Sunday, December 8, 2013
Political analysts were hard at work Monday calculating the impact of gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud’s surprise announcement about his sexual orientation. In a column that ran simultaneously in the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and other Maine newspapers, the six-term congressman bluntly answered people who have been asking secretly if he is gay.
“Yes, I am,” Michaud wrote. “But why should it matter?”
The pundits will crunch numbers and break down the electorate, looking for gains and losses among demographic categories, trying to predict what this news will do to fundraising or how it might affect the results of the 2014 election.
Before they finish their work, however, the rest of us can marvel at the fact that the experts have to do any work to answer this question at all. Thirty years ago, when Michaud started his political career, this would have been an easy one — we would be writing his political epitaph, no polls needed.
The fact that Michaud chose this path tells us more about where we have come as a society than it does about the candidate. After many years of legislative action and referendum campaigns on civil rights and same-sex marriage, Maine voters have shown a willingness to look past the alarmist rhetoric. Electing an openly gay governor next year would not be a turning point in our history as much as a mile-marker along a well-worn road.
Today, Michaud remains the front runner in a tough three-way race, one of two contenders trying to unseat the governor. There is no indication that Michaud was forced to make this announcement and, given the state of professional campaigns today, the decision was certainly subject to intense political vetting. Within the Michaud campaign it was determined that the candidate had more to gain by announcing his sexual orientation on his own terms than he did by hoping his private life would stay private. Like every move by every candidate, this was a calculated risk.
It should not change the substance of the campaign, however. We don’t expect Michaud to run as a symbol for the equal rights movement or to make his sexual orientation a central point of his platform. Instead, we hope that this announcement will defuse a potential distraction and the race will develop as a three-way contest to determine who has the best plan to grow Maine’s economy and increase access to education, health care and jobs for people who have been struggling to keep up in a rapidly changing world.
That’s the kind of campaign we expect Michaud to run, and that is the kind of campaign we will expect of his opponents and their allies.
We will leave it to the numbers-crunchers to tell us whether this was a good political move. In the meantime, we thank Michaud for respecting the electorate enough to believe that we can handle this news like adults, and look forward to a substantive campaign on the issues that matter to Mainers most.