AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s top Republican leaders and a top political consultant for Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election campaign launched a salvo of complaints this week regarding a statement U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud made on jobs in a campaign video issued earlier in September by his gubernatorial campaign.
Michaud, a Democrat, is challenging LePage and independent Eliot Cutler in the 2014 governor’s race. In an earlier version of a video designed to introduce Michaud as a candidate on his campaign website, he said the state had lost jobs under LePage. The video has since been changed to remove that claim.
Republicans maintain the state, based on the most recent U.S. Department of Labor data, has gained nearly 10,000 jobs and that Michaud should have known that before he made his claim.
Part of the confusion came from erroneous data provided by the Pew Charitable Trust, according to Michaud’s campaign spokesman David Farmer.
In an email Thursday, Farmer said the complaints from Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser, and Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director, were, “a typical political tempest in a teapot with plenty of faux outrage and stamping of feet.”
Farmer said the information from Pew was widely reported by the Maine news media but when Michaud’s campaign learned the revised numbers showed the state gained jobs, “we updated the video.”
The quiet update had Savage on Thursday questioning Michaud’s integrity and Littlefield calling the initial claim an “outright lie.”
On Thursday, Littlefield said the video edit to delete the claim was “done purposefully under the cover of darkness” so Michaud could avoid being held accountable for the gaffe.
Littlefield has also noted that, under LePage, the state’s unemployment rate has never exceeded the U.S. average while it did on occasion under LePage’s Democratic predecessor as governor, John Baldacci, who took office in 2003 and served until LePage’s inauguration in January 2011. That statement is accurate based on federal Bureau of Labor statistics.
The bureau’s data also show Maine has had one of the worst records, when compared to other states, in creating new private sector jobs during LePage’s tenure as governor.
The state’s ranking in that area dropped from 25th in 2010 to 45th in 2011 and 47th in 2012. So far this year the state ranks 43rd in private-sector job creation nationwide, according to Bureau of Labor data compiled by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
Professor Lee McPheters said the ranking had improved into the 30s over the summer but slipped since then. The last time the state was in the top 10 for private-sector job growth was when it placed fifth in 2000, under then-Gov. Angus King, an independent.
Meanwhile, other indications of the state’s economic strength, including a March 2013 Maine Economic Growth Council report, suggest mixed results under LePage.
The council’s Measures of Growth in Focus report shows the state’s gross domestic product, or GDP — considered “a measure of economic health and a primary measurement of a growing or receding economy,” according to the report — lost ground from 2010 to 2011.
“Maine’s GDP declined by 2.7 percent over the last five years while New England grew by 2.6 percent and the U.S. grew by 1.8 percent,” the report states.
Employment and personal income in Maine in 2012 also grew by 3.1 percent, slightly trailing the national average of 3.4 percent. Still, the growth was down from 2011, when personal income in Maine grew by 4.62 percent.
Still, Farmer was unapologetic Thursday for Michaud’s early misinformation.
“The bottom line is that Maine’s economy is still struggling to recover,” Farmer wrote. “Working and middle class families are having a hard time making ends meet, and Gov. LePage and his policies are making it worse.”
He called Littlefield’s and Savage’s complaint “an attempt to obscure those facts.”
But Littlefield shot back, saying Michaud failed to disclose where he got his information and that the faulty job loss claim was an indication the campaign was “incapable of governing the state because they cannot read economic data. The numbers have been available for months.”