Politics & Other Mistakes: Staring down the brilliant dream
Kevin Scott has some great ideas.
What he doesn't have is a clue.
Scott is an independent candidate for governor, which could lead reasonable people (not me, but other reasonable people) to conclude he’s a crank. He probably isn't, but somehow that notion lingers on.
Scott showed up on my doorstep recently with a six pack of beer and the weird belief that if he could convince me he'd make a terrific governor, that would enhance his chances of getting elected.
I tried to give him a reality check. “You understand that I mostly insult candidates, right?” I said. “Sensible politicians avoid me like I was DEET and they were black flies.”
“Yeah,” Scott said, “several people warned me that I was crazy to go see you.”
Good to get that on the record.
Scott, 42, is a Maine native who lives in Andover, where he’s served on the water district board, the planning board and twice as town meeting moderator - all obvious stepping stones to higher office. He owns a business called Recruiting Resources International, which does some incomprehensible thing involving locating engineers for high-tech companies. He thinks he can win the Blaine House on a monthly campaign budget of $20,000.
Fellow independent Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth spends more than that every 30 days on hair-care products.
Scott describes himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but stresses that his real political persuasion is as a consensus builder. On his website, he promises he has “a genuine desire to limit the intrusion of government into our everyday lives.”
Of course, everybody running for governor says that. Except Democrat Libby Mitchell. What’s Scott got to offer that’s different and – unlike many offbeat independent candidates – doesn't involve luring space aliens to Maine and stealing the advanced technology from their flying saucers?
Strangely enough, he has some ideas, a few of which might even work. Such as:
The 32-hour week. Whenever there’s a shutdown day, most of state government operates on a 32-hour week. The loss of eight hours from the work schedule doesn’t seem to have had a major impact on the delivery of vital public services, so maybe cutting back one day every week wouldn't make much difference.
Scott would offer current state employees the option of working four days. Those accepting the deal would get the same benefits they do now, but would take a 20 percent pay cut. In effect, they'd have an unpaid shutdown day every week, instead of 10 times a year. Depending on how many workers accepted the deal, that would save a few bucks.
But here’s the interesting part. Scott would change the rules for most new hires, setting their work weeks and benefits at 32 hours. The shorter weeks wouldn’t be possible everywhere and some of the slack in vital areas would have to be made up by additional hiring, but it's possible personnel costs could be significantly reduced in future budgets.
Like I said, the guy has some great ideas. But here's the clueless part.
The state employee unions would never agree to anything like that. When asked about that obstacle, Scott insisted he could overcome it employing the consensus-building skills he uses on the Andover Water District board.
Here’s another Scott brainstorm: Put state economic development officials on commission. If they lure an out-of-state company to Maine, they get big bucks. If they don't, they get a tiny base salary.
On health care, Scott offers a “start-up” concept that I frankly don’t understand, except it has something to do with increasing competition and issuing bonds to “create public financing for public benefit.” I suppose that doesn't make any less sense than Dirigo Health or Obamacare.
In other cases, Scott’s plans are ill-conceived. He wants to test every welfare applicant for drugs before giving them benefits. That would cost a fortune, and it’s doubtful it would save anything close to the expense. He wants to solve the education funding crisis by providing unspecified “incentives” to parents who volunteer in schools. How that saves money is beyond me. Scott would also alter the curriculum “so we are educating children in order to avoid poverty and dependency in the long run.” Even if I understood what that means, I suspect I'd still be unclear about how it would help pay the bills.
During our discussion, Scott was so enthusiastic about his ideas that he barely touched the beer he'd brought. I, on the other hand, found my excitement waning with each increasingly far-fetched proposal, so I continued to guzzle away (after all it was my favorite kind: free). As a result, I may have misheard when he got to the part about taking the hyper-space drive out of the UFO.
“Great idea,” I said. “You gonna drink that last one?”
“No,” he said. “Help yourself.”
Maybe he hoped I'd swallow enough to overlook the flaws in his plans. If so, he's more clueless than I thought.
If you can't stop by with a six pack, you can still e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.