|9/24/2014 6:05:00 PM|
Eye on Augusta: The Silly Season Has Arrived, Full Force
by Andy OBrienAs I opened my email last Friday morning, I was reminded of Gov. Paul LePage's warning delivered at a forum last March in Hallowell: "This is going to be one hellacious campaign," LePage told the audience. "It is going to be the hate campaign of all campaigns."
And there on an emailed press release from the Maine Republican Party was the headline screaming back at me, "Michaud Suggests Sen. Collins Performs Graphic Sexual Acts; Maine GOP Condemns." Against my better judgment, I clicked on the video and saw footage of a smiling Congressman Mike Michaud walking down the street with the soundtrack playing "King of Maine" by local rapper Spose.
"I'm the King of Maine. I'm the king of Maine. I've got Susan Collins giving everyone brain," the lyrics went. Immediately the "scandal" spread like wildfire through the state's major newspapers, CNN, Fox News and Time Magazine.
Michaud angrily responded to the GOP's press release, calling its accusation an "outright lie" and "dirty, gutter politics." He said, "Today my opponents crossed a line. They said I was responsible for [the] video. . . . That is a lie. And they know it. . . . Today's attack is just the latest in a growing list of ugly and underhanded tactics utilized by my opponents. Enough is enough. . . . It has to end."
The video, in fact, was made by Bangor Daily News blogger Alex Steed's company, Knack Factory, and Steed promptly took the video down after learning that "giving brain" does not mean providing voters with useful information. Steed responded to the GOP's press release, saying, in part, "The press release suggested this was done intentionally, that the video was a collaboration with Michaud, and that the message essentially comes from Michaud himself. None of this is true. Had they reached out to me before releasing it, their press release would not be so littered with errors. . . . We certainly didn't mean to offend Sen. Collins with this line, and to her we sincerely apologize."
Meanwhile, Spose reveled in the attention.
"Buy my shit I got kids to feed!!!" the rapper tweeted in response to #SposeGate.
So, yes, we have officially entered what is known as the "silly season" in the campaign. Mainers who don't fall into the 4 percent of undecided voters can be forgiven for unplugging the TV, radio and Internet for the next six weeks. But for those who still care about hearing the candidates discuss actual issues, the gubernatorial debates are still to come. Whether the governor shows up is an open question.
So Will He or Won't He
On Monday, LePage announced that he will not show up for the first scheduled debate, on October 8, unless Michaud denounces an ad that references a press release the governor sent out in June referring to Social Security as "welfare." Michaud said he will not denounce the ad, which was not produced by his campaign, but by a third-party PAC funded by environmental groups and labor unions. The ad is technically accurate. The following is an excerpt from that June 25 press release in which Gov. LePage refers to Social Security as welfare:
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) claims the other five New England states saw higher personal income growth than Maine, but that growth was driven by an increase in welfare benefits, especially in the form of Medicaid expansion. The BEA conceals welfare benefits by calling them "Personal Current Transfer Receipts."
These "Transfer Receipts" include: Social Security benefits; Medicare payments; Medicaid; and state unemployment insurance benefits.
In addition to counting welfare benefits as personal income, the BEA includes another category called "all other personal current transfer receipts." These are the health insurance premium subsidies paid as tax credits to enrollees of the Obamacare exchanges.
"It doesn't matter what liberals call these payments, it is welfare, pure and simple," said Governor LePage. "Liberals from the White House all the way down to Democratic leadership in Augusta believe that redistribution of wealth - taking money from hard-working taxpayers and giving it to a growing number of welfare recipients - is personal income. It's not. It's just more welfare expansion."
Immediately after that press release went out, Governor LePage responded to press reports about it, saying no, he doesn't believe Social Security is welfare and denying that's what he meant.
This Tuesday, the governor reiterated his ultimatum to Michaud in a press conference at the State House in Augusta: "At my age, at 65, I can choose to do what I want to do and not do," LePage said. "I have the right not to stand on stage with a person who falsifies information, and I choose not to."
Two weeks ago the governor blew off a candidates' forum on energy policy in Portland at the last minute, accusing the organizers of playing politics. The governor also ignored requests by the Maine Municipal Association to make a video interview to answer questions about issues affecting cities and towns. Both Cutler and Michaud met with the organization and answered their questions.
Michaud responded to the governor's refusal to appear, saying that he was just throwing a "temper tantrum" and would get over it.
"I understand, knowing the governor, that he goes off that way, and I think that when he calms down, he'll be there," said Michaud.
Michaud added that he will attend all six debates, starting on October 8 on WMTW, whether LePage shows up or not. This is an about-face from earlier statements Michaud made stating that he will not debate just independent Eliot Cutler if LePage doesn't attend.
At press time on Wednesday, the LePage campaign says the governor still has not made up his mind whether he will attend any debates.
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