Thursday, December 5, 2013
BANGOR AND EASTPORT - Here's a striking thing about the race for Maine's 2nd Congressional District: the candidates have a remarkable amount in common.
Kevin Raye is congratulated by a supporter as he wins the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District. Raye got his start in politics through a letter he wrote to Olympia Snowe when he was 16.
Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston, left, listens in April 2011 as Rep. Mike Michaud discusses his view of the situation with the closed Katahdin Paper Mill in East Millinocket, his hometown.
Democratic incumbent Mike Michaud and his Republican challenger, Kevin Raye, both live within a few miles of the rural towns they were born in, and where their families have been for generations. Each became involved in politics at a young age and served as presidents of the state Senate, earning reputations for working across the aisle. Both have had ample tenure in the halls of Congress: Michaud's been a congressman for 10 years; Raye served as chief of staff to Sen. Olympia Snowe for seven.
Both are moderates who worry about the lack of cross-partisan cooperation on Capitol Hill and the loss of the nation's manufacturing base. And they've squared off for this seat before, in 2002 when Michaud won by a margin of 4 percent.
"They're both pretty independent men in terms of responding closely to the needs of the Second District, which has a different economy and demographics than (the districts) of their more partisan colleagues around the country," says Kenneth Palmer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Maine. "They might be more like each other, except that they are in separate, polarized parties."
THE MILL WORKER
Michaud is six years Raye's senior and native to the Millinocket area, where life has long been dominated by paper mills and the great outdoors. Born in 1955, he was the second of six children in a family of French descent. His father and grandfather both worked for more than four decades in the local paper mills.
Raised in Medway, Michaud spent much of his childhood fishing with his siblings and working in the gardens or around the house. At Schenck High School in East Millinocket, he played competitive chess and kept statistics for the basketball team. He told an interviewer from Bates College's Muskie Archives that, at the time, he "never really got involved in the community," though he would make up for it in adulthood.
During his senior year, Michaud considered going to college to study criminal justice and become a state trooper, but instead accepted a job at the mill. He would work there for more than two decades.
"I think it was the right decision," Michaud says now. "You made good money, had good health benefits, and it was the way of life in the Katahdin region for generations."
He's described his parents as apolitical: registered Democrats who didn't become involved until their son did.
"Pretty much Dad went to work early in the morning and he'd come back home after work to be with the family and that's pretty much it," he told the Bates interviewer. "They weren't ones to go out and do a lot of socializing. You know, you worked hard in the mill so you could provide and build a family."
Michaud says he was prompted to seek office by the thick mats of sludge he watched float down the river from the mill and accumulate in a cove of the Penobscot River near his childhood home.
"It was so polluted and one of the things I realized is that you have to have a balance between jobs and the environment," he recalls. "So rather than sit back and complain about it, I decided to run for the Maine Legislature."
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Left: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud gets a hug from his mother, Jean, on Election Day in 2010. Michaud is undefeated in the 16 elections he’s faced. Right: As Maine Senate president, Kevin Raye is generally credited with trying to foster bipartisan cooperation. Every Thursday, he had dinner with his Democratic peers.