Editorial: Mud season arrives 

Low blows are nothing new in politics. Mudslinging just might be as American as apple pie. A national pastime bent on winning voters via shock and scorn – or at the very least sticking it to the other guy to the delight of the already converted. 

As a daily deluge of political angst chases us across digital platforms, it’s tempting to harken back to the imagined good ol’ days. Surely our forefathers debated the issues civilly in the town square or on the pages of their local newspaper. Think again. 

“The presidential election of 1800 was an angry, dirty, crisis-ridden contest that seemed to threaten the nation’s very survival,” Yale history professor Joanne B. Freeman writes of the race between Federalist John Adams and Republican Thomas Jefferson that resulted in a tie between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. “Monarchist” and “howling atheist” were among the insults hurled. 

In 1828, critics called Andrew Jackson a murderer, his wife an adulteress and his mother a prostitute. Come 1884, Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland was described as a “lecherous beast.” At his opponent, Dems chanted: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.” 

While not so damning as being called a “moral leper” (another Cleveland insult), Governor Janet Mills was accused of having a radical agenda in the first televised ad campaign in the state’s governor’s race. The one-minute, $94,000 ad takes aim at an educational video made by a teacher as part of a series about freedom-related holidays. The lesson was one of hundreds on a variety of topics made available during the pandemic for optional use with remote learners. It explains in simple terms for a young audience what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. On being transgender, the teacher states that some people grow up to realize that the doctor made a mistake when they were born, and they are really a different gender. The video was subsequently removed from the Department of Education website. Mills’ spokesperson said the Governor was previously unaware of the lesson but understood concerns about age appropriateness. 

The ad put the so-called “culture wars” front and center in what is sure to be a bitterly contested, heavily bankrolled gubernatorial race. In early May, the Democratic Governors Association announced a $5 million television ad buy. Before that, the Maine Republican Party announced nearly $4 million in TV advertising bookings. The Mills campaign has raised $2.7 million and former Governor Paul LePage has raised $1.3 million. This could become the most expensive governor’s race in state history. And all for two players Maine voters already know well.  

Two hundred-plus years of history and common sense tell us that negative campaigning is here to stay. Vast amounts of political spending mean the noise is only getting louder. The goal too often is to trigger a quick, emotional response rather than a useful discussion.  

Maine voters would do well to focus on the issues that have real impact on their own lives and on the health and well-being of their communities and the state as a whole. There are plenty. Among them, skyrocketing fuel prices, other inflation, the affordable housing crunch, health care access and affordability, child care availability, educational setbacks during the pandemic and how best to grow economic opportunities. With both the current governor and a former one in the running, no one has to guess at what they will be getting in a governor. Just look at their track records. Hit mute on messaging funded by out-of-state interests.  

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