “a nice place”, which takes in a lot of territory. To me this means, as a start, clean air, clean water–getting rid of MTBE would be a nice idea (are you listening EPA?), and access, access to the woods, the streams, the mountains, the lakes, the ocean that make Maine one of the most extraordinary outdoor environments on earth.

But it goes further–this “nice place” idea includes a bunch of things that are wrapped up in the term “quality of life

–like fifteen minutes being a bad traffic jam;

–like being able to walk to the local library;

–like having the postmistress know you by name;

–like knowing your neighbors will take you in case of a natural disaster–like an ice storm, as an improbable example;

–(as a matter of fact, just knowing your neighbors at all is more than many people in this country can say these days);

–like feeling safe;

–like being able to leave your car unlocked;

–like being able to see the stars and hear a cricket on the hearth.

So how do we get there, how do we increase the prosperity in every area of the state, and how do we, at the same time, maintain the values and quality of life that are so much a part of what we love about this special place?

Let’s start with the jobs.

For the past five years, I’ve eaten, slept, and breathed economic development in every part of Maine.

I’ve celebrated plant openings in Fort Kent and South Portland; Winthrop, Brewer and Portage Lake; Trenton, Ellsworth, Caribou, Topsham, and points in between. Those were the highs. But there’ve been lows as well, in Bridgton, Wilton, Winslow. On one memorable day, I went from celebrating with workers at the expansion of their plant in Raymond to consoling workers at G.H. Bass in Wilton.

We’ve worked on everything from improving the regulatory climate to cutting taxes and holding down the cost of workers comp, from offering job training and help with international trade, to putting on small business conferences, fixing the roads, and yes, trying to keep us in one area code.

And the one thing I’ve learned is that in the day-in, day-out effort to add jobs, there is no one thing, no magic bullet, no single solution that will make it happen.

The truth is that you have to push on all the buttons all the time, and even then, it may not work, or sometimes something good happens for a reason nobody anticipated.

But in the long haul, there is a magic bullet; there is something we can do to make ourselves more valuable and therefore better paid. And that something is education.

For the old saying that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer isn’t so true anymore; what is true is that the educated–throughout the world–are getting richer and the uneducated are getting poorer. This equation is constant and irrefutable.

A generation ago, Ireland was the poor relation of Europe–poor by any measure. But then they made a conscious decision–remember that term, “conscious decision”–that this was going to change and that education was going to be how they did it.

In 1965, Ireland’s total college enrollment was 18,500 people; today it is over 100,000. In 1981, they had 6,000 students in technical colleges; today, it’s 30,000.

And over this period, their economy has exploded—7% growth a year (compared to our 2%), an amazing 60% growth since 1990.

There is no earthly reason we can’t do exactly the same thing in Maine.

In K-12 education, we’re already on the way. A lot of people in Maine don’t know it, but in the last couple of years our elementary and middle schools have been at the top of the class in the entire country in math, science, and reading.

Fourth and eighth graders in ’96–first in the nation in math and science; fourth graders in ’94–first in the nation in reading.

We’re a leader in the country in high school completion; we’re the first state in the country to have every school and library connected to the internet, and by this time

next year, we will have begun the deployment of the nation’s most advanced distance learning system. Every kid in every high school will have access to the best courses and teachers any of our high schools has to offer.

And we’re just getting rolling. Two years ago, the Legislature adopted the Learning Results, high standards for what our kids should know at each grade level–and we’re testing to see if those standards are being met.

We are already among the best in America; now we’re taking on the world. Listen to this. Our eighth graders who lead the nation in science; I forgot to mention that they were also second in the world (Singapore was first) and were in the top ten in math. Not in New England, not in the US, in the world! And this is the league we have to play in, for our kids peers–and make no mistake about it, their competitors–are in Peking and Paris as well as Portsmouth and Palo Alto.

And yes, all this will take money; in the budget I will be submitting tomorrow, the largest area of increase will be for education at all levels, and will include some $55 million in additional support for k-12 education.

But it can’t be all about money. It has to also be about attitude and personal responsibility. The truth is that if our parents and our communities get more involved in our children’s education–volunteering in the classroom, going to parent-teacher conferences, mentoring, helping with the homework, setting higher expectations–and the kids watch less TV and play less Nintendo, we’d jump so far to the head of the class, nobody would catch us.

How about a simple one-for-one rule? No TV until the homework’s done, and no more than an hour of TV for each hour of homework.

Hello college, goodbye Rugrats.

In k-12, we’re into implementation; the Learning Results are the road map, we just have to follow it.

