Politics

January 3

Leading Maine gay-rights group endorses Michaud in governor’s race

Independent Eliot Cutler objects as EqualityMaine’s political clout goes to his openly gay rival.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, who could become the nation’s first openly gay candidate to be elected governor, has won the backing of EqualityMaine, the state’s leading gay-rights organization.

click image to enlarge

Gubernatorial candidates U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, left, and Eliot Cutler

Michaud took the endorsement over independent Eliot Cutler, whose campaign sharply criticized EqualityMaine’s decision.

In a statement released in advance of Thursday’s scheduled announcement in Portland, Cutler’s campaign said it was politically motivated and ignored Michaud’s early voting record on discrimination and marriage-equality laws.

In November, EqualityMaine’s former director, Betsy Smith, announced that she is backing Cutler. Smith heads a political action committee that is working to get Cutler elected.

Ali Vander Zanden, EqualityMaine’s political director, said in a media statement Thursday that Michaud “will stand up for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Mainers and our rights and will also work to put our state back on track by finding solutions that will benefit all the people of Maine.”

“From making health care more affordable to putting Maine’s students first and growing our economy, Mike is the best candidate to move Maine forward,” she said.

EqualityMaine has led campaigns for marriage equality in Maine. It partners with the Equality Federation, a national group that leads state-based efforts to ensure that same-sex couples can legally marry. The national group has not spent significant money on elections, but it is built on grass-roots activists who could become valuable to Michaud in November.

EqualityMaine has 10,000 volunteers and engaged more than 20,000 donors in its efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine, which voters did in 2012. It has 70,000 members. The group’s communications director, Ian Grady, said it will encourage those supporters to help elect Michaud.

CONTRASTS IN MICHAUD VOTING RECORD

On Thursday, the Cutler campaign condemned the endorsement, saying it is political, not principled. In a prepared statement, the campaign criticized Michaud’s voting record on marriage equality issues, saying the Democrat has not fought for anti-discriminatory measures.

“Eliot Cutler and his family have stood side-by-side with the LGBT community for decades as outspoken advocates and supporters,” said Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for the campaign. “Mike Michaud’s voting record in the Maine Legislature – 19 consecutive votes against equal rights for the LGBT community – speaks for itself. EqualityMaine cannot take away Eliot Cutler’s record on these issues, any more than they can create a new record for Mike Michaud. Once again, another special-interest group has abandoned its principles and denied its members an opportunity to hear from the candidates in a debate or forum and have a voice in their endorsement process.”

In response, Grady said that, from EqualityMaine’s perspective, Michaud has a “flawless” voting record in Congress supporting gay-rights issues.

Project Vote Smart, an organization that polls candidates on issues, asked Michaud in 2004 if marriage should be between a man and a woman. Michaud responded “yes.” He said there should be civil unions for gay couples. In 2004, he voted against a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, and in 2006 he opposed a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

In 2007, Michaud voted against a bill that would have prohibited employers from basing hiring decisions on sexual orientation. Michaud, one of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act’s co-sponsors, said the bill would not have protected transgender people.

Grady said Thursday that EqualityMaine had asked Michaud not to support the bill.

The Human Rights Campaign did not take the same position on the Non-Discrimination Act and docked Michaud for his vote against the measure in its annual congressional report card. Overall, the Human Rights Campaign has given Michaud a lifetime grade of 95.4 percent.

(Continued on page 2)

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