Mike Michaud, the democratic candidate who currently serves as a US representative for Maine's 2nd congressional district is in a dead heat with incumbent Tea Partier, Paul LePage for the 2014 governor election. Maine's politics are a little more complicated than many states in that the governor has been elected by a plurality for several of the past elections because of the strong history of having viable independent candidates. It is no different this election as Eliot Cutler is running as a liberal independent candidate. Despite the split in the democratic vote, which many credited for the election of LePage in 2010, Michaud is still being projected as being supported by 40% of likely voters, including more liberal voters who fear a LePage relection.
For those who aren't in the know, Michaud came out in an Op-Ed in the Bangor Daily News in 2013. I think it is remarkable that he remains so popular, including in Northern Maine. As someone who grew up in the conservative second district, which is rural and economically depressed, the shift in support towards measures like same sex marriage, represents a real change for this part of the state (where in 2009, in certain counties, the clear majority voted for a measure that would repeal a legislative action supporting gay marriage). This is a religious part of the state whose ability to shift viewpoints is indicative of larger cultural shifts. When I lived in Aroostook County, I remember there were so many protests when the local university tried to have a Pride event that the organizers had to shut it down. I never thought I'd see this day. It might seem minor given how much discrimination that LGBTQ people still face, but these small victories need to be honored.
So will a Gay man from a conservative part of the state be ushered in as governor? He might be benefiting from the fact that LePage has been such an embarrassment that even people who don't support much of his platform are likely to vote for him. More liberal voters, who don't like some of Michaud's more conservative political stances, might vote for him because he is not LePage but seen as more electable than Cutler, whose stances are much more consistent with more liberal voters in Southern Maine.
In a state where most republicans tend to be either dedicated moderates or libertarians, LePage's tea party politics have seriously rubbed people the wrong way. The latest scandal includes him threatening mayors for following the current law around providing immigrants who don't have legal status in the US with aid:
Gov. Paul LePage is threatening to withhold all state funding for General Assistance from communities that ignore his administration's new policy prohibiting undocumented immigrants from receiving aid.
Opposition from officials in Portland indicates that the issue could be headed to court. Maine's largest city received $7.4 million from the state last year for all General Assistance recipients. The money helped support nearly 4,300 people, the vast majority of whom are legal U.S. citizens.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said he was "astonished" that LePage would withhold reimbursements to cities and towns that merely follow state law.
"It's just not fair to be putting municipalities in this position for his own political gain and then to cause this type of uncertainty and angst for hundreds of Portland residents," said Brennan, a former Democratic state lawmaker. "The governor of the state should be acting with more discretion."
It might be notable to say that while Maine is not free from the types of nativism that is widespread in the US, anti-immigrant sentiment is much less intense there than almost anywhere I've been. I think in part it is due to the fact that Maine has always had very permeable borders, seeing its relationship with Canada as an integral part of its identity. The introduction of stricter border controls implemented after the World Trade Bombing have been unpopular with many Mainers. The accompanying rhetoric justifying the increase in border security, as a result, has not really been as well received as in other parts of the country. Maybe I'm biased but this kind of strong-arming communities that would work elsewhere just serves to make people angry and frustrated. It further reinforces the idea that LePage is operating in a political paradigm that is popular in much of the US but less popular in Maine.
This is on top of a whole host of embarrassments that has been visited upon Maine in the last few years by a man, who is basically is the Spiro Agnew of Maine but without robotic super-strength. A man who was homeless himself and from an abusive, impoverished home but still believes in bootstraps for middle school students. It's almost a perfect storm of controversies that will motivate voters both from the more moderate right and from the left to elect an openly gay Blue Dog politician to Maine's Highest Office.
So we shall see this November. And with it, another milestone may be achieved. And my mother, like so many Maine mothers, will not have to suffer the spikes in blood pressure that a LePage administration has caused. I mean, he's the worst. He makes Dubya look like a statesman. So, let's hope for a Michaud victory or at the very least, a LePage defeat.