Cutler: 'I'm not splitting the vote'Slams Michaud on record; Candidates fire back
Rockland — "I don't consider myself to be splitting any votes," gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler said Jan. 15 during an interview in Rockland.
Cutler, an independent candidate, is running against U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2014. He ran for governor previously in 2010, losing to LePage by a slim margin.
"This is an issue that's being propagated by the Democratic party to serve their own interests, the notion that only the two parties have a right to a ballot position," he said during the interview at the Courier Publications office in Rockland. "Most Maine voters would say 'bunk' to that. I recognize that there are people who have some anxiety about Paul LePage getting reelected. There's 70 percent of Maine voters who do not want Paul LePage to get reelected."
He said that if those 70 percent were to split their votes 50/50, either Michaud or himself would win.
Cutler went on to argue he is one of three candidates in a field with a Democrat and a Republican in a state where there are more independents than members of either party.
In this way, he refutes concerns raised by some political commentators that if Michaud and Cutler split the state's Democratic and independent votes, LePage could benefit from a three-way race as he did in 2010.
Cutler argues LePage is not electable as a candidate. "All of our polling says he won't be reelected, can't be reelected... I think it would be amazing if he were," Cutler said.
In addition, Cutler said Michaud may not be any stronger as a Democratic candidate than Libby Mitchell, who placed third in the 2010 race for the Blaine House.
"For all we know, Mike Michaud might be at the high point that he's going to be in this whole race in the polls," Cutler said.
"Mike's never been tested," Cutler said. "He won't debate me. He won't be in a forum. Here we are in a situation that is probably the most critical, dire situation the state of Maine has ever faced in terms of our economy and the future of the state, really important election ...There's plenty of time to have a debate in every single county in the state, at least once in each county, and I've challenged them to do that. That would serve the interests of Maine voters who deserve to hear what the plans are from each of us."
Asked how he is different from Michaud, Cutler said that first of all he has a plan, and he argues that his opponent has not given Mainers a plan. Cutler, in contrast, wrote a book outlining his plan "to build a healthier, smarter, stronger, younger and more prosperous Maine."
"I have a range of experience in government, in the private sector, in business as an entrepreneur, as a manager, as a collaborator, as a leader," Cutler said. "[Michaud] doesn't. He's been a career politician for 33 years and not a very distinguished one at that."
He also criticized Michaud for accepting money in donations from the National Rifle Association and the sugar industry.
"Huge percentages of his campaigns for Congress have been funded by special interest PACs," Cutler said. "I don't take money from special interest PACs because when I am governor I don't want to be owned. I want to be free to lead. I want to be unbought and unbossed."
Culter also criticized Michaud's voting record.
"You want to make his voting record an issue?" the candidate asked. "How about 19 votes in the Maine Legislature against equal rights for LGBT citizens including the day it passed? ...I have a record. It's just not in Congress and the Maine Legislature. It's a record of accomplishment and success and skill and collaboration. And if there's one thing we should know now, it's that 33 years as a career politician is not a recipe for success as a governor."
Gay rights advocacy group EqualityMaine recently announced it is endorsing Michaud for governor. Michaud announced in November that he is gay. Cutler has criticized this endorsement on the basis of Michaud's voting record.
Cutler, a Bangor native, studied at Harvard and Georgetown. He worked with Sen. Edmund Muskie and President Jimmy Carter and helped write the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. He has also worked as an environmental lawyer.
When it comes to dealing with the challenges in the state including school funding, he said the first step is sweeping tax reform. Cutler wants to reduce property taxes, which he sees as regressive and unfair because they are not based on ability to pay them, and offset that with a state income and sales tax that is more fair.
In looking at Maine schools, he said the state must take on more of the burden of paying for education, and the state has failed to achieve its promise of funding 55 percent.
"It creates a severely unfair distribution of opportunity in the state of Maine where the child's educational opportunity is determined by the zip code in which he or she lives," he said. "And that means a kid who grows up in one of the less affluent parts of Maine has substantially less opportunity than a kid who grows up in Falmouth or Cape Elizabeth, or wealthier communities."
