Now that Mike Michaud’s political career is coming to an end, let’s review the highlights of his long tenure in office.

Roll the highlights, please.

Uh … highlights?

We appear to be experiencing technical difficulties. Whenever we enter the words “Mike Michaud” and “highlights” in the computer, it keeps replying, “No items found matching your search.”

But that can’t be right. Michaud, the Democratic congressman from Maine’s 2nd District, has held several important elected posts since 1980, when he first won a seat in the state House representing East Millinocket and vicinity. Surely, in the more than three decades of continuous public service that ended with his defeat in November’s gubernatorial election, he did something memorable.

Other than finally admitting he was gay.

Well, I’ll attempt to pull together a few facts so the show can go on.

According to early editions of the “Citizen’s Guide to the Maine Legislature,” Michaud definitely existed. He earned top ratings from organized labor and mediocre grades from environmental groups and women’s organizations. He also became a prote?ge? of powerful House Speaker John Martin, who appointed him co-chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Hey, wake up. It’s rude to fall asleep this early in the ceremony.

To be fair (sort of), Michaud wasn’t flashy, but he was effective. His sponsorship of a bill gave it immediate credibility – if only because of his connection to Martin. One term after moving to the state Senate in 1994, he was appointed co-chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, giving him a major voice in budget decisions. He did a decent, if unspectacular, job. In 2000, when the election produced an evenly divided Senate – 17 Democrats, 17 Republicans, one independent – he was instrumental in working out a power-sharing arrangement that saw him serve a year as that chamber’s president.

“I would say I’m bipartisan,” he told the Associated Press, which is about as close as he ever came to qualifying for great quotations of the year.

Two years later, Michaud won a close race for an open seat in Congress by claiming to be more conservative on issues like gun control, abortion and gay rights than his GOP opponent. In other words, he advocated much the same social agenda as soon-to-be Congressman Bruce Poliquin, a member of the Republican Party’s far right wing.

In Washington, Michaud nearly disappeared from the news, becoming known less for lawmaking and more for returning home every weekend to attend bean suppers and church socials. Although he bordered on the inarticulate in debates and interviews, he was relaxed and engaging when working a room full of blue-collar families.

So effective was Michaud at relating to ordinary voters and at having his staff handle constituent problems that his lack of clout in D.C. scarcely mattered. Nor did his increasingly wishy-washy stands on social issues. In the course of six terms in the U.S. House, he rarely had to break a sweat to win re-election.

He was never much for solutions. He occasionally offered plans to do something about this or that, but the details were usually vague and the funding was often imaginary. For instance, his 2007 economic development proposal called for using unspecified federal dollars to “build needed infrastructure, help develop new opportunities for small businesses, create new energy technologies and capitalize on the value of our incredible natural resource base.”

Who wouldn’t be for that?

When pressed on what to do about a tricky problem, he’d fall back on his seemingly endless supply of non-answers. For example, when the Lewiston Sun Journal inquired in 2005 about his ideas for Social Security reform, he said, “I can tell you that unless the public gets involved, what happens may not be what the public wants.”

Um … yeah.

Also during all those years of muddling around in Washington, Michaud did virtually nothing to prepare for a possible run for statewide office. As a result, he remained a hazy figure in the more liberal 1st District. If he was known there at all, it was as an advocate for veterans’ services and an opponent of free-trade agreements – hardly the sorts of issues that catch the attention of either scruffy street protesters or elegant power brokers.

By the time he got around to introducing himself to southern Maine, just over a year ago, Michaud had such a serious lack-of-an-image problem that he had to squander valuable resources convincing potential voters that he was an actual person.

There have been less impressive careers in Maine politics than Michaud’s, although few of this duration, demonstrating once and for all that effectiveness is a greatly over-rated quality.

But I’m told the computer problems have been cleared up, and we can now access our highlights.

Actually, there’s just one highlight.

Here’s Michaud leading the Portland gay rights parade last summer. That took real courage.

Or it would have in 1994.

Eulogize away by emailing [email protected]


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