Social change fuels economic change, according to Sean Faircloth. For much of the past two decades, the five-term state legislator and prosecutor has been a strong voice for social change in Maine, championing laws that protect Maine children, including legislation to get deadbeat dads to pay up on child support.
These days the forty-something Faircloth continues his public service, albeit in a different venue.
Last summer, about six months after his unsuccessful bid to be Maine's Attorney General, Faircloth was named executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. The Washington, D.C., organization advocates the separation of church and state and fact-based learning in what Faircloth says is "everything including public policy."
The coalition, for example, opposes the teaching of creationism in public school science classrooms, which is being advocated by the Texas State Board of Education that earlier this year voted to include religious doctrines and views in textbooks. The coalition also supports a proposed national ban on corporal punishment in public and private schools that receive tax dollars.
Although he was primarily known for his social activism and for founding and heading the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, Faircloth was also involved in promoting economic development. He has worked as a lawyer, prosecutor, lawmaker and educator. As a state legislator he pressed for tax credits for companies that invest in research and development. And in his 2002 bid for his party's nomination for the 2nd Congressional District race, Faircloth supported doubling the funding from the National Science Foundation, increasing it to $7 billion nationally. Neither his nomination nor the lofty funding goal came to pass at the time, though the NSF budget this year, including administrative costs, is expected to top off at $6.9 billion.
A little more than a year into his job, Faircloth spoke recently with Mainebiz about the need for more R&D funding, how social changed interweaves with economic development and about Bangor, which he jointly calls home with Washington, D.C.
Mainebiz: So why take a job with the Secular Coalition for America?
Faircloth: What I wanted to do is continue the work I did in the past. In the Legislature and in Maine overall I tried to help my community and people who are in need of help.
What can the Bangor region do to improve economic development?
One of the biggest things you can do for economic development is to invest in the kind of cultural and educational structure like the University of Maine and other cultural resources. The second thing, and I sponsored legislation related to this and I'm strongly for this still, is we should have very challenging research and development tax credits. I'm not talking about tax breaks but a tax credit, making it more lucrative for them to engage in research and development.
A third thing that I would add that does somewhat relate to my current job is that those states that show that they are open for business are not going to be saying, "Well, we're against gay people because of this religious mandate," or "We're going to issue other edicts and requirements based upon religious cultural dictates from one particular religion or another."
In other words they're completely neutral as to that and let people make their own individual choices. I think those states are better situated for economic development.
Should some businesses receive both tax credits and state funding such as provided by the Maine Technology Institute?
Well, if it's direct funding for something like a campus-based facility, then that's using the tax credit funding. But if you're talking about a private enterprise, like maybe there's somebody who has spun off and done something that's of more public interest, then that's where the American tax credit might come in. I'd like to see that kind of thing expanded.
What kinds of businesses and industries should Bangor try to attract?
I have always believed that Habib Dagher [director of UMaine's AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center] and others have come forward with ideas for economic development that can spin off growth for our region. When you look at places that have these successes, the Silicon Valley, Ireland and others, they have had a strong university base for that spinoff success. And with the Internet obviously there's no prohibition, no reason why it can't occur in a region like ours. Geographic information systems is another area where I think that there are possibilities.
You've dealt with many social issues here in Maine. What kind of issues are you and the coalition facing?
The Texas situation, where people are misled about evolution or Thomas Jefferson or the origins of the universe by means of our tax dollars. Under Title IX, there is a provision that exempts religious schools from discrimination. People mistakenly think it only affects sports.
There are entities that receive our tax money and can say that you are not the right type of fundamentalist and that you are fired from that job. That is unethical and in violation of the policies of Jefferson and Madison and we are opposed to that.
Interview by Mainebiz Contributing Writer Doug Kesseli