The courage of Mike

Today is a remarkable day for Congressman Mike Michaud, for Maine, and for our country. Today, Mike Michaud committed himself to overcoming one of the next great barriers in American politics by becoming the first out gay man to become Governor of any state in America.

That takes remarkable courage.

I don’t have any real idea how personally difficult this decision was for Mike, but I imagine it was wrenching. Revealing what you have hidden for years because you know people you love might walk away; because your church has called it a mortal sin; because it can put you in danger for your life; and because it could have a negative impact on your dream to become governor. To reveal yourself in the face of all that and more, is my definition of courage.

But why does his courage matter? Well, for example, I run an agency that works with low-income youth who choose to reject their circumstances and get an education. And with immigrants who must start anew in an unknown country, and adults who learn to read for the first time at age 50. Seeing their courage every day inspires me to stand up to those who somehow see poverty and income inequality as the fault of the poor.

I feel the same about Mike’s decision to come out. When someone shows the courage he is showing, in the same way that the students at LearningWorks show theirs, it gives all of us more strength.

To that end, I thank Mike for helping me find a lot more courage today.

But this decision is also politically smart.

Smart because his cards are now on the table. No innuendo or rumor about his sexuality can now harm him. In a campaign that will be this competitive, innuendo and rumor can quickly become narrative. It doesn’t mean a smear campaign won’t happen, but now the issue has been defined by Michaud, and not his opponents.

Smart because polls now show that almost 80% of Maine people believe that passing gay marriage a year ago has had no negative impact on their lives. If 80% now see equal marriage as non-intrusive, I feel confident that close to that percentage will feel the same about voting for a gay Governor. And the 20% that don’t, I expect would never have voted for Mike in the first place.

Smart because the chance for Maine to become the first state in history to elect an out Governor will unite the Democrats in a way we have rarely seen. Mike was already as good a Democratic candidate as one could hope for, but, let’s be honest, he’s not the most exciting on the stump. This creates that excitement.

Smart because of the power of EqualityMaine. I have the honor of serving on their board and while I am not speaking on behalf of the organization, I expect that Michaud coming out becomes a game changer. As an organization dedicated to moving equality forward for LGBT Mainers, I imagine, and again this is just my opinion, there’s a good chance that they will now put their full political weight behind Michaud even though independent candidate Eliot Cutler is excellent on LGBT issues. And from money to ground troops to passion; no one matches the political power of EqualityMaine.

Smart because if Michaud was worried about raising money, those worries are over. From every corner of Maine to every corner of the country, money will now flow in a way he could never duplicate by simply being the Democratic nominee.

All of this is not to say that there won’t be drawbacks to this decision. Of course there will. Homophobia is real in Maine and while the opposition may not be able to be overt in their attacks, they will try to use code to harm Mike. In 1996, when I ran the campaign for Dale McCormick (Maine’s first out woman to run for federal office), the undercurrent was everywhere. Photos of ‘traditional’ families, slogans about ‘protecting’ children, and hate groups distributing flyers in the middle of the night all permeated the campaign. No doubt Mike will confront similar codes about children, about his being “weak” on this and “limp” on that, and for sure the Westboro Baptist Church will show up spouting hate from every pore. (Though I hasten to say that their disgusting presence can in no way be linked to any of the candidates. They are an abomination unto themselves.).

However, because we lost a lot of marriage equality campaigns before we finally won, we have learned a lot about how to counteract these issues. And the most important lesson we learned is not to run away and hide, which Mike has now emphatically put behind us.

Finally, Congressman Michaud, a strong candidate himself, has surrounded himself with some of the smartest minds in Maine politics. Matt McTighe, David Farmer, Lizzy Reinholt, Rick Redmond and his longtime chief of staff Peter Chandler, know how to win.

If it can be done this year, and I am more and more convinced it can, Mike Michaud and his team will make it happen.