As this election season winds down, voters have been bombarded with television ads, and they’ve watched the three candidates for governor deride, question and high-five each other at forums and debates. What they’ve seen is a Democrat, Mike Michaud, who struggles to grasp and articulate policy details or explain his thin record of accomplishment in Congress, and a Republican incumbent, Paul LePage, who continues chasing the demons of welfare fraud and illegal immigration without offering forward-looking policies on what matters most to Mainers — creating jobs and improving the economy.

Voters deserve better. They have that better choice in independent Eliot Cutler.

Polls this election season show Cutler running a distant third behind Michaud and LePage. So many who voted for Cutler in 2010 are caught in a bind, saying they don’t want to make a “mistake” again and cast a vote that effectively returns LePage, a pugnacious leader with an unusual contempt for consensus-based governing, to the Blaine House.

It is not a mistake to vote for the candidate who is most qualified for the job. It is not a mistake to vote for the candidate who has put forward the most detailed and thoughtful solutions to some of Maine’s most pressing problems — such as a high property tax burden and a stagnant economy. And it is not a mistake to vote for a candidate who will restore serious policymaking to the governor’s office and ensure government works on issues that are most important to Maine’s future.

In April, Cutler put forward a plan that would offer substantial property tax relief across the state through a major expansion of the Homestead Exemption. The plan includes requisite increases in state aid to towns and cities after years of cuts to the state’s municipal revenue sharing program. Not only did Cutler propose this smart reform — which ensures needed property tax relief — he proposed a politically risky way to pay for it: a mix of tax increases.

Cutler’s property tax reform plan is a strong example of his honest and bold approach to policymaking.

What is a mistake is that the Democratic and Republican parties have failed to develop candidates worthy of statewide races and fit for statewide office. By nearly electing Cutler in 2010 and electing independent Angus King to the U.S. Senate in 2012, voters sent a strong message. They are tired of partisan loyalists who stick to party talking points and ideology and pay homage to supportive interest groups. Instead, they need candidates — and leaders — who are honest about Maine’s problems (and solutions that may be costly or unpopular), who are willing to learn and change their minds and who seek and accept ideas from enemies as well as allies.

On paper, LePage has fulfilled many of his objectives and has sometimes behaved shrewdly — in a way that leaves his opponents in a bind — in pursuing his top priorities. He has succeeded in shrinking the state’s pension liability, repaying debt long owed to hospitals and lowering the state’s income tax rate. But his few successes don’t come close to outweighing the negatives of LePage’s first term as governor.

The hospitals will be paid with borrowed money. The tax cuts left a major hole in the state budget last year that LePage attempted to fill by proposing to eliminate municipal revenue sharing.

LePage’s dogged opposition to Medicaid expansion showed a dangerous loyalty to ideology over common sense. His five vetoes of expansion proposals have left tens of thousands of low-income Mainers uninsured — including some recovering from addiction who had to stop treatment — and left some of Maine’s hospitals in a financially shaky position. These consequences could have been avoided at minimal state cost.

LePage has also spent an inordinate amount of time in office vilifying recipients of public assistance and pursuing feel-good, fraud-combating measures that are expensive to implement and ineffective. He’s held voter-approved bonds hostage and nixed other borrowing proposals, stifling investments in research and economic development that could prepare Maine’s economy for the future.

Michaud presents himself as the antidote to LePage’s divisiveness and has done well to weather attacks from both the governor and Cutler. But he has come up short in proposing a full array of well thought-out policy priorities and ways to pay for them. A full pendulum swing back to big-government solutions and a preference for out-moded industries is not the way to move Maine forward. Convening working groups and listening can be productive, but without decisive moves forward, this is not leadership.

Cutler appears a long shot to win this election, but he is the best candidate running. He would bring needed dignity and a reasonable, business-like approach to the governor’s office. He has our support on Nov. 4.