PORTLAND, Maine — One candidate had more than 30 traffic tickets and another lost his license for using a lead foot while zooming along the campaign trail. At least two have had liens placed on their properties for tardy tax payments. And another has been accused of double-dipping on tax breaks by claiming residence in two states.
Even without counting verbal gaffes, Maine’s election season has produced a bumper crop of foibles among candidates in top-of-the-ticket races as contenders aggressively research each other’s backgrounds.
Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine, said campaigns have always done opposition research and there’s more of it with each election cycle, leading to more embarrassing revelations. So far this season, the public revelations have had minimal effect — none big enough to derail a campaign, he said.
Some of the biggest headlines have gone to Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage’s tax problem. His wife listed a Florida home as primary residence, while documents in Waterville listed a Maine property as the couple’s home. LePage insisted it was a paperwork mistake.
His Democratic challenger also isn’t perfect when it comes to property taxes. Libby Mitchell and her husband faced a lien in 1996 on a vacation home in Piscataquis County because of late taxes.
In Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, Republican Jason Levesque also contended with liens — four of them in 2004 and 2005 for unpaid obligations. They were later paid.
In the 1st District, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree faced ethics questions over her use of her wealthy fiance’s corporate jet to fly to Maine and his home in the Virgin Islands. Republicans called her a hypocrite because she’d previously railed against corporate travel, but the matter was largely diffused after she produced a letter from the House Ethics Committee saying no rules were violated.
Travel proved to be a problem for others, as well.
Motor vehicle records showed Kevin Scott, an independent candidate for governor, had 35 motor vehicle convictions and his driver’s license suspended 21 times. He said he now practices better driving habits.
Levesque lost his driver’s license because of three speeding convictions over the past 11 months during the campaign. The suspension ends four days after the Nov. 2 election.
Of all these less-than-exemplary behaviors, Pingree’s jet travels and LePage’s property tax problem probably held the greatest likelihood of causing political problems, Brewer said. Rank-and-file voters don’t relate to second homes or corporate jets, he noted.
In the end, neither erupted into an ongoing story, but the parties can’t be blamed for trying, Brewer said.
“In an election this close, you never pass up an opportunity to move some voters,” he said.
In other revealing moments, a videotape surfaced of LePage telling fishermen who fear for their livelihoods that he’d tell President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and a photograph of Mitchell shows her getting a laugh out of labeling former President George W. Bush a “terrorist.”
The impact of all this on voters is uncertain.
At least one of them, Candice House of Alfred, is unimpressed.
“Sometimes I just shut it off because it’s ridiculous,” the University of Southern Maine student said Tuesday. She described the news reports as a “waste of time.”
USM employee Steve Brasier of Windham said such dirt-digging and mudslinging is unfortunate because many good people have skeletons in their closets, causing them to shy away from public service.
“That stuff is going to get exposed,” Brasier said. “Unless you’re ready for that, you probably ought not be entering the political arena. Because it’s hardball.”