I am supporting independent Eliot Cutler in the race to be Maine’s next governor because he is the only one of the three announced candidates with deep environmental ties and the in-depth experience to be effective. While lacking the legislative record of a professional politician, for four decades he has consistently demonstrated leadership and independence on a whole range of environmental issues.
Cutler’s career began with Ed Muskie and work on creating the landmark Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to clean the dirty rivers and air they both grew up with here in Maine. He understands that “pickerels vs. payrolls” was a false choice, and he remains guided by Muskie’s legacy that not only can we have both jobs and a healthy environment, but that, in fact, we must have both.
On Muskie’s recommendation, Cutler moved on to the executive branch, where he was responsible for supervising the policies and budgets for the nation’s natural resource agencies — the departments of interior, agriculture, and energy; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Park Service and the Forest Service.
His work in restoring key agencies such as the National Park Service, the Forest Service and EPA to healthy budget and personnel levels after their resources had been slashed by the Nixon Administration will serve him well in restoring the budgets and personnel levels of Maine’s natural resource agencies that have been slashed by the LePage administration over the last three years.
He helped to build America’s first renewable and energy conservation programs, managed the process to classify the Alaska public lands as national parks, national forests and wilderness areas, and undertook other initiatives to sustain and protect America’s natural resources. Again, work experience directly related to critical issues that Maine will face in the next decade with respect to our natural resources.
In the private sector, Cutler founded a very successful law firm and personally represented scores of cities, counties and states in disputes and disagreements over big infrastructure projects like airports and highways. He worked for solutions that were both environmentally and economically sound.
His law firm was also committed to giving back to the community, including providing pro bono legal services that led to the removal of the Edwards Dam from the Kennebec River, the first successful dam removal case in the United States. In short, Cutler has experience and a demonstrable record of accomplishment on the environment unmatched by any other candidate in this race. Cutler is no “tree hugger” but a pragmatic problem solver.
It is clear is that Gov. Paul LePage has a terrible environmental record, and the environmental community should be united in the effort to limit him to one term. It is also clear that Democratic candidate Mike Michaud is a nice guy. But that’s not nearly enough to make him the best candidate for governor. And as far as environmental records go, Michaud’s actions when he was a Maine legislator are nothing to crow about. According to the Maine Conservation Voters, which keeps track of such things, Michaud voted for the environment on important issues only 55 percent of the time during the 15 years he was in the Maine Legislature. This is a failing grade by any measure.
In spite of this record, one environmental group has already endorsed Michaud, and others are feeling pressured to make an endorsement now, even though there is nearly a year to go before the election. This would be a mistake. The public has heard very little from either Michaud or Cutler on their positions on current environmental issues, far too little on which to base a thoughtful endorsement. If environmental groups are going to choose between Cutler and Michaud on environmental grounds, rather than on partisan political grounds, the choice is pretty clear.
It is also clear that a split vote resulting in another LePage victory where less than 40 percent of Maine votes for him must be avoided. But that does not mean that Maine’s environmental community should make endorsements on a hunch rather than a thorough examination after hearing from and seeing the candidates in action. Rather, they should be focused on using their political muscle to teach the value of Maine’s environment and work to get the best candidate elected rather than giving up and settling for second best a year before the election.
Horace “Hoddy” Hildreth Jr. of Falmouth is the former president and chairman of Diversified Communications and has served on a number of non-profit boards, including Maine Conservation Voters, Maine Audubon Society, College of the Atlantic, Maine Outdoor Heritage Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Maine Community Foundation and the Davis Conservation Foundation. He currently serves on the board of The Island Institute.
Correction: An earlier version of this OpEd incorrectly stated Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud's conservation voting record in Congress is not significantly better than the 55 percent he earned from Maine Conservation voters while in the Maine Legislature. The League of Conservation Voters has given Michaud a 92 percent lifetime score. Also, Horace Hildreth Jr. is a former board member of Maine Conservation Voters, not current.