September 9, 2013

Good friends, old allies, now adversaries

Maine's race for governor will test the Bennett and Michaud relationship of trust, respect.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

State Sens. Rick Bennett, left, and Mike Michaud work together during the legislative session in 2001-2002, when they shared power by dividing the term of Senate president.

Amelia Kunhardt/2001 AP file

During a recent visit at the State House, Bennett laughed when told that Michaud had touted surrendering the Senate presidency to him in 2002 even though Democrats had won a one-seat advantage in the chamber after a hotly contested special election.

Bennett, Michaud noted, actually presided over a Democratic majority.

"There was never any question I'd be Senate president (in 2002)," said Bennett. "It (power sharing) was a legal agreement."

Bennett also shrugged off Michaud's lighthearted jab that he smoked out the Senate president's office when he attempted to light the fireplace.

"We got it started," he said, laughing. "We had a fire."

Whether the good-natured banter lasts through the 2014 campaign is unclear. Michaud says he's not running against anyone to get to the Blaine House. However, his criticism of its current occupant, LePage, has been pointed and consistent.

From his perch atop the Maine Republican Party, Bennett will have plenty of opportunities to take shots at Michaud. Some Republican insiders wonder whether Bennett, whose reputation as a political moderate is compared to that of former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, will be insulated from most of the dirty work.

Bennett was virtually hand-picked for the chairmanship by LePage's political team. But it's unclear whether his relationship with Michaud was part of their calculation. As one Republican put it, the party had every reason to want Bennett, the unifier, at the helm of a party with well-publicized infighting. Less clear is why Bennett would want the job.

Bennett appears to be serious about taking the party in a new direction. On Aug. 21, he invited Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant to breakfast.

"Thanks for breakfast, Chairman Bennett," Grant tweeted. "Finally someone I can talk to."

But Bennett has also shown a willingness to muck it up. In 2002, he and former political operative Daniel Billings -- now a District Court judge -- were roundly criticized for political action committee ads targeting several state Senate races. Bennett later apologized for the tone of the ads, saying they failed "to meet the high standards we should have for political discourse."

Bennett said he wouldn't shy away from calling "foul" if other Republican outfits cross the line during the 2014 race.

"I expect the same thing on the other side," he said. "Sometimes politics can get a little heated, people say things they shouldn't say, do things they shouldn't do. You have to deal with them in the moment." 

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:


Twitter: @stevemistler


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