PORTLAND, Maine — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud got a fundraising and rallying boost Monday from two New England governors who said the state needs a leader who’s willing to work with other regional leaders to improve the lives of Mainers.
Democratic Govs. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Peter Shumlin of Vermont appeared with Michaud, a six-term congressman, at a fundraising luncheon at Portland’s Cumberland Club. About 80 donors spent $100 to dine on chicken and crab and rub elbows with the governors and Blaine House candidate.
The trio’s comments come after Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is running for re-election, snubbed the National Governors Association and the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. Earlier this month, LePage opted not to attend conferences held by either group, where economic development and energy policy were the topics of the day.
LePage also came under some criticism in June for being the only New England governor to skip a meeting called by Shumlin to discuss the growing opiate addiction epidemic sweeping the region.
The critique of LePage from Michaud and his surrogates echoed that often offered by legislative Democrats in Augusta, who regularly criticize the governor for what they call a “My way or the highway” approach to leadership.
The theme is quickly becoming a regular rallying cry for LePage’s political opponents, who are hoping the line will gain traction with voters tired of partisan gridlock. Results of a Gallup poll, released Monday, indicate that 63 percent of Americans think the country would be better governed by politicians who “think it’s more important to compromise to get things done than hold firm to their principles.”
“We have to work collaboratively together,” Michaud said. “I’m very disappointed in the fact that our current governor has not participated the way he should have been participating … to work on issues important for the people here in the state of Maine.”
Shumlin, who is also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, told reporters that he and Patrick were in Maine to urge Mainers “to move from a governor that can’t get along to a governor who can.”
LePage said he could not attend the conferences earlier this month because of previous plans to attend the Moxie Festival in Lisbon. In June, he described Shumlin’s drug summit as “chit-chat” and said that as the only Republican governor in New England, he felt his voice would have been ignored.
On Monday, Patrick took issue with that characterization.
“It may surprise the governor, and surprise you, that we don’t sit around the table spouting partisan slogans,” he said. “We’re about problem solving.”
Political observers here are keen to track the involvement of the Democratic and Republican governors associations in this year’s gubernatorial election, which sees LePage fending off challenges from Michaud and Independent candidate Eliot Cutler.
In 2010, the RGA spent $1.8 million helping LePage win the race — roughly three times the amount of money poured into the state by the DGA. This year, RGA chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has already flown to Maine for a fundraiser with LePage and pledged big money from the RGA to support his re-election, and told reporters “You’re going to be seeing a lot of me between now and November.”
Shumlin said the DGA also sees Maine as a “top priority,” and said the group would partner with Michaud’s supporters to help him win. However, he said, it’s important not to overstate the importance of appearances from leaders in either governors group.
“I’ll come as often as I’m called, and I don’t want to pop Gov. Christie’s bubble, but the people of Maine don’t care what the governors of New Jersey and Vermont think,” he said.
David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, dismissed Shumlin’s and Patrick’s appearances in Maine, and questioned whether Michaud would be an effective governor.
“These are the governors of two of the most liberal states in the country; Maine has had enough of liberalism,” he said. “The last thing we need is another politician who only cares about photo ops like Mike Michaud does. Mainers want a governor who can get things done.”
Sorensen’s comments reference the latest volley against Michaud by Republicans, who say the Democratic congressman has never seen one of his own bills signed into law in Congress. Michaud’s congressional and campaign staffs both fought back, saying that many of Michaud’s proposals have become law by being wrapped into other bills — a common practice in Congress.
Examples included many bills aimed at assisting veterans and a bill to create the Northern Regional Border Commission, which supports economic development in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York.
“This is just another misleading distraction from Republicans. They’ve tried this for the past 12 years,” said Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman. “It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.”
Patrick was scheduled to attend a rally with Michaud and his supporters in Saco on Monday afternoon.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.