BANGOR, Maine — As passionate as Mike Michaud is for Democratic wheelhouse initiatives like expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage or women’s health issues, those issues took a back seat Saturday as Michaud wrapped up the Democratic State Convention with a call for civility.
“Instead of giving you a barn-burning speech tonight of attacks and examples of mismanagement by [Gov. Paul LePage], and there have been many of them, I want to instead ask you to set aside your Democratic credentials for a moment,” said Michaud to a crowd of hundreds at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. “Our resolve is being tested. Our very identity as a state hangs in the balance. Gov. LePage and the example he sets is changing what it means to be in Maine.”
Michaud, who has been in public office since 1980, emphasized his rural and blue-collar roots as the seeds that have grown into his Democratic ideology. At one point he even displayed a lunchbox he said he bore with him to his mill job in the Millinocket area.
“For 12 years this lunch bucket has been sitting prominently in front of my desk in Washington as a constant reminder to never stop working as hard as the hard-working people of Maine,” said Michaud.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett said in a prepared statement Saturday that LePage’s first term in office should be judged by his accomplishments, not his rhetoric.
“Maine Democrats have controlled state government for most of the past 40 years,” said Bennett. “In just the past three, Gov. LePage and Republican lawmakers have reformed Maine’s tax code, welfare system, pension shortfall, health insurance laws and business regulations while paying off $750 million in old hospital debt and reducing the unemployment rate from 8 to 5.7 percent. We are the party of reform and that’s exactly what Maine’s government and economy have needed for so long.”
Speeches Saturday afternoon by candidates for Congress and the U.S. Senate offered examples of different styles: A message of determination from Shenna Bellows, a political newcomer who faces long odds against entrenched and popular Republican Sen. Susan Collins; an examination of policy and bipartisan politics from state Sen. Emily Cain; and an emotional personal story from Cain’s opponent in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary, Troy Jackson.
Bellows talked about her upbringing as the daughter of a carpenter who didn’t always have work, including one Thanksgiving when her parents realized they had only $25 in their checking account. But Bellows quickly pivoted to the issues that are central to her campaign: raising the nation’s minimum wage, fighting for personal freedoms and protecting the environment. Bellows acknowledged her difficult path to election.
“The pundits and career politicians say it’s impossible,” said Bellows. “But we’ve won many fights that people thought were impossible before. Remember the  Mainers United for Marriage Campaign?”
That was a reference to the state referendum that legalized same-sex marriage just three years after a citizen-led referendum reversed a gay marriage bill enacted under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci in 2009.
Cain, whose 10 years in the Legislature culminated in recent years with her post on the powerful Appropriations Committee, focused on her positions on some of the highest-profile issues that have gone through the State House: protecting women’s health rights, advocating for a higher minimum wage, marriage equality and expanding Medicaid in Maine, among others.
“Tea Party politicians in Washington have abandoned families in Maine and across the nation,” said Cain. “It’s easy to talk about standing up for the middle class and the poor at a press conference but it’s much harder to deliver results. Delivering results is something Republicans in Washington known nothing about.”
Jackson’s speech linked his campaign slogan of core values as he described his impoverished childhood at the hands of a young single mother and how later in life he had to travel great distances to work as a logger while Canadian companies harvested the wood in his hometown.
“I remember thinking our house was a fun place to live but to my mother it was nothing more than a shack without heat or running water,” said Jackson. “Mom would remind me how lucky we were. We weren’t the only family living just like this. Right around us and around the world, people had it much worse. … If you’re going to run for Congress you have to know what’s in your heart and in your soul. That is my special interest group.”
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant, in a speech Saturday afternoon, echoed a theme that pervaded the weekend: that Republicans are working as hard as Democrats to enter office and that in some areas, have advantages.
“The forces that oppose us won’t rest,” said Grant. “They are too rich and too powerful.”