Gov. Angus King talks about technology and the role of the state in the New Economy.

By Shane Peterson, News Editor

Gov. Angus King Jr. is serving his second four-year term as Maines 71st governor. He was re-elected in 1998 by one of the largest margins of victory in Maines history and is one of only two independent governors in the country. In 1972, he became chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Narcotics. Three years later, he returned to Maine to practice law and began his almost 20-year stint as host of the television show "Maine Watch" on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Q: What is the most important IT project Maine is currently working on?

A: The initiative that were working on to provide some kind of computing power to every seventh grader in the state. If we can pull that off, I believe it will be the most significant project in the history of the state. But its still in doubt. The situation is that the Legislature set aside the money that I requested -- $50 million -- into a technology endowment for K-12 education, but left open the question of how that money should be spent.

We now have a task force (the Learning Technology Task Force) made up of citizens, legislators and educators thats working on a plan. Theyll report back to the Legislature and the Legislature will make the final call as to how to make this happen. Thus far, the task force has been defining its mission; what the goals are in terms of access and equity. Theyre trying to hone in on how to recommend the utilization of these funds.

Q: Youve been quoted as stating that the economic success of states now depends on the Internet and the people behind the Internet. Are you looking to develop the people behind the Internet with this initiative?

A: My concept in terms of what this would do for Maine is pretty straightforward. If we can develop the most digitally literate society on earth, the jobs and the prosperity and the opportunities and the options will follow. I have no doubt of that. The whole concept is that we have a generation of people, that when they graduate from high school theyve been using computers so ubiquitously that its part of their consciousness, and theres no telling where that will lead. Certainly, one place that it will lead is that it will raise our value in the New Economy.

Theres going to be a growth of people, everywhere from tech support to back-office business operations to software development to Web site design. The reason this is so important to Maine is that, historically, weve been geographically disadvantaged in the sense of being far from the markets and those types of things. In this economy, geography is no longer as important as it has been and I want to be in a position to take advantage of that shift. But, to do that, youve got to have the people with the skills and the competence to make it happen.

Q: With the sudden backlash in California cities against dot-coms gobbling downtown real estate, driving up rents and forcing out old-world businesses, how do you balance luring New Economy businesses to Maine against keeping your states identity?

A: Were trying very hard to balance the economic growth, the greater prosperity that everybody wants, with maintaining the character of Maine, which is a state of smaller towns, open space and limited sprawl. The problem is that with prosperity comes strip malls. It takes a lot of effort and deliberate thinking to prevent that from happening, and youre never going