But in higher education, we have to be into innovation. Just as we’re among the top of the states in graduation from high school, we’re near the bottom in students who keep on going.

And that’s a recipe for economic disaster–low incomes, low expectations, low opportunity. Here are the stark numbers–

On average, a Maine person with a two year degree earns 25% more than a high school graduate and a college degree earns you 50% more—over a lifetime, a cool half a million dollars.

And what’s true for people is true for states. The five richest states in America are the five with the most college graduates. If you look at the fifteen states in America with the highest incomes, 12 of them are also in the top 15 in college graduates. Lower educational attainment equals lower incomes; it’s as simple as that.

And fixing it is doable. Today, about 60% of our kids go on to some form of higher education. Not enough in this day and age. But do you know how many people we’re talking about to raise this figure to 75%? Twenty-five hundred students! Twenty-five hundred students in the whole state of Maine.

That’s less than twenty additional students per high school. Make it twenty-five and we lead the nation. This can be done, it must be done, and it will be done.

So what’s missing? How do we do it? We have private colleges, a far-flung University system, seven technical colleges, a growing distance learning capability, a comprehensive system of adult ed, and an array of job training programs.

What’s missing is the three C’s– communication, coordination and cooperation. The bricks and mortar are here, the teachers are here, the courses are here, the students are here–we’ve just got to put the pieces together so that some form of higher education is a real option for every student leaving a Maine high school and for every worker in Maine who wants to go for it.

What’s missing for our people is a low-cost, low-stress entry point into higher education. We’re one of the few states in the country that doesn’t have a true community college system; but that’s about to change.

Not by creating a new system, hiring more staff, or building new buildings, but by more effectively using the already considerable resources we have in place.

In an historic agreement finalized in the last thirty days, the University and the Technical Colleges have embarked upon the creation of just such a system, a system that will offer anyone in Maine the opportunity to obtain a two-year degree for as little as twenty-five hundred dollars a year (and that’s before any financial aid kicks in) at a site no more than 25 miles from their home. That’s a two-year college degree for less than the cost of a good used car.

And at least equally important, the credits which make up this Associates’ Degree will be fully transferable to the University–so that those students who get started, do well, and want to continue, can do so seamlessly and without a lot of hassle.

For the first time, there will be a comprehensive course catalog–for all university and technical college offerings–on the Internet. Type in where you live and what you’re interested in, and up come the courses. Low cost, easy access, no excuses. Let’s go for it.

And if we can pull this off–after we pull this off–we will be able to offer the best educated, best trained, most flexible, and downright smartest work force on the planet.

And if we build smarter workers, they will come–the businesses, the jobs, the benefits, the salaries, the prosperity we seek. Oh yes, they will come.

But why settle for just what comes? How about the building of our own businesses, our own ideas, our own piece of the new millennium? We can and will do this too by dramatically ratcheting up our commitment to education’s first cousin, research and development.

In the film, I referred to laminated wood products, marine technology and biotechnology, and new products and processes based upon our agricultural heritage. These and others we can’t even dream of tonight will come from the labs and the factories and farms of Maine, if we make the commitment and stay the course.

It’s no accident that the most dynamic economic growth areas in the country–Route 128 in Boston, Research Triangle in North Carolina, Silicon Valley–are clustered around centers of research and development. What about our own research triangle stretching from Orono, our flagship university campus, to Jackson Lab and the bio-tech centers growing on Mount Desert, to Portland’s USM and Maine Med?

In Orono, there is a small company with 29 employees (soon going to 40)—Sensor Research and Development–which does the most advanced work in the nation in the field of sensor technology–think of what they make as super sophisticated smoke (or anything else) alarms—a company which spun out of the sensor lab at the University. Average pay—about $45,000 a year.

Multiply this outfit by a thousand and you get the idea of what I’m talking about here–and you’ve begun the reinvention of the Maine economy.

But is it all about money? No, but that’s where it starts. The growth in our state’s economy—50,000 net new jobs in the last six years–has allowed us to do many things–starting with tax cuts of over three hundred million dollars a year. But that growth has also allowed us to help the elderly with the prescription drugs which are the salvation of their health and the bane of their pocketbooks, to extend health insurance coverage to thousands of Maine kids, to help rebuild the lives of the most vulnerable among us. It all starts with a good job.

By the way, I think sometimes government forgets where this money comes from, but I’ve got an idea for a cure. I was in a plant a few weeks ago that had a huge banner out on the shop floor, that said “All the money around here comes from the customers”. As soon as I saw it, a light went on—what do you think of this?

