Gov. John Baldacci (D)
Elected: 2002, term expires Jan. 2011, 2nd term.
Born: Jan. 30, 1955, Bangor .
Education: U. of ME, B.A. 1986.
Family: Married (Karen); 1 child.
Elected office: Bangor City Cncl., 1978–81; ME Senate, 1982–94; U.S. House of Reps., 1994-2002.
Professional Career: Restaurateur.
Democrat John Baldacci was elected governor of Maine in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. Of Italian and Lebanese descent, Baldacci (ball-DA-chee) grew up in Bangor, where his family ran Momma Baldacci’s, a restaurant started by his grandparents in 1933. (Former Maine Sen. William Cohen’s father ran the bakery that supplied fresh rolls every day to Momma Baldacci’s.) Like his seven siblings, Baldacci worked in the restaurant waiting tables. As an adult, he eventually bought a house right across the street from the one he grew up in. At age 23, he followed his father on the Bangor City Council in 1978. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate, where he often dissented from Democrats and chaired the tax committee. When 2nd District Rep. Olympia Snowe ran for the Senate in 1994, Baldacci ran for her seat and campaigned by holding spaghetti dinners at $2 a head (children under 12 free). Maine’s contrariness came out in the general election: Baldacci opposed Democratic President Bill Clinton’s health care plan and pledged to oppose any new taxes; Republican nominee Richard Bennett was also not exactly in step with his party, being lukewarm on some of the planks in the congressional Republicans’ Contract with America agenda that year. Baldacci won 46%-41%.
|John Baldacci (D)||209,927||(38%)|
|Chandler Woodcock (R)||166,425||(30%)|
|Barbara Merrill (I)||118,715||(22%)|
|Patricia LaMarche (Green)||52,690||(10%)|
|John Baldacci (D)||40,314||(76%)|
|Christopher Miller (D)||12,861||(24%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (47%)
In the House, Baldacci had a mostly liberal voting record and was re-elected three times with more than 70% of the vote. Maine’s congressional districts are good springboards to statewide office; each one is within both the Portland and Bangor television markets. Baldacci’s three immediate predecessors in the 2nd District were all elected to the Senate. Baldacci’s goal was the governorship, and he had pledged to serve only eight years in Congress. In 2002, independent Gov. Angus King was at the end of his second and last term, and Baldacci quickly became the front-runner. Yet there was plenty of competition. The leading Republican was former state Rep. Peter Cianchette. Independent candidate Jonathan Carter won the Green Party nomination (there was actually a primary) and also qualified for the state’s public financing system, which gave him $902,000, while Baldacci’s and Cianchette’s campaigns each had roughly $1.5 million.
Baldacci campaigned against tax increases and on increasing state aid to public schools to hold down property taxes. He also promised to slow the growth of state spending and eliminate the property tax on business equipment. He said he would have a “balanced economic strategy” with different approaches for rural and urban areas and reiterated his promise to limit spending increases to the rate of inflation. Cianchette promised to cut the state tax burden by 20% and said he would veto any tax increase and “any budget that grows faster than your paychecks.” He also called for a property-tax cap. Carter campaigned on a proposal to create a government-run health insurance system. On Election Day, Baldacci won a 47%-41% plurality over Cianchette; Carter got 9%. Baldacci won absolute majorities in the counties north and east of Bangor, and they accounted for 26,000 votes of his 29,000-vote plurality. Interestingly, these same counties were the strongest area that same day for Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is from Aroostook County: hometown voting.
