LEWISTON, Maine — Everybody knows the saying, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
That infamous phrase, coined by political strategist James Carville as he helped Bill Clinton become president in 1992, is as pertinent as ever.
The candidates running for governor certainly know it’s true, but how they would go about fixing the economy and improving the financial outlook varies greatly — especially when it comes to raising the state’s minimum wage of $7.50 per hour.
Eliot Cutler, an independent candidate, on Tuesday released his economic plan for women and families.
Cutler’s nine-point plan, which includes a cornerstone promise that women will be given key roles in state government if Cutler is elected, touches on gun control, welfare, abortion and homelessness, among other things.
Cutler’s plan also notes that as governor, he would ensure women are hired to fill prominent roles in his Cabinet and that he would appoint more women to state boards and commissions.
“To ensure that all women have a place at the table, that their viewpoints are heard and that policy agendas reflect the needs of women and families,” Cutler wrote, “the Cutler administration will be populated by qualified individuals who reflect a diversity of expertise and range of experiences.”
According to Cutler, the plan is the result of a series of round-table discussions involving elected officials, health care providers, small business owners, educators and others.
“The issues we discussed are not just women’s issues; they are family issues,” Cutler said. “Until every woman, man and child has an equal opportunity to make the most of her or his own talents, Maine will not reach its full potential as a great place to live, to make a living and to raise a family.”
But Cutler’s political rivals, including the campaign of Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democrat in the race, said despite mentioning his support for a federal minimum wage hike, Cutler has been less clear on whether he would bump the state minimum wage as governor.
But Cutler said Tuesday he would have signed the bill — vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage — that raised the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016. In a message to the Sun Journal, he wrote, “The minimum wage right now is not a living wage and it’s too far below a living wage.”
Cutler said increasing the minimum wage, however, “ought to be part of a comprehensive strategy to improve the opportunities for all Maine workers.”
Michaud, too, has a strategy for that. His six-point plan for improving the state’s economy focuses on expanding small business, local food production, renewable energy, tourism branding and community development.
Michaud supports increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour as proposed by President Barack Obama. Absent a federal minimum wage increase, Michaud would work to move Maine’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour but would start by increasing it to $9 per hour. Maine’s current minimum wage is 25 cents per hour higher than the federal minimum wage.
“There’s already support (in the Maine Legislature) for implementing $9 an hour and that’s a starting point that Mike knows both Democrats and Republicans can get behind,” Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman, said.
In his veto message on the minimum-wage bill passed by Democrats, LePage indicated he was more supportive of reducing business costs for energy, regulation and taxes, which he argued would lead to better-paying jobs for Mainers.
“Too many people are worried about the bare minimum, wages or otherwise,” LePage wrote in the veto message. “It’s time to aim higher than the minimum … Mainers deserve more than the minimum and if we give them the opportunity, they will earn it.”
LePage’s campaign spokesman, Brent Littlefield, said the governor does not oppose a higher minimum wage for Maine, “but favors efforts to create more career jobs that pay better and bring greater economic prosperity to the state.”
LePage has hired women to key leadership roles in his Cabinet, including the top offices in the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection and Professional and Financial Regulation, Littlefield said.
He said LePage’s top office staff jobs, including his deputy chief of staff, his chief legal counsel and press secretary, are held by women.
“Liberal politician Eliot Cutler uses words to show he will support women and families, while Gov. LePage has taken action,” Littlefield wrote in a message to the Sun Journal. “Gov. LePage has reached across party lines working with Democratic leaders as well as Republicans to help eliminate domestic violence and support victims.”
He detailed some of LePage’s actions:
* Provided funding to keep domestic violence programs funded after other budget cuts;
* Added the crime of sexual assault to the Maine Code of Military Justice;
* Signed legislation to ensure that victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking are notified when their abuser is released from jail;
* Signed legislation to add sex-trafficking as a crime under Maine law;
* Reduced the turnaround time for hearing gross sexual assault cases from 18 months to four months.