Election year has begun. Mainers will elect a governor in November. A number of candidates have made their intentions clear but not much is happening by way of campaigning yet. Just you wait.
However the election shakes out, Maine will not be electing a new governor, but rather an old one. Top contenders are incumbent governor Janet Mills; her archrival is her predecessor, Governor Paul LePage. They are the presumptive front-runners, but each will have a primary if the candidates currently listed as “active” (mainecampaignfinance.com) remain in the race.
Governor Mills has two Democratic rivals, Kenneth Capron and John Glowa. Former Governor LePage also has two, Michael Heath and Martin Vachon. Rounding out the current field of eight are Green Independent Michael Barden and Libertarian Harrison Kemp.
Other than Mills and LePage, the group is short on name recognition, with one exception. That is Michael Heath, former executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine. His campaign website is headed: “You Know Him. You Trust Him.” Fair enough on the first part, but the second?
His bio is long on family history but refers to his tenure at the CCL only as leading “a statewide public policy group for over two decades.” He was a gubernatorial candidate in 2010, announcing one day and dropping out the next. This time he says he’s in it to win it.
Heath, in a 2016 effort, sought to make homosexuality a crime. “There is conduct that ought to be punished,” said Health, and called homosexuality “a behavior that belongs in the closet…” A group with which he was affiliated worked toward eliminating the term “sexual orientation” from the Maine Human Rights Act. They were not successful.
His campaign rhetoric is not that to which we are accustomed, calling his intention to unseat Governor Mills a “political exorcism” and referring to her as “Jezebel Janet,” possibly a new moniker for this no-nonsense, plain-speaking governor. That’s just the beginning. His comments on Paul LePage, the Legislature and his plans for the State House do not bear repeating. Suffice it to say that, in Heath’s case, name recognition may not be the path to victory.
A second indicator of viability for a candidate is, of course, money. The short story in these early days is that Governor Mills has raised a bunch (almost $600,000), Michael Heath has raised $2,718, and the rest of the candidates are reporting none.
The Hill, a Washington, D.C., news outlet whose beat is the federal government, has designated Governor Mills “one of the seven most vulnerable governors facing re-election in 2022.” Whether or not this assessment of her vulnerability proves accurate, there is one thing sure. It will generate a tidal wave of campaign spending the likes of which have not been seen before in Maine.
Paul LePage will not stay at zero for long, and Mills’ current kitty is a drop in the bucket compared to where it will go from here. Maine is not a wealthy state. This leads to the following esoteric question for political pundits: Why?
Breathes there a human of voting age in Maine who is not familiar – nay, intimately familiar – with Janet Mills and Paul LePage? Is there anyone in our great state who would list himself or herself as undecided? What would persuade a voter to decamp to the other side?
So what, then, is the value of spending buckets of money on these campaigns? Yet we will be driven to distraction by ads that feature her fiscal irresponsibility, his meanness, her handling of the pandemic, his public outbursts, her stance on social issues, his stance on social issues. Who will be moved by this debate?
Short answer: No one. And yet our inboxes will be loaded with messages about fundraising goals, how close they are, how if only you would send $5, $10, $15, $20, $25 by midnight, all will be well.
A gubernatorial candidate in 2018 promised to give any contribution made to her campaign to local nonprofits that supported low-income people. Imagine what the money for these gubernatorial campaigns could do to help Mainers with weatherization, fuel, food. Campaigns are something of a jobs program for Maine, supporting small businesses that produce printed materials, buttons and ads. But if you scratch the thin covering over Vacationland and get a look at the poverty that lies underneath, there is so much more we could do.
Here’s a challenge. Would you vote for the candidate who promises to give their campaign funds to a social need in our state? Who doesn’t know the two front-runners? Who hasn’t made up their minds? Who needs to be persuaded? If they raise that much money, they should give it away if they want your vote.
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.