Former Gov. Paul LePage poses for a photo with supporters late Tuesday night, Nov. 8, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

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The triage has begun.

Republicans’ poor showing in the 2022 election has started the rejuvenation process. In Maine, several individuals appear primed to run for election as chair of the state GOP.

Current party officials have offered their assessment of what went wrong. Their review argues national trends – beyond the control of a state party – are the cause of coming up short.  

The Maine First Project, led by former Rep. Larry Lockman, suggests that Democrats won because the GOP ran weak campaigns and shied away from educational controversies and other social issues.

Sen. Susan Collins, the highest-ranking elected Republican in Maine, believes a lack of inclusivity and choice of poor candidates was to blame.  

I’ll suggest it is something different.

Go back to 2010. For those who watched Maine politics, an upstart mayor from Waterville won the GOP nomination for governor over much more well-known opponents like Les Otten and Steve Abbott.

He made the debt owed to Maine’s hospitals a centerpiece of his campaign enroute to the Blaine House.

Under the previous administration, bureaucratic payment policies created hundreds of millions of dollars of “IOUs” to health care providers throughout the state. There was no plan in place to pay them.

Paul LePage used this debt as a club against his opponents and promised to have Augusta make good. Mainers responded.  

Culturally, notwithstanding votes on bond issues, Mainers seem to turn a critical eye on public debt. You could see it in 2022, too.

LePage got blown out by Gov. Janet Mills in the greater Portland area. There is no doubt about that.

But contrary to Democrats’ accusations about the makeup of the GOP coalition, high-income earners supported Mills in droves. According to a September UNH poll, households earning between $100,000 and $150,000 supported Mills 58 percent to 39 percent for LePage.

For households earning more than $150,000, Mills got 79 percent support.  

Higher-income households are more common in the Portland area suburbs. Thus, the math seems to align.

But several of those towns also had big local spending issues on the ballot. And they voted in a way that would, conceivably, indicate a more rightward alignment.

In Cape Elizabeth, voters turned down a $116 million school borrowing proposal by a substantial amount.  

Scarborough voters rejected a $12.9 million library bond by almost a 60-40 margin.

Cumberland and North Yarmouth – MSAD 51 – spurned a $74 million bond for a new primary school.  

All of these towns have pretty healthy household incomes. Mills won them all, handily.

With this data, I’ll suggest that the Republicans have a roadmap for 2024 to win back these areas. Deal with the debt and fix our finances.

Over the past several years, Washington has passed massive spending bills. Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Republicans, and Democrats are all to blame. This is fiscal policy.

Because the spending far outpaces the tax revenue, those dollars are paid for through federal borrowing. Many of those bonds were bought by the Federal Reserve, which has the effect of creating new money. This is monetary policy.

And when you spend lots of money (fiscal policy) when supply is constrained, the demand curve moves up and prices increase. This is how you get inflation.

When you have greater capacity for spending by creating new money (monetary policy), buyers’ price sensitivity decreases and they become more willing to pay higher prices. This is also how you get inflation.  

Republicans do well when they focus on core economic policy and financial sanity. Promising to pay the hospitals helped Paul LePage and the Maine GOP win in 2010. With the right message, the right focus, and the right candidates, they can do so again.

At least, that’s how I see it.

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Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.