The union that represents state employees wants an apology from a gubernatorial candidate who declined to respond to its questionnaire and suggested that the group’s endorsement is a foregone conclusion.

The Maine State Employees Association, representing about 12,000 workers, sent out a statement Tuesday demanding an apology from Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth, an independent candidate.

The union pointed to a two-page letter that Cutler wrote to it in response to a questionnaire it had sent to all candidates. Democrat Libby Mitchell and independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott filled out the questionnaire; Republican Paul LePage did not.

In a letter to the union dated July 9, Cutler wrote: “While I support the efforts of state employees and aggressively will seek their votes, it would be naive of me to think that I could win the endorsement of the union itself. We both know that the MSEA-SEIU endorsement has been reserved for Libby Mitchell since June 8 and that she has worked for decades in Augusta on behalf of the union to earn it.”

Bruce Hodsdon, president of the union, said Wednesday, “We try very hard to make our decisions based on what’s best for our members, regardless of political party.”

He said his union has endorsed “a handful” of Republicans for public office over the years, but most endorsements have gone to Democrats.

“You can’t ignore reality,” he said. “Those are the people whose philosophies are most closely aligned with our members.”

Mitchell said Wednesday that she viewed Cutler’s comments as an “attack” on “working men and women.”

“You can’t assume who’s for you and who’s against you,” said Mitchell. “These are Maine citizens who organize as unions or as trade groups; they have the right to know as much as they can about us before they cast their votes.”

Mitchell said, “I still don’t know whether I have the endorsement or not. To assume I have their endorsement is just not giving credit to the men and women who sat around the table and grilled me for an hour.”

Cutler’s campaign manager, Edward O’Meara, said Wednesday that his office is getting several questionnaires a week, some with 25 questions or more.

“We looked at that one and said this is going to take hours to answer this thoughtfully, and it really isn’t going to change anything,” he said.

“(Cutler’s) decision not to go through the endorsement process was in no way a reflection of his feelings toward state employees and his willingness to work with them.

“It was a simply a reflection of his frustration with union leadership that is so tied to the Democratic Party that independents like him have no chance of earning the endorsement,” O’Meara said.

The questionnaire had 19 questions, on issues from collective bargaining to child care to taxes and tax breaks. O’Meara said Cutler offered to meet with union leaders for an endorsement interview, but was turned down because he didn’t fill out the questionnaire.

LePage said his campaign has been answering a lot of questionnaires, and just didn’t see the benefit of answering the MSEA’s.

“Time permitting, I would do it. But there’s absolutely no chance in holy hell that those guys are going to support me or endorse me. You’ve got to go by where you think you’re going to get support.”

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]