AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Conservation Voters, the environmental advocacy group that issues annual scorecards for the state’s politicians in Augusta and Washington, on Friday announced its endorsement of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud’s bid for governor in 2014.
The group’s board president, Dan Amory, recounted one of the Michaud campaign’s most well-worn stories, about how Michaud first ran for the Maine House of Representatives with the goal of cleaning up the Penobscot River.
“Not that long ago, Mike Michaud was a guy working at the mill in East Millinocket,” Amory wrote in a news release. “He saw the pollution in the river caused by the mill and decided to do something about it. This was Mike’s first act of political courage, but it was far from his last. Mike is a real leader, and his record demonstrates that he will be the most effective governor to protect Maine’s environment, the health of Maine people, and the jobs that depend on our natural resources.”
The group highlighted Michaud’s record in Congress, such as his 2009 vote in support of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Michaud has a lifetime congressional score of 92 percent from the National League of Conservation Voters.
In accepting the endorsement, Michaud pledged that as governor, he’d start an initiative to reduce the state’s dependence on home heating oil by 50 percent by 2030. He also took aim at Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is running for re-election this year.
LePage has emphasized the need for expanded natural gas service in Maine, while playing down the role of many alternative energies, saying they aren’t cost-competitive.
“We have the potential to be a leader on clean, renewable energy, but the current governor has put ideology ahead of science and shut the door on businesses looking to invest in Maine’s future,” said Michaud, according to prepared remarks. “Not only would investments in renewable technology such as wind, solar, tidal and biomass help us reduce our dependency on foreign oil and combat climate change, they would also help create new jobs here in Maine.”
Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, who also sought the group’s endorsement, said Friday through his campaign spokeswoman that Maine Conservation Voters’ choice for governor was just “another special interest group backing the Democratic Party candidate.”
Cutler has made a habit of blasting the various groups that have chosen Michaud as their candidate, including the state’s leading LGBT advocacy group, EqualityMaine.
“No candidate in this race has a stronger record on the environment than Eliot Cutler, and this endorsement doesn’t change that,” wrote spokeswoman Crystal Canney. “Eliot worked with Ed Muskie to create two of the most important environmental laws in the history of this country — the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Maine’s waters and air are cleaner today because of his work.”
Canney also pointed out that while Michaud has a good record on the environment in Congress, Maine Conservation Voters routinely gave him low marks during his time in the Maine Legislature. His career average in Maine was less than 55 percent.
That argument doesn’t hold much water for Maine Conservation Voters, according to its chairwoman.
“His record has become stronger for sure, during his public service,” said Caroline Pryor in an interview. “We’ve got to be open minded, we’ve got to collaborate, and he’s willing to listen.”
Brent Littlefield, LePage’s top campaign adviser, said in a news release that the endorsement was largely inconsequential, pointing out that the Maine Conservation Voters had also endorsed Democratic candidate and then-Senate President Libby Mitchell for governor in 2010, and she went on to receive less than one-fifth of the vote.
“This is news that matters to no more than 19 percent of the voters,” Littlefield wrote.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.