LEWISTON, Maine — Maine Democrats and the campaign of Mike Michaud are becoming increasingly agitated over a series of attacks being made by their Republican rivals in the governor’s race.
Michaud, Maine’s 2nd District U.S. congressman, is the Democratic nominee in a hotly contested campaign against incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.
Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman, took issue Wednesday with a new mailer paid for by the Maine Republican Party that attacks Michaud for a bill he sponsored as a member of the state Senate in 2002. The legislation, which passed with strong bipartisan support and was signed by then Gov. Angus King, allowed Great Northern Paper Co. in East Millinocket to sell off its hydroelectric power facilities.
The mailer states the papermaker has laid off 212 workers since the bill passed into law 12 years ago. But Democrats said Republicans — including Rick Bennett, then Senate president and now chairman of the Maine Republican Party — supported the bill as well because it protected jobs at the time. Democrats also argue there’s no direct correlation between the legislation and the loss of jobs.
According to legislative records, the bill passed with unanimous support in the state Senate and was approved by the House on a 118-13 vote. That vote included only two Republicans voting against the measure while 11 Democrats did.
The law change, according to reports at the time, was designed to help keep the company solvent and prevent job losses. But according to the mailer being sent by the GOP, the bill accelerated the mill’s financial woes and led to the elimination of jobs.
A release from Michaud’s campaign lamented the Maine GOP’s “contempt for the facts.”
The campaign highlighted Bennett’s support for the bill, noting he shared the Senate presidency with Michaud in 2001-02 in a power-sharing agreement the two worked out when the Senate was split evenly between Republicans and Democrats — with one independent.
“I’ve seen my share of misguided and misleading attacks in my years in politics, but I’ve never seen anything like a state party attacking someone for a bill that was supported by their own chairman and passed under his leadership,” Michaud’s campaign manager, Matt McTighe, said in a prepared statement. “It’s outrageous to see the Maine GOP trying to capitalize off of hundreds of Mainers losing their jobs with a misleading attack against a Mike, who worked alongside many of those workers on the mill floor for 29 years.”
McTighe also challenged Bennett to set the record straight “by denouncing this negative mailer immediately and apologizing for the false claims of his party.”
David Sorensen, a spokesman for the Maine GOP, dismissed the complaint, saying lawmakers often offer support for a bill based on the recommendation of a senator or representative from the region the bill affects.
He said Republican lawmakers likely supported the bill based on urging from Michaud, who is from the area and worked at the mill.
“Lots of votes in the Legislature are unanimous because lawmakers defer to the expertise of committees and members like Michaud who represent the area affected,” Sorensen said. “Chairman Bennett and others gave Michaud the benefit of the doubt, but it turns out Michaud was wrong. He needs to be held accountable for the bill he sponsored.”
A request to speak to Bennett about the 2002 vote was not immediately returned.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said the Maine GOP was deploying a “shoot first, aim later campaign of false attacks against Mike Michaud.”
He said the tactics came as no surprise to Democrats after four years of “negativity and divisiveness from Paul LePage.”
“Chairman Bennett and his party should be held accountable for their deliberate effort to mislead the public and voters,” Grant said in a prepared statement.
Brent Littlefield, a consultant to the LePage re-election campaign, declined comment, saying the campaign is not allowed to coordinate activities with the party’s political action committee.
He said he was aware of the mailers only through the grapevine and said LePage’s campaign did not have any input on their content and was not involved in their distribution.
Also weighing in on the GOP mail campaign Wednesday was Maine AFL-CIO President Don Berry.
Berry defended Michaud’s record on working to protect millworkers’ jobs and called the GOP mailer a “new low.”
“These lies show how desperate and scared the Republicans are in this election,” Berry said in a prepared statement.
“Mike Michaud has been fighting tirelessly for good jobs in Maine his entire life and he will continue to do so when elected governor. He stands up for hardworking Mainers and he stays rooted in where he comes from every single day.”