Opinion

Running for governor? Sell your big idea in 50 words or less.

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There’s a strange bipolar effect that happens every election season.

We want people to run for office. We want more choice. And then we bemoan the fact that so many people run — writing some folks off prematurely, even before they have a chance to make their case.

In Maine, a lot of people are running for governor, even after a couple of folks have dropped out, my preferred candidate, Democrat Jim Boyle, among them.

The large field on both the Democratic and Republican sides should be celebrated, not made fun of. There’s someone for just about anyone, and personalities and resumes of just about every flavor.

Successful businessman, combat soldier, attorney general, former commissioner, a former sheriff, a mayor and lawmakers of every stripe, including a former speaker of the House and a current Senate president and a Senate majority leader. There are five Republicans, seven Democrats and at least two serious independents, and maybe a couple more who will make the cut when they are required to submit signatures in June.

If you’re a voter who’s inclined to say all the candidates are the same, or that nobody good runs, or that there aren’t choices, then I’d encourage you to head out to one of the many forums and give these folks a listen and a chance to win your vote.

Now, there is one substantial problem with the large field of candidates: It makes it extremely difficult for the media to cover the race. Reporters and editors are desperate to treat candidates fairly. But that makes it complicated to dig in to the subtle differences between candidates, governing styles or personalities.

There are countless forums around the state — honest, if you haven’t seen a candidate in person yet, they’ll be close by any minute now — but intra-party forums aren’t the best places for the candidates to differentiate themselves.

They can be a little boring and repetitive. And on the big-ticket items that partisan primary voters care about the most, there tends to be a lot of general agreement.

So I thought I’d try something similar to what columnist George Smith has done in other elections. Give the candidates an opportunity to speak for themselves.

Here’s the game: Any candidate for governor who is willing, send me your best big idea. It doesn’t have to be your priority. Talking about your big idea doesn’t mean that you don’t care about other issues. If you want to redesign the tax code, I know that doesn’t mean that you don’t care about abortion or the environment.

I’ll print 50 words and link online to a longer answer if you have one. The best idea might even help me figure out who I should vote for in June. Deadline is 5 p.m., March 30. Email me at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.

I know that 50 words isn’t much space, but that gives me a reasonable chance to print the responses, word for word, in an upcoming column. Also, as someone who works on campaigns, I know that this is a pain in the butt and I have friends who are cursing me right now.

But I’ll give you an example: “Maine struggles with low incomes and a lot of people — particularly children — are living in poverty. We should replace public assistance programs, including SNAP, WIC, housing vouchers, LIHEAP, with a simple cash benefit and trust people to make their own spending decisions. No cuts, just eliminate the bureaucracy. Make it simple.”

Fifty words. Consider it a teaser for readers. Give them enough and propose a big enough idea, and maybe they’ll check out more details or try to learn more about you.

Now, in reality, I don’t expect all of the campaigns will participate, and if I’m a Republican I’d probably be suspicious of this offer. I hope that the unenrolled candidates in the race will join the fun.

But if you send me the 50 words, I’ll put them in the column without editing them, even if I think they’re the dumbest ideas that have ever been uttered. I won’t print profanity or attacks on other candidates or people.

If you want to build a huge wall along the Canadian border (dumb idea), I’ll print it. If you propose a spending program without describing how you’d pay for it, I’ll print it.

If you’re running for governor, here’s a chance. Tell us all one big idea. Tell us fast enough to make us interested. Convince us in 50 words that you can think big.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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