April 26, 2018
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Mud flies, fibs rise, bitter end to election

William Brown | BDN
William Brown | BDN
This artwork by William Brown relates to political mudslinging.
By Joe Perry, Special to the BDN

You can imagine my shock when I received a call Saturday morning that informed me that $70,000 from out-of-state special interests was being dumped into the campaign against me. My opponent, Nichi Farnham, and the Maine Republican Party already have shown a willingness to win at any cost, and this will keep the daily barrage of negative, misleading and downright false mail, radio and TV coming to your home.

I can certainly take these attacks because I knew what I was getting into when I ran for office, but these destructive tactics only serve to cheapen our democratic process and mislead those who are trying to sort out the truth on some very important issues. So, as Paul Harvey would say, “here is the rest of the story.”

The Maine Republican Party, on behalf of Farnham, has been making some pretty strong claims about me trying to put a tax on heating oil. What it is not telling you is that I was one of only four senators appointed to a special energy committee that sought to reduce energy costs. I proposed a concept bill, which included a lot of ideas to save Maine people money.

Concept bills are often used as a starting point for debate and discussion in the legislative process. Unfortunately, one fact that is missing from the attack pieces against me is that the very bill for which I am being demonized targeted more than $60 million in federal funds for energy efficiency support to help Maine people and businesses weatherize their homes. By consolidating energy efficiency programs to increase their effectiveness and creating new options for financing efficiency, we have positioned Maine to attract millions of additional dollars in investment. Indeed, our legislation has become a national model.

Until offshore wind or cheaper power from Canada becomes a reality, making our homes more energy efficient is recognized as one of the best solutions to lowering energy costs. The mailers fail to mention how Farnham will try to lower your energy bills.

A series of ads from the state GOP blasts me and 47 other Democratic lawmakers on a so-called “baby tax.” This misleading ad fails to mention that the issue they raise expanded affordable access to health care to thousands of working-class Maine people and families, and streamlined an existing assessment that had hospitals and insurance companies filing lawsuits over what many called an unfair assessment. This law actually repealed an existing tax that hospitals and insurance companies called unfair and had previously challenged in court. We managed to replace the tax with a straightforward process that reduces regulatory and bureaucratic issues.

Yet another ad attacks me for supporting a law that would have reduced the overall tax burden by $50 million and lowered taxes for 89 percent of Mainers. This plan had the support of the Bangor Chamber of Commerce, and the Wall Street Journal even called it the “Maine Miracle.” Essentially, they boasted that Maine did what no other state in the country tried to do — lower the overall tax rate during the recession.

Despite the law being overturned, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Development Foundation are now echoing the same recommendations of the tax reform plan in a report they have jointly published. Could I have been that far off in my thinking process for supporting a law that would lower taxes if the Chamber of Commerce supported it?

I have also been attacked in other fliers on behalf of my opponent for supporting “reckless out-of-control spending.” This is also false. Unlike the federal government, our state must have a balanced budget every legislative session. During the past two years, Maine lawmakers made serious structural changes to our state budget to reduce spending. At a time when some Democratic and Republican lawmakers across the country were shouting at one another and shutting down their state governments, Maine lawmakers worked together in a productive way to pass a state budget that ultimately reduced state spending by nearly $1 billion. This budget was the first time since the early 1970s that state spending from one budget period was smaller than the previous one.

Anyone who is selling you easy fixes right now has no understanding of the challenges we are facing. The major problem with running a campaign using negative, misleading statements is that if you win, you are trapped in a vacuum where you can never really accomplish anything yourself. Essentially, if you win your election by distorting someone else’s position, then you can bet yours will be distorted as well.

I would also like to point out that, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, working in the Maine Legislature is all about building relationships to get things done. Anyone who gets elected through deceptive campaign tactics will lose all credibility at the State House.

Last, I think it is important to ask why so many outside interests, many of them from outside of Maine, are spending as much as $100,000 against me to support my opponent and use every dirty trick in the book. It is also worth questioning where $400,000 from outside groups is coming from to target just five Senate races across the state. This is unprecedented.

They are literally throwing the kitchen sink of deceptive tactics at candidates like me who are trying to run on the issues. Do we believe these out-of-state interests are really looking out for the people of Bangor, Hermon and Maine? And do we believe that they won’t be looking for payback from the candidates they support if they are elected?

Is this what we have come to? Are these the values we want in our elected leaders?

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