PORTLAND, Maine — Independent candidate Eliot Cutler on Tuesday accused Democrat Libby Mitchell and a teacher’s union of forming an “unholy alliance” to oppose charter schools and other education reforms he is touting as part of his gubernatorial bid.
Cutler made the statements while flanked by more than a dozen educators — including a former state education commissioner, several superintendents and college deans — who are supporting the candidate.
Cutler said Maine risks being left behind economically unless the state can better equip students to enter college or the work force.
The Cape Elizabeth resident’s education proposals include: public charter schools, additional specialized “magnet” schools, lengthening the school year, tying teacher pay to performance, stronger skills training programs and more emphasis on early childhood education.
“The greatest threat to education reform in Maine, the greatest threat to changing the way we are doing business today in education, is the alliance, the unholy alliance, between the leaders of the state Democratic Party and the leaders of the teacher’s union,” Cutler said.
As an example, Cutler pointed to charter school legislation that failed to pass the state Senate earlier this year after he said Mitchell, who was Senate president, and other Democratic leaders “locked arms” with the union to oppose the bill.
Mitchell’s campaign defended the candidate’s education track record and proposals.
“Libby Mitchell has been a champion for improving education her entire career,” said spokesman David Loughran.
Among Mitchell’s education accomplishments, Loughran said, are leading the effort to make Maine the first in the nation to use state funding for the Head Start program.
Mitchell’s own education platform includes: introducing pre-kindergarten to every public school in Maine, expanding the “Jobs for Maine’s Graduates” program and creating a public-private partnership to provide every qualified high school graduate with a grant to cover their first year at a public college in Maine.
As for Mitchell’s ties to the Maine Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union, Loughran said the candidate strongly believes that you need a good teacher to get a good education.
“Unions are made up of teachers, so to say she has supported teachers is 100 percent accurate,” Loughran said.
Cutler appears to be ramping up his criticism of the other candidates’ platforms as the race for the Blaine House enters the final three weeks. The independent consistently ranks third in polls behind Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage, with independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott trailing behind.
Meanwhile, the Democratic and Republican Party machines also were still abuzz about a picture, released by the LePage campaign, showing Mitchell laughing while holding a framed document affixed with a sticker labeling former President George W. Bush as an “international terrorist.”
The Maine Republican Party accused Mitchell of hypocrisy for criticizing LePage for saying he would tell President Barack Obama to “go to hell” due to what he said are overly strict fishing regulations.
Mitchell initially said she did not know which picture LePage was talking about but later issued an apology, saying she regretted “the possible disrespect it may show to the office of the president.”
“Her lecturing was hypocritical, her denial was untruthful, and her actions captured in this photo show her to be as extreme as it gets,” Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine GOP, said in a statement Tuesday.
But the Maine Democratic Party pointed out that the letter to which the sticker was attached did not belong to Mitchell, and that the “light-hearted photo” was taken in someone else’s home.
They accused the LePage campaign of desperation, “digging through old photos and taking them completely out of context.
“The truth is, Paul LePage publicly cursed at the president of the United States and publicly cursed at reporters,” Arden Manning, the Democrats’ campaign manager, said in a statement Tuesday. “He has lied repeatedly, cheated on his taxes and ran away from his own press conference.”