A candidate for governor last week formally threw his hat into the ring for Maine’s 2014 race for the Blaine House. Days before, that candidate had released a book laying out his ideas for growing Maine’s economy, improving education, attracting more young people to the nation’s oldest state and making the state’s population healthier.
It was the perfect opportunity for independent Eliot Cutler’s opponents, Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, to start explaining what sets them apart on the issues and how they would approach — or have already approached — the job differently.
Instead, what dominated the campaign narrative last week?
Essentially, a spat over whether Maine — named “worst state for business” by Forbes on Friday for a fourth consecutive year — lost 1,500 jobs between April 2012 and April 2013 or added a paltry 200 jobs to its economy during that period.
As is well-documented by now, the spat revolved around a three-minute campaign kickoff video by Michaud. When it was released Sept. 16, it contained a clip of Michaud lamenting that Maine was one of three states to lose jobs over the past year.
Two problems later came back to bite Michaud. First, he didn’t cite a source for the claim in the video. Second, the claim was untrue by the time Michaud released his video.
“Mike Michaud went out and made a demonstrably false claim to the people of Maine in his campaign kickoff video,” Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said in a statement. “Michaud made a statement that was easily disproved, and when he got caught he chose to try to sneak out of trouble instead of taking responsibility.”
To an observer of Maine politics, the source for Michaud’s claim, while not stated, was rather obvious. In June, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a graphic detailing job growth in each state between April 2012 and April 2013. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the graphic showed Maine had lost 1,500 jobs during that period, making it one of three states to post job losses in that time.
Democrats — including the Democratic Governors Association, which has made Maine a prime target next year — immediately seized on the Pew graphic.
A week later, however, the picture changed slightly. As part of a routine process of updating jobs estimates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its Maine jobs number for April (along with several other months) on June 21. Instead of 1,500 jobs lost, the new data showed a 900-job loss. On Aug. 19, the bureau corrected its numbers for several months; the data now show Maine added 200 jobs between April 2012 and April 2013.
LePage’s political adviser told the Sun Journal that Michaud’s job loss claim was “an outright lie,” and a news release from the Maine House Republicans called the numbers “phony.”
“This information was spread far and wide over the past several months, and I hope that Democrats will do the right thing and stop using it,” House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said in a statement released Sept. 20. “Democrats like to talk about promoting Maine, and our recent economic headway is certainly something to promote, even if some of our old policies were not.”
But Maine’s recent “economic headway” that Republicans are celebrating is hardly something to cheer. Are they really heralding a year-over-year gain of 200 jobs as progress? What about the fact that Maine’s job recovery since the recession has been slower than New England’s and the nation’s? Forbes, in again naming Maine the worst state for business, reported Maine had the worst job growth projections in the country. Is that also worthy of celebration?
It’s not. And that might be the reason LePage’s defenders are drawing attention to Michaud’s outdated statement. They’d rather feign outrage than focus attention on the state’s economic reality.
Michaud’s campaign later scrubbed the jobs claim from the kickoff video but didn’t post a correction to explain the change, prompting accusations from the LePage camp that Michaud made the change “under the cover of darkness.”
For Michaud and his campaign, this episode is a lesson in the importance of citing sources and being forthright about errors and corrections.
For voters, the episode is yet another reason to be disenchanted with the state of politics. Unfortunately, we expect this isn’t the last in the series.