Fun and games on the campaign trail

Remember last week’s exhortation to frequent York County’s shops, motels and restaurants? Never mind. The enthusiasm for our distant neighbors to the south was caused by the determination of the Greater York County Chamber of Commerce to hold a gubernatorial debate on Aug. 27 “no matter what.”

This just might have pressured the party candidates to leave their echo chambers and come out into the daylight to debate their positions and policies head to head. Sadly, the chamber of commerce caved, to who or what, one can only speculate.

According to their Aug. 19 press release, the chamber had been asked by its members “to host this debate in order to provide a venue for all three candidates to debate…prior to early voting.” Republican Governor Paul LePage refused due to a schedule conflict, whereupon Democrat Congressman Mike Michaud developed a schedule conflict, too. But if the governor ended up attending, so would he…

Independent Eliot Cutler was a “yes” from the get-go, but without all three candidates, “we do not have a debate,” said the chamber. So much for their earlier profile in courage. Stop in Portland or go on to Portsmouth, but spend not thy money in York County.

Still frustrated by the lack of debates prior to the time when voters begin casting early ballots, the Cutler campaign got a lift from U.S. Senator Angus King, I-Maine, who endorsed Eliot Cutler for governor. Both parties did their level best to turn the announcement into a big ho hum. Of course Sen. King would endorse a fellow independent. Never mind that he also endorsed Republican Susan Collins for her U.S. Senate race.

The King endorsement particularly stung the Michaud campaign because the two men are congressional colleagues. Republicans were quick to claim it as an indictment of Mr. Michaud’s record – or lack thereof – in Washington.

Democrats said that the endorsement was too late, and also that it was too early.

Republicans said voting for Mr. Cutler was a fine idea, presuming it would take votes from Mike Michaud. But they also said that it was a terrible idea, because Mr. Cutler is a reasonable facsimile of Mr. Michaud.

Needless to say, the third of the three bears, Eliot Cutler, declared the endorsement just right. Support from one of the few politicians who has managed to win statewide races with more than 50 percent of the vote was a happy turn of events.

One pundit said Sen. King should have been more specific about his reasons for not supporting Rep. Michaud. Given Senator King’s clear statement that of the three, Eliot Cutler would make the best governor, further elaboration would not seem necessary. No one asked the senator to detail his failure to support Gov. LePage.

Sen. King’s support gives cover to others who have been shy about making known their gubernatorial preference for Mr. Cutler. The King rationale is essentially to forget all the calculating, triangulating and strategizing about the race. Just vote for the candidate you think would make the best governor. For Sen. King, that’s Eliot Cutler.

That was not the only good news received by Team Cutler last week. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that the fundraising advantage for party candidates does indeed create a playing field that is not level. Supporters of the independent candidate may now increase their contributions to a total of $3,000.

Party candidates can raise $1,500 for their primary election and another $1,500 for the general election, no matter that this year neither party candidate faced opposition in the primaries. Independents are restricted to $1,500 total. Judge D. Brock Hornby gave the plaintiffs the immediate right to “exercise their First Amendment rights equally with other contributors…” and make additional donations even though they had hit the previous $1,500 ceiling.

The Michaud campaign made the laughable claim that the ruling means party candidates may now raise an additional $1,500, too. Nice try, fellas, but where’s the logic in that?

Even if party candidates have a primary challenge, it does not justify the opportunity for them to raise twice the funds. It would be easy enough for the party itself to put up a straw challenger, reopening the door to fundraising above what an independent is permitted.

Further, the candidate exposure, name recognition and campaign supplies amassed in the primary election serve party candidates in the general election, too. It is still an unfair advantage.

The lawyer for the petitioners in this month’s ruling has said they will go on to pursue a statutory change that equalizes fundraising opportunities for all candidates in future elections.

Let’s see. A statutory change means the legislature will have to approve it. In other words, the parties will have to vote to abolish their fundraising advantage. Ha.

Labor Day is almost here, and campaigns are about to put the pedal to the metal. The candidates have been keeping their powder dry-ish until now, but that is about to change. Here it comes. The race is widely considered a toss up, but between you and me, it is just as likely to be a throw up.


Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.