What was Cutler thinking with shrill response to EqualityMaine endorsement?

Phil: Well, our friends at EqualityMaine certainly created a stir last week when they endorsed U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud for governor. Eliot Cutler was quite displeased.

Ethan: Yeah. I’m surprised about the reaction, honestly. As I wrote in a blog this week, Michaud has been nearly perfect on LGBT issues for 15 years. While Cutler has been great on marriage for the past four years, it pales in comparison to Mike’s 15. It’s really a no-brainer that Michaud would get the endorsement, in my opinion (disclosure: I serve on the EqualityMaine board).

Phil: I read your piece. First of all, nicely done. Second, I was pretty surprised by what you found. I served with Michaud, and, honestly, he was not that good on LGBT issues. In fact, he voted against them every time. I, at first, could have been labeled a homophobic Republican. Little did the LGBT crowd realize that I would ultimately be voting for their rights — so much so that the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, which later became EqualityMaine, endorsed me in my re-election.

Ethan: Exactly the point. You changed, and change matters. And so did Michaud. But, importantly, Michaud didn’t actually vote against LGBT issues every time as a state legislator. After 1997, he never again took a bad vote. In fact, from that point forward, he voted in favor of or cosponsored virtually every bill that fought for LGBT equality. That amounts to more than 40 times at the state and federal level.

Phil: Quite a change of heart, I must say. Any idea why?

Ethan: None. But remember, you also served back in the dark ages when most legislators were bad on these issues. Even you, an outspoken champion of marriage equality today, voted for the bill that codified marriage as between a man and a woman. Thankfully, people like you and Michaud changed for the better. And once Michaud changed, he simply never looked back.

Phil: Instead of rehashing those dark ages, let’s look to the present. Regardless of how one feels about Michaud’s record, Cutler’s reaction has been a bit shrill. One minute he thinks EqualityMaine is the pinnacle of greatness in its fight for equality, the next he says the group is “unprincipled” for not giving him its support.

Ethan: The first rule of politics is, “If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.” But, yeah, he is definitely coming across a lot less statesmanlike than he did in 2010.

Phil: That said, I do understand why he is upset. He certainly gave a lot of money to the cause of legalizing marriage equality and worked hard for three years to help make it happen. And didn’t EqualityMaine endorse him in 2010? What a slap in the face.

Ethan: Actually, that’s another piece of misinformation floating around. EqualityMaine endorsed Libby Mitchell in 2010 due to all the work she did as Senate president shepherding marriage equality through the Legislature (not to mention her long record of support for the LGBT community). At the end of the race, when it was becoming clearer that LePage might win due to a split in the vote, EqualityMaine sent an email encouraging people to “please vote for the pro-marriage candidate who you believe has the best chance of beating LePage.” Not an endorsement of Cutler per se, but an acknowledgement that both he and Mitchell were good on marriage equality.

Phil: If that’s the case, perhaps a better response from Cutler might have been, “I am disappointed. I believe I have been more committed to these issues than Michaud for a longer period of time. But EqualityMaine is a great organization and I respect its decision. Thankfully, many EqualityMaine members are supporting me, and I will work to earn the support of the rest.”

Ethan: And he should have ended that statement by making a $10,000 contribution toward their educational work with youth. It would have proved he wasn’t petty and ingratiated him with supporters of the organization.

Phil: Much smarter. The course he is on now isn’t going to ingratiate him with anyone. I could understand his attacking Michaud’s record and saying why he feels he is better. But attacking the organization to which he gave tens of thousands of dollars? It makes it look like he just gave money to buy the group’s vote. He should have simply taken the high road.

Ethan: I think you are right. Plus, the more he complains about it, the more people hear that EqualityMaine endorsed Michaud and why. I think there have now been at least three columns in the Bangor Daily News on this subject (this column being the fourth) and countless news articles and blogs. Only one would have occurred had Cutler not gone on the attack.

Phil: So true. A lesson many politicians fail to learn.

Ethan: By the way, isn’t there another candidate in the race? Anybody heard from him lately?

Phil: You mean Gov. LePage? He’s just focused on his job. He’s taking positive steps toward a better economy while the debate rages on about which candidate is more deserving of a special interest group endorsement.

Ethan: I will say, all this squabbling is only helping LePage. Another good reason for the Cutler camp to move on.

Phil: Maybe LePage has hit his stride when it comes to avoiding unnecessary media?

Ethan: Always remember, one of my “Bolder predictions for Maine politics in 2014” was: “Phil Harriman will come into the WCSH 6/WLBZ 2 studios at least twice saying ‘I have to defend LePage for saying what?’” The campaign year has just begun, my friend.

Note: While Ethan is on the board of EqualityMaine and chairs the committee that makes recommendations on endorsements, nothing here is written in his capacity as a board member or on behalf of the organization.