Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud won the endorsement of the Sierra Club Monday.
The nod from the Portland chapter of the national environmental organization was announced at the group’s Oak Street location. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler also sought the endorsement, but failed to obtain it for the second time since 2010.
Republican candidate Gov. Paul LePage, who has been frequently criticized by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for his natural resources policies, did not seek the endorsement.
While Democratic candidates have typically won the Sierra Club’s backing, Monday’s announcement was significant for Michaud because he is attempting to build a broad coalition of progressive voters and donors. Cutler has also sought that block of support and the Cape Elizabeth resident has made a concerted effort to tout his backing of a woman’s right to an abortion and gun control issues.
Cutler has also championed his environmental record. He was former President Jimmy Carter’s natural resources and energy director and frequently talks about how he helped craft the Clean Water and Clean Air Act as a legislative assistant to former U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine.
“Mike Michaud shares Mainers’ conservation values, and he understands that protecting our precious environment and public health is critical to Maine’s economic vitality,” said Melissa Walsh Inness, Sierra Club Maine’s political team chairwoman and former Maine state legislator. “With his valuable experience as a state and federal legislator, and his deeply felt desire to serve the public interest, Mike will be a great governor to lead Maine.”
The group also cited Michaud’s pro-environment record in the Legislature.
Michaud, in a press statement, outlined his environmental policy priorities, including cutting Maine’s dependence on home heating oil in half, from 70 percent to 35 percent, by 2030.
“Cutting Maine’s reliance on home heating oil in half by 2030 is a bold goal, but I know we can do it. We have a moral responsibility to our children and grandchildren to do it,” Michaud said. “We’ll start by investing in alternative energy like tidal, wind, solar and biomass as well as investing in energy efficiency. To move Maine forward, we have to think big and be willing to set aggressive goals. That’s what I am going to do as governor. I am honored to have the Sierra Club’s endorsement as I work to make it happen.”
The organization said that it reviewed Michaud’s and Cutler’s environmental records and conducted in-person interviews. The governor did not participate in that review process, according to a press statement by the Sierra Club.
Ted O’Meara, Cutler’s campaign manager, said Monday that while the campaign had hoped to secure the endorsement it had no “illusions” about doing so. He said the Sierra Club typically endorses Democratic candidates and speculated that the state chapter was being pressured by the national organization to support Michaud.
“A lot of these organizations are tied up in the partisan apparatus and that’s just not the route we’re going,” O’Meara said.
He added that Cutler had a pro-environmental record that spanned 40 years.
“That record speaks for itself,” O’Meara said. “The environment is very much a part of Eliot’s vision for Maine and he sees it as a way to grow the state’s economy.”
The Sierra Club in 2012 endorsed independent Angus King in the U.S. Senate race over Democratic challenger Cynthia Dill. Dill, an underdog in that race, later dubbed the endorsement as “inexplicable.”
Brent Littlefield, the governor’s political adviser, said in a statement that a $900,000 fine levied against Chevron in 2011 was proof that he too fought for the environment. The fine stemmed from an agreement between the state and the oil company following an investigation by the Department of Environmental Protection that began under the Baldacci administration. The state claimed that an estimated 140,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Penobscot River decades ago.
The two parties reached an agreement in 2011, seven months into LePage’s term.
“Governor LePage issued the second-largest environmental penalty in Maine’s history and the largest penalty against a polluter in two decades when he penalized Chevron for a major oil spill to the tune of nearly $1 million,” Littlefield said in a statement. “Proof this endorsement is about liberal politics, not protecting Maine’s environment.”
The Sierra Club endorsement in the gubernatorial race is early compared to 2010. That year Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell won the Sierra Club’s backing, but the endorsement didn’t arrive until shortly before Election Day. The 2014 election is less than a year away.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @stevemistler