Baldacci immediately faced a budget shortfall estimated at $1.2 billion. In 2003, he and the Democratic Legislature managed to pass a balanced two-year budget without a tax increase. The governor also won enactment of his Pine Tree Opportunity Zones, to let economically ailing cities and towns offer business tax breaks, and of his Dirigo Health plan (Dirigo, the state motto, means “I lead”). Dirigo was designed to provide health insurance policies for low- and middle-income employees of small businesses and for people with no employers, with the state subsidizing individual premiums. It also authorized caps on fees for the state’s 39 hospitals. In 2004, Baldacci sought bids from insurers, and only one, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, already Maine’s largest health insurer, responded. After a year in place, Anthem’s DirigoChoice plan had enrolled just over 5,000 people and small businesses. Conservatives criticized the plan as not significantly cheaper than commercial alternatives, and Anthem greatly scaled back expectations of enrolling 31,000. In 2007, Baldacci proposed a host of changes to the program. Anthem dropped out and was replaced by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Baldacci called Dirigo, with 15,000 enrollees, only a “modest success.”
In 2004, Maine voters passed a mandate for the state to pay 55% of education costs, up from 43%. But they rejected, by 63%, a proposal to limit property taxes to 1% of valuation. The Legislature increased state education spending by $340 million for the years 2006-10. And in December, Baldacci presented a package of tax measures that limited property taxes, capped spending increases at the rate of inflation, and proposed a constitutional amendment to allow towns and cities to freeze property taxes at current levels. But the following year was more troublesome financially. Baldacci had to ask the Legislature to borrow $450 million to balance the state budget; the request was approved. Republicans balked at the borrowing and began a drive to put the issue on the November ballot. Democrats responded by repealing the borrowing and making up the shortfall through spending cuts and targeted tax increases.
In January 2006, Baldacci signed a deal with Venezuela-owned CITGO Petroleum —in spite of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s fierce criticism of the United States—to supply $5.5 million in home heating oil to low-income Mainers. He also proposed an energy plan that would diversify the state’s fuel use with tax breaks for biodiesel and incentives for wind and hydroelectric power. Also that year, he signed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7 an hour, to eliminate property taxes on equipment for new businesses, and to crack down on people who drive with a suspended or revoked license. In 2007, Baldacci proposed a $6.4 billion budget and consolidation of 152 school administrative districts into 26. The Legislature approved most of his budget and agreed to reduce the number of districts to 80. It also passed a $1 cigarette tax increase. With additional spending cuts during the year, Baldacci again did not seek a general tax increase in 2008, and cut programs to cover a $95 million budget shortfall.
On other major issues in 2007, Baldacci vetoed a bill to allow the Passamaquoddy Tribe to build a racetrack casino along Maine’s coast, signed a bill giving tax credits to Maine college graduates and employers who hire them as a way of keeping young talent in the state, and fought a National Marine Fisheries Service order requiring lobstermen to use sinking rope instead of floating rope. He also promoted a Green Seal program for labeling environmentally friendly cleaning supplies used in state buildings and sought legislation to reduce toxic chemicals in consumer products. In 2008, after the collapse of Minneapolis’s I-35W bridge, Baldacci announced a $160 million four-year program to repair bridges. The next year, he and the Legislature tackled the vexing cultural issue of same-sex marriage. In the past, the governor had said he supported civil unions for homosexuals but opposed gay marriage. But in May 2009, after both houses of the Legislature by overwhelming margins passed a bill allowing same-sex marriages, Baldacci signed it into law.
Republicans considered Baldacci vulnerable in 2006. His proposed borrowing to cover budget gaps and the problems with Dirigo Health contributed to low popularity ratings. State Sen. Chandler Woodcock, a social conservative, won the three-way Republican primary in June by narrowly defeating a moderate Republican. Baldacci faced three other candidates in the general election, including independent state Rep. Barbara Merrill, a former Democrat. Woodcock campaigned on economic issues and supported a referendum on the November ballot that would have imposed a state spending cap. But Maine had not ousted an incumbent from Blaine House, the governor’s mansion, in 40 years. Baldacci carried 12 of 16 counties and won 38% of the vote. Woodcock finished second with 30%, followed by Merrill with 22%. Voters also rejected 54%-46% the proposed spending cap. Baldacci vowed after the election to find a way to freeze increases in property valuations until a property is sold. Democrats gained seats in the House but lost them in the Senate in 2006. And in 2008, they gained seats in both houses.