“I’m not the most entertaining orator, I’m more of a listener and a problem solver,” said Democrat Mike Michaud at the first gubernatorial debate of the 2014 election last Wednesday. Congressman Michaud, who currently represents Maine’s 2nd district at the White House, faced off a second time last Monday, with Republican governor Paul LePage and independent candidate Eliot Cutler.
People may have left the first debate in Augusta skeptical of the Democratic nominee’s less-than-eloquent performance, but impressed by Cutler’s speaking skills. Cutler is a Cape Elizabeth lawyer, who co-founded a prominent environmental law firm after collaborating with Ed Muskie to rewrite environmental legislation in the ‘60s, and much of his debate rhetoric seemed to rest on the idea that Maine is a victim of party-line politics.
“If we keep arguing with each other who’s a better partisan than the other,” said Cutler on Wednesday, “we are not going to pull ourselves out of an 11-year nosedive that Maine’s economy has been in, through eight years of a Democrat and three, almost four years of a Republican.”
Indeed, one of the most looming points of contention amongst candidates is partisanship: Michaud’s platform is built upon the bipartisan voting record he’s maintained in Washington, while one of the debate questions straight up asked LePage to respond to accusations that he can’t work with liberals. Michaud’s interest in working across party lines didn’t sway Cutler from slamming Michaud’s early history of voting against legislation for women’s and LGBTQ rights.
“You’ve crossed a lot of aisles,” said Cutler to Michaud at the first debate. “You voted, over 17 years, 19 times in the legislature against equal rights for all Mainers…is that an example of crossing the aisle?”
It makes sense why partisan politics and “special interest groups” are closely related—candidates come to a debate expecting to be tested on what makes them different from their opponents, in terms of how they’ll treat people like poor and jobless Mainers, those without healthcare, and veterans. The way these debates are panning out, and the absurdly tight-knit poll numbers between Michaud and LePage, suggest that voters may be just as polarized as the candidates—despite the Democratic candidate’s pledge to bring liberals and conservatives together to fix Maine’s most pressing problems.
Michaud touted his “Maine-Made Plan” as a catch-all, bipartisan approach to helping those most affected by Maine’s biggest headaches, which are often reflective of the nation’s: including healthcare, taxes, jobs and small business, and energy. “I have a vision that I laid out in my Maine-Made plan…I know how to bring people together,” he said last Monday. “If we’re going to solve problems here…we’re able to get the issue solved in the legislature.”
LePage, however, steered his argument away from “Democrat versus Republican” and toward moral, “good versus bad” terms: “when you have good policy, I work with you. If you try to get me to do bad public policy it goes in the garbage.”
LePage largely focused on explaining that Maine’s biggest problems are sheer dollars and numbers, and that any measures taken to increase cash flow into Maine will inevitably trickle down to whoever needs it most. “Investment capital goes where it is welcome and stays where it is appreciated,” said LePage at the first debate.