AUBURN, Maine — It was bad enough they Photoshopped his head onto somebody else’s body, but what really bugs him — besides the fact they misspelled his first name — is the claim he’s against women having mammograms and he opposes access to birth control.
The mailed political postcard is one of dozens that are filling mailboxes these days. But the claims just aren’t true, says Eric Brakey, a first-time Republican candidate running for the District 20 seat in the Maine Senate.
Brakey is challenging incumbent state Sen. John Cleveland, a Democrat and former Auburn mayor.
The district includes the city of Auburn and the towns of Minot, Poland, Mechanic Falls and part of New Gloucester. The seat is one of a handful up for grabs that will determine which party controls the state Senate.
The mailers, which claim Brakey opposes birth control and mammograms for women, were not authorized by Cleveland and not approved by him, but were sent in opposition to Brakey’s campaign by the Maine Democratic Party. The postcards are part of more than $30,000 the party’s political action committee has shelled out to re-elect Cleveland.
The Maine Democratic Party stands by the mailer’s message, saying Brakey once was chairman of the Defense of Liberty Political Action Committee, which opposed the federal Affordable Care Act — known as Obamacare to opponents. Because the ACA requires insurers to cover reproductive health care for women — including birth control — and the Defense of Liberty PAC opposed it, Brakey is therefore against birth control and mammograms, the Democratic Party reasons.
But Brakey said the mailer, including its misspellings and bad photo manipulations, is flat-out wrong.
“Of course it’s politics, but saying someone opposes mammograms, I don’t know anyone who opposes mammograms, it’s kind of like saying someone supports breast cancer,” Brakey said. “It’s a little frustrating especially when we all have people in our lives who have been affected by breast cancer.”
Access to birth control is a federal issue, Brakey said. His preference would be to make it more accessible by allowing the sale of Federal Drug Administration-approved birth control medications over the counter.
“That’s one way we could have a market-based approach to birth control and make it more affordable for women,” Brakey said.
Brakey declined to say whether he would support allowing women who may become eligible under any expansion of Medicaid in Maine to have access to reproductive health services including abortions. It’s an issue that has set conservative Republicans and most Democrats in Augusta at sharp odds.
Cleveland said he supports expanding Medicaid under ACA and that all services offered under Medicaid should continue to be offered to anyone eligible for coverage in an expansion scenario.
“I support decisions being made about a woman’s reproductive health to be made by her and her physician based on what’s best for the woman’s health,” Cleveland said. “I think that’s a decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor in consultation with her family if she wishes to do that.”
Cleveland said the difference between himself and Brakey on health care — Cleveland supports an expansion of Medicaid while Brakey opposes it — is only one of many between the two candidates.
Cleveland cites his experience as a city councilor, mayor and state lawmaker as setting him apart from his opponent. The Democrat also notes he’s a lifelong resident of Auburn and a business owner in the city for 25 years.
“I think this is an important election. There are going to be some very large challenges before us in regard to the state budget, energy and health care,” Cleveland said. “Those things are going to require some experience, some knowledge and an understanding of how the process works to get legislation passed to become law. That’s not something you know how to do in the first two years of your Senate service.”
Brakey recently moved to Auburn from New Gloucester. He became a Maine resident three years ago. His immediate family, which has roots in New Gloucester, lived in Ohio, where Brakey grew up, went to high school and college, before spending time in New York City pursuing an acting career. He moved to Maine in 2011.
A direct mail piece that Brakey’s campaign has sent to voters, including a questionnaire, touts his family’s “eight generations” in Maine.
Brakey’s acting work in New York featured the candidate dancing in a Brazilian Speedo in an advertisement for VitaCoco, a coconut water drink. The video drew media attention to the conservative’s state Senate campaign in August 2013.
Active in Community Little Theatre and the Girls and Boys Club of Lewiston-Auburn as well as his church, Brakey said he moved to Auburn from his parent’s New Gloucester home to be closer to the activities and organizations he has been involved with, and not because Auburn was the largest city in the Senate district.
“It was just more convenient all around for me,” Brakey said.
Brakey and Cleveland have conflicting views on reforming Maine’s energy policies. Cleveland serves as Senate co-chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and has been credited with brokering a deal on a major energy bill that eventually was passed into law over a Gov. Paul LePage veto.
Among other things, the bill expanded funds for energy efficiency programs, including renewable sources. It also lays the groundwork for an expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the state — a key component for lowering Maine’s high electricity costs, according to most energy experts.
While Cleveland opposes a move proposed by LePage to remove a 100-megawatt cap in the state’s renewable portfolio standard as it applies to hydro power, Brakey supports that change.
Cleveland said dropping the cap would damage a host of emerging renewable energy technologies which benefit from it including solar, tidal, biomass and wind power.
LePage has argued that removing the cap would pave the way for low-cost hydropower from Quebec but Cleveland and other opponents argue that Quebec hasn’t shown any interest in selling into Maine’s energy market.
He also said if the Quebec hydropower generators were to sell into Maine, they first would need a transmission line and likely would sell their power at the market rate, meaning Maine would not get any cheaper power than it has now.
While Maine produces more electricity than it consumes, prices remain high because the going rate for certain kinds of energy — especially renewable — is in demand in other New England states that have policies requiring certain percentages of their electricity come from renewable sources.
“It’s a commodity that we sell like lobsters, we don’t just sell lobsters in Maine, we sell lobsters to people around the world who want to buy them. It’s the same thing with electricity,” Cleveland said.
Brakey said lobbyists in Augusta, not citizens, ultimately are crafting the state’s energy policy.
“I’ve testified in front of the energy committee on several occasions, and it’s frustrating to see that committee more than most any other committee is when you go in any day you see it’s packed with paid lobbyists and everybody asking for a handout,” Brakey said.
Cleveland said crafting good energy policy is complex work and there are many misconceptions about what is and is not driving Maine’s high energy costs.
Even if the regulatory policies were in place to allow an expansion of natural gas inflow to Maine, it would take a minimum of between two to three years to permit and build that pipeline infrastructure.