BANGOR — Gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud on Saturday called on fellow Democrats to reclaim Maine’s reputation and values, which he said have suffered under Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
At the same time, the six-term congressman from the 2nd District told the party faithful during their statewide convention that Maine cannot just return to business as usual and that changes are needed.
“We can’t afford to simply reject the LePage way, only to go back to the old way,” Michaud said. “It’s our time to forge a new path that meets the challenges of this time.”
He added: “Winning doesn’t matter if it isn’t a catalyst for real change. And meaningful, positive change is the only thing that will move this state forward.”
Maine Democrats gathered at the Cross Insurance Center for the second and final day of their state convention. Helping middle-class Mainers was a theme throughout.
Earlier in the day, delegates voted to amend the party platform to support the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana like alcohol, and declared that money is not a form of free speech.
After the convention, Michaud said he hasn’t taken a position on regulating marijuana like alcohol and that he needed to “take a look at how close the votes were” on the party platform amendment.
Unlike the Republicans, who featured U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at their state convention in late April, the Democrats lacked national star power at their convention. Instead, they focused the spotlight on their candidates, especially Michaud.
The convention’s guest speaker was R.T. Rybak, the former mayor of Minneapolis and vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Polls show Michaud locked in a dead heat with LePage in the race for governor, with independent Eliot Cutler trailing.
In terms of fundraising, Michaud’s $1.62 million is tops in the race, while LePage recently exceeded the $1 million mark. However, LePage raised more in the last reporting period that Michaud, pulling in $180,000 compared to Michaud’s $152,000. Cutler has raised $1.3 million, which includes a $400,000 personal loan to his campaign. However, he raised only about $33,400 in the last period.
The Democratic convention comes amid a growing national scandal involving the Department of Veterans Affairs. Officials at the VA hospital in Phoenix and other VA hospitals in the U.S. are accused of manipulating waiting lists for care. That allegedly has led to as many as 40 deaths in Arizona.
Although no problems have been reported in Maine, Michaud, ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Veterans Affairs, has come under increasing fire from LePage and Cutler.
“Our men and women in uniform continue to put their lives on the line to fight for our freedom,” Michaud told the convention. “They have had our backs. And I will always have theirs as governor.”
Michaud also touted renewable energy and his plan to make Maine the “food basket of New England.”
He said, if elected, he would move immediately to expand MaineCare to 70,000 Mainers, including 3,000 veterans.
Michaud also called for bipartisanship. He vowed to raise the minimum wage and work to close the wage gap between men and women. He also emphasized that he “unequivocally” supports a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.
Michaud, who started his political career as anti-abortion, has since reversed his position. Cutler has been hitting Michaud for his early stance in an effort to erode Michaud’s support among women.
Michaud, a former millworker from Medway, used his speech to highlight his blue-collar roots. He said punching a time clock instilled a sense of hard work, community and opportunity for everyone.
At one point he held up the lunch box that he used as a millworker and keeps on his desk in Washington, D.C., to remind him of his roots and who he is working for.
“Come next January, this lunch bucket will find a new home in Augusta,” Michaud said.
The convention also spotlighted congressional candidates.
Shenna Bellows, who is running for the U.S. Senate, leaned heavily on her biography, having grown up the daughter of a carpenter in Hancock County. It wasn’t until her mother decided to go work at a wreath factory that the family was able to afford electricity, she said.
Bellows is up against popular Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins, who is being backed independent Sen. Angus King.
Bellows was quick to point out she has a King in her corner, too.
“Thank you, Mr King, for endorsing me – Stephen King, that is,” she said of the popular author, who lives in Bangor.
Bellows, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, currently lags behind Collins in the polls but is confident she can win. Bellows said she wants to raise the minimum wage, fight for working-class Mainers and continue to protect civil liberties.
“If every Mainer who voted for Barack Obama voted for me, I will be your next United States senator,” she said.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: