A Republican lawmaker in a competitive House race in Cumberland and Gray is being targeted for voting with Gov. Paul LePage during the last legislative session.
Michael Timmons, R-Cumberland, is accused of selling out his constituents on environmental issues by opponents who hope to boost his Democrat challenger, Dale Denno. The two candidates also faced off two years ago, when Timmons beat Denno for the House District 45 seat by only 16 votes.
District 45 includes all of Cumberland and part of Gray.
In the last legislative session, Timmons was pilloried for supporting bills to release bond money for conservation projects and expand solar power, then siding with the governor by switching his vote or not voting at the last crucial minute.
Timmons, 74, says opponents are lying about his voting record and he has done everything he can to support his district. He is a former educator and president of the Cumberland County Fair.
“I would say, if people are being fair, they wouldn’t look at a bond bill for $225,000 and take two years causing me a great deal of anxiety over a lie,” Timmons said.
House District 45 covers Cumberland and part of Gray.
Local environmentalists, business owners and solar industry representatives, organized by Maine Conservation Voters, last week accused Timmons of siding with the LePage against his constituents, and threw their support behind Denno. Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund, a political action committee, spent $5,323 on two mailers accusing Timmons of breaking promises to constituents and turning his back on the community.
Timmons and Denno are both publicly funded candidates under the Maine Clean Elections Act. Timmons has raised $16,216 and spent $10,072 on his race, including on a television ad, radio ads and a direct mailer, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Denno has raised and spent about $16,500, including more than $11,000 for a direct mail campaign from Mach3Media, a Portland-based political media company.
The House 45 contest is one of the few the group is putting money into this year, said Maine Conservation Voters political director Beth Ahern.
“It is fair to say this is a priority race for us,” Ahern said.
Last year, Timmons voted to sustain LePage’s veto of a bill that would have released millions of dollars in voter-approved bonds for conservation purchases through the Land for Maine’s Future program, after voting to pass the bill. LePage blocked the bonds in an effort to leverage more timber harvest on state land. About $225,000 in bond money was supposed to go to a $1.13 million purchase of Knight’s Pond Preserve, a 215-acre area in between Cumberland and North Yarmouth. The property was eventually bought with a bridge loan from local land trusts and the money was released to them last week.
Timmons was later publicly rebuked by Cumberland town officials for his vote on the veto.
But Timmons said the episode was distorted by his opponents to discredit him. He voted to sustain LePage’s veto because the bill would have stripped the governor’s authority to handle Land for Maine’s future, which would have created numerous legal issues, Timmons said. He later worked to get money for Knight’s Pond Preserve and was caught off-guard when town officials were angry with him.
“It took me by surprise, the whole thing; the way they presented it was to make me look bad or make it look like I lied,” he said. “It was a set-up to make Mike look bad.”
This spring, Timmons was among a handful of Republican lawmakers accused by environmental groups of voting to override LePage’s veto of a major solar power bill, then “taking a walk” instead of voting in a second attempt to override the bill which failed by only a few votes.
Timmons said he did not vote on the final solar bill override because he didn’t understand the parliamentary maneuvering behind a second vote. He was also offended by the aggressive behavior of some solar lobbyists during the session, he said.
“It was all politics, some of it dirty politics,” he said. “Whether I would have been in there to vote on it or not, it would have been defeated.”
His opponents are intentionally overlooking things he did vote for, like bringing in more state money for schools, reducing the state budget and supporting a rainy-day fund for the state, Timmons said.
“These are the type of things I don’t recall my opponents ever addressing,” Timmons said. “You haven’t seen a single thing that leaves my pen that is personal against anyone.”
Denno, 66, a retired attorney and former head of the state’s Office for Family Independence, said Timmons’ voting record has been a campaign topic.
“Obviously, I would not have voted the same way,” Denno said. “I would have voted for Land for Maine’s Future and solar. Specific to the environment, I do believe this is an issue of great interest to the voters of our district.”
Campaign finance rules prevent Denno from coordinating his campaign with outside groups. In an interview this week he said he has not seen the mailers sent out by Maine Conservation Voters and is running a positive campaign.
“I have not been out badmouthing Mike Timmons,” Denno said. “As I see it, we have very different views, but it is not personal at this level.”