BREWER, Maine — Labor unions that have endorsed Democrat Libby Mitchell for governor gathered Thursday in Brewer to explain why voters should choose her instead of Republican Paul LePage or independent Eliot Cutler.
The LePage and Cutler campaigns reacted angrily and accused the event’s organizers of distorting or outright lying about the candidates’ records. Labor unions in Maine traditionally have been supporters of Democratic candidates.
While Mitchell frames that relationship as a cooperation between like-minded entities, LePage and Cutler have called it an obstacle to making the major changes that will balance the cost of state government services with available revenue.
“It’s an unholy alliance between the leadership of the Maine Democratic Party and the Maine Education Association,” Cutler said during a televised gubernatorial debate Wednesday evening, adding that opposition to charter schools by the teachers union and many Democrats already has cost Maine millions in federal aid.
LePage had another word for the relationship between unions and Mitchell.
“It’s a marriage,” he said. “Libby Mitchell is married to the union bosses and the bureaucracy in Augusta and has been for most of her career.”
Thursday’s event was attended by members of the Maine AFL-CIO; Bangor Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 772; the United Steel Workers; the Eastern Maine Labor Council; and the Maine State Employees Association SEIU Local 1989. Together, those organizations represent some 40,000 Maine workers.
Chief among the criticisms at the Brewer rally was that LePage and Cutler have promised to reduce the size of state government, which the unions said is a threat to thousands of workers and vulnerable people who depend on social services to survive.
“Paul LePage and Eliot Cutler are running campaigns based entirely on cutting or eliminating services provided to Maine people,” said Don Crossman, a registered nurse at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. “Only one candidate, Libby Mitchell, has a proven record of protecting Maine’s safety net even when there’s a budget deficit.”
Also targeted was Cutler’s former job working in Beijing on economic development issues. Citing a study from the national Economic Policy Institute, steelworker Pat Carleton, president of the United Steelworkers Local 9, said Maine has lost 9,000 jobs to China in the past 10 years. Carleton linked that figure to Cutler’s job with international lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
“Instead of spending time in Maine keeping jobs here, Cutler made his millions shipping jobs to China,” said Carleton.
Cutler angrily called Carleton’s statement false and misguided.
“I’d like to know where they got their 9,000 jobs figure,” said Cutler. “I’ve never worked to take jobs away from Maine.”
LePage was attacked for his ongoing stints as general manager for the Marden’s retail chain and mayor of Waterville. Jack McKay, president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council, cited Department of Health and Human Services data to indicate that Marden’s doesn’t offer livable wages and that Waterville schools and services have suffered as much as or more than other Maine towns.
LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt called that a distortion that ignores factors affecting Marden’s and Waterville that have nothing to do with LePage.
“Waterville is a full-service city,” said Demeritt. “Marden’s is a major Maine business. Paul LePage believes Maine needs to run like a business and that priorities need to be set. When the unions want to talk to Paul LePage about how to perform services and deliver value for the taxpayers, they’re going to have a willing partner. When the argument turns away from ‘How do we do things better?’ that’s a tougher argument to have with Paul LePage.”
Ron Green, president of the Bangor firefighters union, equated Mainers’ choice for governor with a firefighter’s choice about who to follow into a burning building.
“It is just this moment in time when we need someone who has been there before, who has shown the knowledge, experience and leadership to move Maine through this difficult period,” said Green. “That person is Libby Mitchell.”
Cutler disagreed, blasting the unions and Democrats for their attacks.
“I have never seen more dishonesty in a political campaign in my life,” he said. “This is one of the reasons I left the Democratic Party and one of the reasons I think Maine voters will, too.”