Welcome to the first in a series on political leaders representing Brunswick and other parts of the great state of Maine. This week, I chatted with Maine Governor John Baldacci in an exclusive interview.

Before winning a seat as a Bangor City Councilman at the age of 23, Governor Baldacci worked his way through college at the University of Maine. A Democrat, Baldacci served in the Maine State Senate from 1982 to 1994, and as a U.S. congressman for Maine's second district from 1994 until 2002, when he was elected governor. He will be up for reelection in November 2006.

Evan Kohn: Governor, I know you were down in Brunswick recently speaking with local leaders about the Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) Redevelopment Plan. What role would you like to see Bowdoin play in the redevelopment?

Governor John Baldacci: Well, I think Bowdoin is going to be playing a significant role in the redevelopment. I think that, you know, we have [Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer] Katy Longley on the Local Redevelopment Planning Committee. I think Bowdoin has a significant presence in Brunswick, has a significant economic impact there, and can be very helpful. They have a lot of contacts of students whose families are involved in industrial manufacturing and corporate issues around the world. So I think there are contacts and the impact that they make in the local community is certainly going to have a positive influence on the redevelopment there.

EK: How can Maine government reverse the trend that shows so many college students leaving the state after they graduate?

GJB: Well I think we've begun to stem the tide, Evan. I think we have several initiatives, but most importantly, something that money can't buy, which is the quality of our natural resources and the quality of life in the state of Maine. So, I'm hearing from more college presidents that the graduates are going to location first before job. So I'm finding a lot of college graduates now are recognizing that their opportunities are in Maine. So, Evan, what we're trying to do is [establish] a systematic approach to planning with the initiatives today so that they'll find the opportunities when they graduate. What I mean is our initiative on the creative economy, we're going to galvanize our artists, our musicians, our software designers, our engineers, our architects. I'm hearing from more graduates, even at M.I.T., that are from Maine are coming back to Portland to set up shop because they can use the broadband and internet access there, and they can do that around the state. That is why we're promoting universal broadband policies around the state. I've met with Time Warner and Verizon and others that spread broadband's abilities throughout the entire state. So, if you want to live in Millinocket or East Millinocket along Mt. Katahdin or Baxter State Park, or if you want be in the Moosehead Lake region, in the St. John Valley, or wherever you want to be in Maine, you can do your business from there. I think there are more and more opportunities for young people who are interested in those kinds of fields in our state. That's why Dirigo Healthcare is important because it [helps] individuals, the self-employed, and small business people. So, you get quality affordable healthcare, you get the creative economy initiative, you get broadband, and cellular universal service initiatives, and investments in research and development. I think Maine will be a leader in providing opportunities for those graduates, so I'd say this has got to be the best place to be able to live and raise their family.

EK: Moving onto Question 1. Would you encourage students from out-of-state to change their registration so they can vote on Question 1?

GJB: I didn't actively do that, I didn't do it all. You know, I'm just trying to encourage Maine people to be able to reflect Maine values. I think Maine people don't discriminate. Maine people are fair people. They want to make sure that people aren't being discriminated against, and that Maine is a diverse and open state. I just want to reflect those values which are really part of the foundation of the state, and that's what we're voting for. We're voting on Maine values. Maine values respect privacy and respect diversity. Maine people do not tolerate discrimination against anyone because we realize that if that happens that it would be a discrimination against all of us?whether they are white supremacists in Lewiston with the Somalis or whether it is an individual who has been discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation at work. We had that person from the Christian Civic league who was going to go around and expose people who were gay so their employers would know, threatening their employment frankly, and there were no laws on the books that would have protected people from that. So, you know it doesn't happen much, but it does happen in Maine and we've got to make sure that we all stand together against that.

EK: Bowdoin students saw you a few weeks ago introducing Al Franken at Bowdoin. How would you respond to criticism regarding your appearance with an arguably controversial figure like Al Franken.

GJB: (Laughter) Well, you know...look, I don't defend Al Franken and Al Franken doesn't defend me. You know, I represent myself, and I just thought it was a great turnout there and I thought there was a lot of enthusiasm there. I think if there are those attempts to undercut that kind of support and say that people were being divisive...I don't think so. I think people appreciate free speech and recognize that people have fought and sacrificed their lives so we can say and do what we want to do. Those are our freedoms and liberties, so he has a right to his opinion and I have a right to mine.

EK: With the Higher Education Act, there are concerns about cuts to student aid and Pell Grants. Do you think this will hurt Maine, and what would you like to do for Maine college students in a second term as governor?

GJB: Well, I'm very upset about cuts in higher education that have been proposed. When I was in Washington, we worked so hard to increase Pell Grants and student financial aid, and reduce the burdens on families?especially working families and low-income families that that was their only ticket to economic independence and economic security. We established a Hope Scholarship Program not only to help people, you know, not just getting through high school, but into college, and gave tax credits for the first and second year of college tuition. So we've wanted it expanded more because the more educated, the more trained our workforce is, the better-paying job opportunities they're going to have. So, I'm very disappointed at the federal proposals to cut back on that. We're planning to develop, as we put forward an initiative on community colleges, we're trying to open the doors at the senior level of high school, open them up to college level courses, taking advantage of that senior year. We spend about $110 million a year in Maine on seniors in high school. If we were able to take that $110 million and galvanize that senior year to almost be like the first year of college, or of higher education, it would really get better value out of that senior year?which is a year in which a lot of kids are just more or less working on where they're going to be and trying to get things in order. We can really utilize that senior year a lot more for kids.

Then, we're trying to partner with the Compact for Higher Education, which is a lot of corporations and businesses in Maine and community foundation supporters that are trying to raise scholarship funds. So we're looking to raise a substantial amount of scholarship funds, so that we can continue to reduce the financial burden that there is on students. So, trying to get at them earlier, trying to get them into higher education earlier at costs that we're already incurring, and trying to increase private and public partnerships and scholarships so that there will be more financial support for people going on for higher education because they need it.

EK: My most important question last. How is Maine's first dog, Murphy, and is there anything new on his agenda?

GJB: (Laughter) Thank you for asking, Evan. Murphy is the first dog, and Murphy is a lady.

EK: Oh, ok. (laughter)

GJB: The only thing she has been pointing at lately, though, is usually that plate of sausages or bacon or something on the kitchen table. (laughter) But she's doing fine and thank you very much for asking.

Look for another Evan Kohn interview with a Maine political leader in the near future.

Cati Mitchell assisted with this report.