By Debra Plowman — Mainers expect bold leadership from their representatives in Washington, D.C. Whether Democratic or Republican, the people we have sent from our small state to our nation’s capital have stood out and have gotten things done in that crowded town.
Ed Muskie wrote the Clean Air and Water Acts. Bill Cohen became a respected secretary of defense — a Republican working with a Democratic president at a critical juncture in our history. George Mitchell rose to the top of the Senate as majority leader, accomplishing much for Mainers and all Americans. Susan Collins recently was named one of the most influential women in the United States for her ability to get things done, and Olympia Snowe is a national household name for her reputation as a bipartisan dealmaker.
Then there’s Michael Michaud. He hasn’t caused any controversy or ruffled any feathers. In fact, he hasn’t done much of anything in the past 12 years besides vote his party’s line. Michaud’s ineffectiveness and general ambivalence toward governing foreshadow the type of governor he would be if elected this year.
Throughout 12 years in Congress, Michaud has failed to get a single bill passed into law; in fact, he hasn’t even gotten one of his bills a vote in the Senate. However, considering his bills often involve things like naming post offices after politicians andbanning novelty lighters, it’s unclear whether Michaud’s inability to garner support for his ideas would have made much of a difference.
Michaud has sat on the Veterans Affairs and Transportation committees throughout his decade-plus in Congress, and we see those agencies melting down with veterans dying on VA wait lists and the federal highway fund running dry.
This ineffectiveness is part of the reason why Michaud was named to Roll Call Magazine’s “Obscure Caucus.” It’s part of the reason why the Lewiston Sun Journal in 2012 wrote Michaud was “comfortably part of an increasingly listless Congress” and had adopted “a low-key profile on everything except for veterans’ issues.”
But it’s not just that Michaud is an ineffective, weak and confused politician who’s in way over his head. No, what makes the prospect of a Michaud governorship so worrisome is the fact that he has a long history of simply doing whatever he’s told by the Democratic Party machine.
In 2009, when casting his vote for Obamacare, Michaud, to be fair, actually expressed some hesitation at voting for the now-infamous government health care takeover. He promised he would work across the aisle with Republicans to fix any parts of the law that prove untenable.
Since then, however, he repeatedly has voted against bipartisan fixes to Obamacare that garnered the support of as many as 40 of his Democratic colleagues. He opposed delaying the individual mandate and the employer mandate, even as it became obvious Americans needed more time to prepare for the new law. He voted against a measure that would allow Mainers to keep their current plans if they like them — a measure that would have allowed Democrats to keep their infamous promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
Michaud even voted against a bipartisan fix to the 1099 paperwork mandate — a bureaucratic burden on small businesses even President Obama acknowledged needed fixing. Each of these times, when Michaud had an opportunity to keep his promise, vote with moderate Democrats and fix Obamacare, Michaud instead broke that promise and voted obediently with hyper-partisan Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
But this kind of blind loyalty to a heavy-handed Democratic machine didn’t begin in Congress for Michaud. While in the Maine Legislature during the 1980s and 1990s, he was described as a “sidekick” and “protege” of infamous, scandal-plagued House Speaker John Martin, the party boss, who once described his leadership method as “reward your friends and punish your enemies.”
Michaud defended Martin, even after Martin’s Chicago-style political tactics and association with a ballot stuffing scandal cost Martin his speakership. Michaud helped Martin orchestrate a state government shutdown to prevent crucial workers’ compensation reforms at a time when Maine’s union-controlled, dysfunctional workers’ compensation system was drawing national attention and threatening to derail Maine’s entire economy.
The editorial board of Waterville’s Morning Sentinel in 1992 blasted the Michaud-Martin alliance, writing the two “preserve the kind of power Martin and his minions are so good at abusing. It is power politics at its most debased.”
Perhaps Michaud slipped into obscurity in Congress to shake his reputation as an old-school practitioner of Democratic machine politics. But with Martin making another run for the Legislature this year, do we really want the two of them returning Maine to the dark days of government by intimidation and patronage? Do we want Michaud returning only to do nothing at all?
In November, you get to decide.
Debra Plowman of Hampden is the former Assistant Majority Leader in the Maine Senate.