It’s undeniable that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is a reliable congressman. During his four terms representing Maine’s sprawling 2nd District, he’s proven himself a trustworthy voice for his constituents – particularly veterans – and as a presence in Congress.

He’s missed only 40 votes since joining Congress in 2003, a remarkable record of conscientious attention to one of the fundamental functions of his job.

Unfortunately, it’s this very reliability that gives us pause. His votes have been reliably Democratic – more than 95 percent, says The Washington Post – even though he represents a district with a strong independent nature.

And while his achievements for Maine are laudable – the veterans health centers across northern and central Maine will be his legacy – they are not enough to counter what we believe has been poor decision-making in his support of national policies, and what we presume would be another two years of reliable but unspectacular performance in Congress.

Our endorsement for the 2nd District goes to challenger Jason Levesque, a Republican from Auburn. Levesque has abundant energy and the enthusiasm to represent Maine well in Congress, and to send a message to Washington that times have changed.

In these waning days of the campaign, it has become clear that Levesque has benefited greatly from launching his campaign for Congress in mid-2009. He’s used this time to sharpen his policy positions, explore the district and polish himself as a candidate.

Most impressive is Levesque’s forthright commitment to fiscal responsibility across every arena of government. While Michaud has shown flashes of it – his vote against the bank bailout is one example – we cannot call these stances a hallmark of his legislative record.

The public debt, and how the country handles it, is the greatest challenge facing the federal government. Levesque’s zealous attitude toward unnecessary spending is the right attitude for these times.

Yet our favor toward Levesque should not be construed as a wholesale endorsement of his opinions on policy. Although we opposed the health care reform bill, as Levesque does, we do not share his view that it can be repealed. That simply won’t happen.

Instead, Levesque should devote his tenacity toward making the bill better, particlarly by reducing its bureaucratic burdens on business. And he should demand that during its implementation the new law lives up to its given name: the Affordable Care Act.

Levesque, as well, needs to ensure he doesn’t fall into a trap he’s so skillfully set during this campaign season. His pointed, aggressive debating style and public demeanor stand in stark contrast to Michaud’s 2008 challenger, John Frary, an ornery sideshow.

Frary campaigned like he cared little for winning. Levesque has sometimes seemed to care about nothing but, and he has worked diligently to make himself a viable alternative to a popular four-term incumbent whose roots in the district run deep, but whose time to step aside has come.

Levesque has challenged Michaud, deservedly so, on his record. If elected, however, Levesque must realize that if he fails to demonstrate the fiscal conservatism and constituent services demanded by voters, he’ll be the one facing tough questions in November 2012.

Michaud has been an excellent public servant for decades, starting in the Maine Legislature in the 1980s, through the Maine Senate, and now in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is popular, trustworthy and reliable.

Yet, by re-electing him to another term, voters would get the same Michaud, when today’s political and economic climate calls for a much different voice representing their interests. With Levesque, the dynamic will change, and Maine will be represented by a pugnacious freshman in the minority, or perhaps a rising star in a new Republican majority.

This is why, on Election Day, we urge 2nd District voters to elect Jason Levesque.The public debt, and how the country handles it, is the greatest challenge facing the federal government. Levesque’s zealous attitude toward unnecessary spending is the right attitude for these times.