Apparently all things are not equal in EqualityMaine, the organization that recently voted to endorse U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in the upcoming gubernatorial race. EqualityMaine’s choices were three: Michaud, Eliot Cutler and Gov. Paul LePage. OK, maybe two. Although, given the outcome, one may reasonably conclude LePage was in the running.
What were the criteria for the endorsement? Former or current office holder? Years of public service? Surely it could not have been support for issues important to the LGBT community. Similarly, it could not have been constant, visible and unqualified support for EqualityMaine and its efforts.
Why? Because Cutler would have earned the endorsement if those were the criteria. He’s the only gubernatorial candidate who has provided constant, visible and unqualified support for EqualityMaine and its efforts, including marriage equality.
The various explanations coming after the announcement included that Michaud would be the first openly gay governor in the nation and that he has “evolved” on the issues of equality. I wondered, evolved from what to what?
Following the endorsement announcement, I reached out to some of my former colleagues in the state Legislature. I wanted to determine what I might be missing as I continued to stew over EqualityMaine’s decision. Some of my friends advised me that Cutler had never officially “voted” for any legislation that EqualityMaine supported. Well now, isn’t that interesting? He has never “voted” for legislation because he has never served in the Legislature. Michaud has, though, and his voting record on equality is horrendous.
An examination of Michaud’s voting record from 1981 to 1997, while serving in the Legislature first as a representative, then a senator, reveals the following: On 19 separate occasions when he had the opportunity to cast his vote in favor of ending discrimination against LGBT people in Maine, he voted “nay.” Nineteen times Michaud voted against bills designed to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people. Even as the tide was turning and people were becoming more open, understanding and compassionate on the issues of ending discrimination and affording equal rights to all, Michaud continued to vote in opposition.
In Congress, where he occupied a bigger stage and his voice, influence and stature were greater than as a state legislator, Michaud demonstrated very little open support for the dominant equality issue of the time, Maine’s 2009 marriage equality bill and subsequent law. At best, Michaud’s record on equality is mixed.
Cutler, by comparison, has “voted” throughout his life with his time, money and voice for ending discrimination in all its devious forms. He has consistently, without fanfare or to curry public favor, fought for equality for every Mainer. Through two historic ballot measure campaigns, he stood side by side with the LGBT community in winning marriage equality.
Cutler’s parents, Dr. Lawrence and Katherine Cutler, were recognized as leaders in their community in Bangor. They were leaders who, through their deeds and actions, demonstrated their commitment to help others and to do so by fighting to have all people stand on equal ground as they worked their way through life. They had three sons and raised each to hold dear that sense of fairness and equality. These are not values that Cutler has evolved to embrace now; they are part of his DNA. Fairness, equality, and commitment to do the right thing, no matter what, and to help others, is who he is.
I have come to know Cutler well over the last few years. I truly admire and respect him, not so much for what he has accomplished, but rather for who he is and what he stands for.
The endorsement by EqualityMaine saddens me tremendously. I had assumed that an endorsement decision would be based on the candidates’ history of support and leadership on LGBT equality. Since it wasn’t, I feel it’s important that Mainers know the truth: Michaud’s record on equality is mixed while Cutler has been an unwavering stalwart.
If EqualityMaine couldn’t bring itself to endorse the candidate with the best record on equality (Cutler) over the gay candidate with a mixed record (Michaud), then the group should have endorsed both candidates.
Dennis Damon is a former state senator from Hancock County. He was the lead sponsor of the Marriage Equality law in 2009 and worked closely with EqualityMaine in that effort. He supported Eliot Cutler in 2010 and is supporting him again this year. Damon resides in Trenton.