"...That means the state has to take on a much bigger burden of the funding because it has a much broader and fairer tax base."
Cutler qualified his support of raising the minimum wage in Maine.
"I support raising the minimum wage as part of a much bigger plan to turn around Maine's economy," Cutler said. "You can't turn around the economy just by raising the minimum wage, and if all you do is raise the minimum wage and you don't turn around the economy, we're going to be in even deeper trouble than we are in now."
He said this should be done at a national level so that Maine is not disadvantaged against its neighbors.
Asked about the use of veto power, he said he would have vetoed PL90, Maine Health Reform Law, which he said was the wrong approach to Maine's healthcare challenges.
"Ideally, if I had been governor, we already would have been moving in the direction of universal access to primary and secondary preventative care, we would have been creating medical homes," he said.
"What I would not do is I would not use the veto symbolically and use it willy-nilly to start fights with the Legislature," he said.
He said many of LePage's vetoes represented a failure to work with the Legislature, citing the budget veto as an example.
Cutler also believes in changes to address environmental concerns.
"We need a governor who accepts, believes that climate change is real, that it has been caused by human activity, that there are ways that we can do something about it, that we need to be ready to adapt to it — because to some degree it's going to happen anyway — and finally that it's urgent," he said.
He supports the proposed bill to study ocean acidification and its impact to protect fisheries and the coastal tourism industry.
He supports aggressively pursuing a carbon fuel standard.
Asked if this would impact Mainers living paycheck to paycheck, he again pointed to the need to reduce property tax burden on those Mainers.
"That's worse for Mainers than the penny or two per gallon that might come from the stricter regulation of carbon and fuels, or the 10 cents a month on their utility bills that might come from further support for deep ocean wind generation or energy conservation and efficiency."
Cutler also calls for long-term solutions and planning to invest in Maine with a thought to 20 years in the future.
"We don't have shrinking prosperity in America. We have an increasing distribution problem of prosperity in America," Cutler said. "We have today a bigger gap between those who have and those who have not than we've ever had in our history. There are 400 people in America who control more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans. Do we have the capacity to invest, yes. Do we have the need to invest, yes. Do we have the political will to invest? Not so sure. We certainly don't right now. You have a governor who just walked by the lowest interest rates we will see in our lifetimes and didn't borrow when Maine's debt to GDP was lower than any other state in New England, and lower than national average. We have sacrificed good judgment to lack of political will."
Michaud, LePage campaigns fire back
Lizzy Reinholt, communications director for the Michaud for Maine campaign, responded to Cutler's statements via email. Some of her comments below have been edited for space and to remove web links:
Overall, it's unfortunate to see so many misleading attacks from Eliot Cutler — someone who has preached a message against negative campaigning and misleading attacks. Congressman Michaud has said he's not running against anyone, he's running for the people of Maine and he remains committed to that. The issues facing Maine people today are far too important to be distracted by distortions and attacks. He says his primary goal is to get rid of Paul LePage, but the only person who benefits from misleading attacks is LePage himself.
1. Cutler argues he is not splitting the liberal/independent vote. Is that a concern? I attached a graph of the public polls we've seen so far for the 2014 race. They show the trend lines for each of the candidates. As you see, Gov. LePage has had a solid base of support and has consistently polled in the mid-to-high 30s since early in the 2010 through today. That is confirmed by every public poll as well as our internal polling. Cutler is a distant third in every scenario, but the race between Mike and Gov. LePage is extremely close as long as he lingers in the field. This is a race between Congressman Michaud and Gov. Paul LePage. Congressman Michaud is the frontrunner in the race and he has a clear pathway to victory. We continue to gain support in the 1st Congressional District as Eliot Cutler continues to stagnate in the polls. The notion that Gov. LePage is losing support and this is a race between Eliot Cutler and Congressman Michaud is not grounded in fact or supported by the poll numbers or recent fundraising numbers, which show Mike with record-breaking numbers for both dollars raised and individual contributions while Cutler had to donate $250,000 of his own money to keep from going broke last month.
