Thirty-four years ago, Maine decided to take a road less traveled.
The state banned billboards, removing more than 4,800 signs from highways.
It was a tough decision, but it has helped to cement Maine's identity as a place that takes environmental stewardship seriously.
Unfortunately, new Republican leadership in both the legislature and in the governor's office has allowed a cascade of bills that would roll back environmental protections in the state.
Two proposals have come forward to reverse the ban on billboards. Both are bad ideas.
Maine has gained national notoriety since January for the outrageous -- and downright dangerous -- policy initiatives of new Gov. Paul LePage.
Whether it was his removal of a mural from the state's Department of Labor that depicted the history of Maine's labor movement, efforts to turn the clock back on child labor protections or an approach to dangerous chemicals completely devoid of science, Maine's new political leaders have made headlines.
Compared to toxic chemicals and government whitewashing history, billboards -- especially to readers in states that have plenty of them -- might not seem like such a big deal.
But here's what Dana Connors, the president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce and the commissioner at the Department of Transportation when the ban was enacted told the Portland Press Herald:
"I think time has rendered that to be a very good decision, a right decision, that has fit very well with how we see ourselves and how other people see us in terms of the importance of the environment to our state and how it fits into the business agenda."
Connors continued: "I think you may take it for granted, but it has become part of our brand, our quality of life."
When I travel outside of my home state and talk with people, there is an image of Maine that transcends current political trends. Maine conjures up idyllic images of pristine lakes, wild forests and mountains, a rocky coastline and beaches catering to family fun.
People tell me that Maine is different, special.
In Maine -- and around the country -- newly elected Republicans are working to tear down the progress we've made in protecting our environment.
The billboard fight in Maine is a sign of the larger fights to come.
Rosa Scarcelli is CEO of Stanford Management, an affordable housing provider in Maine and three other states, and a former Democratic candidate for governor. To see more, go to www.rosaformaine.com.
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