But there’s a paradox buried in my old friend’s line about a nice place and the money to enjoy it, a paradox we ignore at our peril. The problem is that increasing prosperity comes with a price, a price often paid in terms of quality of life. More cars, more strip malls, more subdivisions where farms once stood, more empty stores downtown, higher prices for housing, independent small towns turning into bedroom suburbs, more noise and hassle in our lives.

How much does a fisherman gain if his income goes up a few thousand dollars but he can no longer afford to live by the sea? How much do any of us gain if we’re richer in money and poorer in spirit, in the things that make Maine the special place that it has been for so many years? How do we welcome the new century and yet retain the values of the old?

Here’s an amazing fact—in the twenty years between 1970 and 1990, as much land went into development as had been developed in the entire prior 150-year history of the state.

Here’s another way to look at it—this map takes us from 1940 to today, and then projects present trends to 2050—the red you see are farms and fields disappearing, water access being lost, prosperity spreading, but something precious slipping away.

Again, like becoming more prosperous, dealing with this will take some thought, some conscious decisions. And I don’t have a definitive answer. But I do know that if we ignore this inevitable consequence of economic growth, we’ll turn around in ten years or so and wonder where Maine went.

The trick is to deal with this issue–sprawl is the best term I know for it–in a way that is effective, but is not all bound up in new rules and regulations.

And so it’s time we begin a great public discussion of this issue—involving cities and towns, the state, and all our citizens—to find those answers that are uniquely ours—that respect private property, but at the same time protect what is so important to us about Maine.

Another aspect of this issue is the loss of access to Maine’s special places–woodland trails, lakes, streams, the ocean–an issue brought into sharp focus by the land transactions of this past summer in northern Maine–when 15% of the state’s entire land mass changed hands in the space of a few months.

The simple fact is that we must have to capacity to seize such opportunities on behalf of the people of Maine, and we don’t have that capacity today. A decade ago, by an overwhelming majority, Maine voters established the Land for Maine’s Future program and funded it by the passage of a thirty-five million-dollar bond issue.

This has been one of the most successful state programs ever created; guided by a citizen board and engaging in only willing buyer-willing seller transactions, over 60,000 acres of prime sites–Mt. Kineo in Moosehead Lake, the bold coast at Cutler, the Kennebunk Plains, the Rapid River in Rangeley, Grand Lake Stream–have been set aside for the people of Maine, their children, and their children’s children forever.

The time has come for us to renew this commitment, to do for our grandchildren what Percival Baxter did for us—by preserving those special places throughout Maine that so much define us as a people. If we don’t, again we’ll turn around some day and wonder where Maine went.

If I’ve had a theme tonight, it’s that we have many futures ahead of us in the new century, in the new millennium that’s coming. None of them are assured, none of

them have been assigned to us, and none of them are outside of our power to shape.

But the key element is the realization that we have this power, if we will but exercise it. We have the power, if we will but exercise it.

I’ll leave you with a story which I’ve told many times before, but I think it sums up what I’m trying say; if you’ve heard it, laugh appreciatively anyway.

It’s the story of the preacher in the flood. And the water came up to the first floor windows and some friends came by in a rowboat.

“Get in”, they said, “it’s going to be a bad flood.”

“Oh, no”, the preacher answered, “I’m a righteous man; I don’t need your help. The Lord is going to save me.”

An hour or so later, the water was up to the second floor windows and this time a motorboat came by.

“Get in” they said, “it’s getting worse.”

“Oh, no” he said. “I’m a righteous man, I’ve kept the Commandments, I’ve gone to Sunday School all my life. I don’t need your help; the Lord is going to save me.”

Finally, the preacher finds himself standing on the chimney. The water’s up to here. A helicopter comes over, drops a rope.

The guy says, “grab the rope”.

“Oh, no”, he says. “I’m a righteous man; I don’t need your help; the Lord is going to save me.”

Well sure enough, a few minutes later, he finds himself standing in front of Saint Peter, and he’s furious.

“What happened?”, he says. “What happened? I kept the Commandments all my life, went to Sunday School, always was a righteous man. What happened?”

Saint Peter said, “what do you mean, what happened? We sent two boats and a helicopter”.

The point of the story is Grab The Rope. Don’t wait for Augusta, don’t wait for Washington. Grab the rope–it’s right out there in every town, in every city, in every classroom, on every shop floor in Maine–and the other end is wrapped around our future.

But the critical step is to reach out, to dare, to act, to welcome that warming millennium sun, to grab that rope around the future and hold on for all we’re worth.

Because you know what? It’s going to be a great ride.

SOURCE: (8/1/2001)

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