2. Cutler said he has challenged you to a debate. Will you debate Cutler? We have already begun accepting invitations for debates during the general election. We first heard from Cutler regarding debates today, and even then he just said we should begin to debate "as soon as possible." This is just a desperate attempt to distract from his dismal fundraising numbers and lack of support from Maine people. If Cutler wants to have debates during the primary, he should run in the primary and save the voters a repeat of the vote-splitting that led to Gov. LePage's election in 2010. It's not too late for him to do that. Congressman Michaud is focused on talking with the voters in Maine and listening to their concerns and how we can work together to move Maine forward.
3. Cutler said one of the differences between himself and the other two candidates is that he has a plan to build a more prosperous Maine, and the others do not. Do you have a plan? Congressman Michaud has a plan for Maine that will strengthen our middle class, support small businesses and build on Maine's strategic advantages. He also has a long track record of bringing people together — regardless of party affiliation or background — to do what's best for Maine people and families.
4. He characterized you as a 33-year career politician and not a distinguished one at that. Do you have a response? I'm sure the people of Maine's 2nd Congressional District and the many veterans, small businesses and working Mainers that Congressman Michaud has fought for throughout his entire career would disagree. Congressman Michaud, like most people in Maine, has worked hard for everything he's earned. He understands what it's like to punch a time clock and work hard to earn a paycheck. He worked for 29 years at the Great Northern Paper Mill — 22 of those years while he serving the good people of Northern Maine in the state Legislature. He would leave the Legislature and work nights at the mill so he could make ends meet, and he's never forgotten where he comes from.
...This is an interesting attack for Cutler to make on Michaud considering he is a Washington, D.C. lawyer and lobbyist, with no voting record, who has spent his time away from the state while Congressman Michaud has been working to make the lives of Maine people better.
5. Cutler criticizes your voting record, in particular 19 votes against equal rights for LGBT citizens. What is your response? Unlike Eliot Cutler and Gov. Paul LePage, Congressman Michaud has a long voting record, and it's unfortunate for Eliot Cutler to cherry pick information in a way to mislead voters and distort the facts. For 15 years, Congressman Michaud has been one of the strongest allies to the LGBT community. In fact, he has a 95.4 percent lifetime rating from the Human Rights Campaign and was a leader on the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", an outspoken supporter on ENDA and numerous other issues that affect Maine's LGBT community. Cutler's record only dates back to 2009 when he became a candidate for governor and became a financial contributor to equality causes in Maine.
We also contacted the Gov. LePage campaign and received a response in a phone interview from LePage's Senior Political Adviser Brent Littlefield.
1. Cutler said polls show LePage cannot be reelected. What is your response?
Littlefield said voters obviously voted for LePage over Cutler in 2010. "We're feeling very confident about our position," he said. He contends that that vast majority of Maine's people agree with LePage on the issues. In particular, he criticized Cutler, saying he supported 'Obamacare.'
2. Would you be willing to debate Cutler?
Littlefield said Cutler is desperate for media attention. He said the governor is busy creating jobs and managing the state. There will be plenty of time for debate later this year.
3. Cutler said the difference between himself and the other candidates is that he has a plan for the future of Maine, and you and Michaud do not. Do you have a plan for Maine?
Littlefield said LePage presented a plan in 2010 and actions speak louder than words. He said the result of LePage's actions include the creation of 11,000 private sector jobs and the lowest unemployment rate since 2008.
He said the governor's plans are to create jobs, lower electricity costs, which he characterized as some of the highest in the country and spur investment in Maine by outside companies.
4. Cutler criticized you as not believing in climate change or that it is caused by human activity. Do you have a response to that?
Littlefield argued that the governor has acknowledged changes in climate when in December the governor echoed comments from the Icelandic president about the benefits of newly opened polar shipping lanes due to melting ice. Littlefield said that work with Iceland has benefited Maine with Portland serving as a port of call.
In an email later, Littlefield said LePage joined all of the other governors in New England, all of whom are Democrats, in voting in favor of a resolution that directly addresses efforts to deal with climate change.
Editor's note: Courier Publications is extending an invitation to both Gov. Paul LePage and Congressman Mike Michaud to meet with us to talk about the issue as Cutler has.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
207 594-4401 ext. 122
Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.