Back in 2011, Gov. Paul LePage unveiled an addition to the “Welcome to Maine” sign on Interstate 95 in Kittery.
“Open for Business,” it reads.
Well, apparently the governor’s definition of “open for business” has changed over the years and now includes only entities that qualify for his personal stamp of approval.
Maine Department of Transportation officials last week announced that under direction from LePage, they would not be putting up half a dozen signs on Interstate 95 helping to direct tourists to the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The bureaucratic fig leaf here is that the state doesn’t want to spend money on signs that may not be needed for long. That is because the Trump administration has called for a review of all national monument designations made by President Obama. Katahdin Woods and Waters was among them. LePage has fought hard in opposition to the monument at home and in Washington, D.C.
The governor’s refusal to help visitors find their way to a fledgling preserve that, by all accounts, already has contributed to a modest surge of economic activity in the Millinocket and Patten areas is diametrically opposed to his aforementioned business-friendly policies. In dampening potential tourism in communities hard hit by mill closures and rollbacks in the forest products industries, LePage is allowing personal animus to supersede the welfare of the citizenry.
What’s next? If officials in Acadia National Park adopt a policy that LePage disagrees with, will he order the removal of signs directing visitors here on the interstate and state highway systems?
The fact is the national monument is now open and already attracting visitors. Along with helping tourists find their way, signs also may pique the interest of passing travelers to return one day and visit other areas. But any increased interest in the national monument is seen as a threat by LePage, who knows that the preserve’s constituency is growing steadily every day, making it progressively harder to snuff out politically. Even many business owners in northern Maine who opposed the national monument designation now support it. In an area where multinational corporations have shuttered mills and abandoned local economies, it is unfortunate that the state refuses to erect signs in support of one of the few rays of sunshine left.
We understand LePage is not happy about the national monument designation. But it is a legal entity and in lawful operation. In a democracy, no one always gets 100 percent of what they want. The governor, of all people, should understand that. The often-blunt LePage is fond of telling critics of his unpopular policies and decisions to “get over it.” So it appears disingenuous for him not to be taking his own advice after losing the national monument fight.
Even without a handful of highway signs, visitors will find Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. It just won’t be as easy.
The lack of clear signage, however, will speak much more loudly about the comportment and civility of the governor than a referendum on the viability of the national monument.
“The fact that our governor is blocking signage is telling people that the region is not open for business,” said Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, in a recent Bangor Daily News interview. She called his opposition mean-spirited. “He should be doing the opposite of what he is doing,” she said.
Even with the ongoing federal review, there is no guarantee the Trump administration will reverse the national monument designation, or that it even has the legal authority to do so. In the meantime, months or potentially years of growth in the monument area will be stymied.
Sadly, the state’s unwillingness to spend a few thousand dollars to help northern Maine dig its way out of is current economic malaise is a clear sign that LePage’s professed support for that slogan greeting travelers in Kittery is a hollow promise indeed.