BANGOR, Maine — Republican 2nd Congressional District challenger Jason Levesque fired a shot across U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s bow when he met with a group of veterans at Levesque’s campaign headquarters Monday and accused the East Millinocket Democrat of not doing enough for those who have served this country.
Called Veterans for Levesque, the group touted Levesque as a veteran himself, having served in the U.S. Army for eight years as a drill and staff sergeant. Levesque fused to the various causes of veterans the issue he repeatedly has pounded Michaud with during the campaign — job creation, or the lack of it, in Maine.
Levesque told how, as a recently demobilized veteran, he visited the veterans liaison official in the unemployment office in Lewiston and was told, “‘Son, you should have stayed in, because there’s nothing here for you.’
“Fourteen years letter, I am hearing from my fellow veterans that the same thing is being said to them,” Levesque said Monday. “They are coming home from having fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, doing a job terribly important for this country, and when they get home, there is nothing there for them or their families.”
Michaud campaign spokesman Peter Chandler said that his candidate has, “perhaps more than any other issue, a long and accomplished record of delivering for Maine’s veterans.”
“He was proud to receive the endorsement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee in this campaign and has won several national awards for his leadership on issues important to our veterans,” Chandler added. “Mike credits his success on behalf of Maine’s veterans to the climate of respect and bipartisanship he has fostered in his leadership on the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.”
Statistical estimates of Maine’s unemployed have showed slight improvement of late. In September, the state unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, down from the 8 percent level of August and the 8.1 percent rate of a year ago, state officials said Saturday.
The unemployment rate of Millinocket, which is seen as the primary labor market area of the Katahdin region and adjoins the congressman’s residence in East Millinocket, fell to 12.4 percent. That’s the largest drop and lowest rate since the town’s largest employer, the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill, shut down in late summer 2008, according to the Maine Department of Labor’s website.
Millinocket’s unemployment rate was 13.6 percent in August and has hovered between 14 and 15 percent since December 2009. It peaked at 18 percent in April 2009. The number of unemployed people in Millinocket fell to 487, its lowest since October 2008, when it was 384. The national unemployment rate held for the second straight month at 9.6 percent in September.
The slight improvement in the numbers didn’t impress Levesque campaign spokeswoman Alicia Preston.
“It is indicative of the climate we are in if we consider 7.7 percent not big enough to talk about,” she said after the event. “The fact is that is about 3 points higher than when Mike Michaud took office.”
Monday’s press conference was the biggest move yet to court the veteran vote by Levesque, a political newcomer who has never held elected office. In the last two elections, veterans have been among Michaud’s biggest supporters.
“A lot of us forget that veterans are not just veterans. What veterans need today are jobs,” Levesque said. “I understand what it is like to be a veteran and serve on active duty.”
As chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, Michaud has claimed credit for, among other things, successfully pushing for four new medical access points for veterans either completed or being planned in Bangor, Houlton, Lewiston and Lincoln.
Construction of Bangor’s new facility started last spring; Lewiston’s will begin next year. World War II veterans are being treated temporarily in Auburn; Lincoln’s clinic opened in 2007.
A third debate between Michaud and Levesque will be carried live on WCSH-TV in Portland at 7 p.m. Wednesday.