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Out gubernatorial candidate leads Maine’s Pride parade

A Democratic candidate who reluctantly came out of the closet last year found himself serving as the grand marshal of Maine’s biggest gay Pride parade and festival Saturday and urged activists to continue fighting to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.

Mike Michaud, who would become the nation’s first openly gay person to be elected governor if he unseats Republican Paul LePage in November, said it would be powerful for the gay community to have a seat at the table in discussions with governors across the country on equality issues.

“Maine has come a long ways and our nation has come a long ways, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said in an interview before he marched alongside a white convertible down the roughly mile-long route in downtown Portland.

Gay rights activists say the six-term congressman’s victory would be a key milestone in their movement toward equality, inspire other gay leaders to pursue public office and send a positive message to the community’s youth.

When Michaud came out publicly last year, he said he didn’t want to focus on his personal life in the three-person race with independent Eliot Cutler.

But his potentially historic candidacy has caught the eye of national groups like the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has bundled $30,000 to $50,000 for his campaign.

During the parade, which drew thousands, Michaud shook hands and took pictures with supporters who chanted “We like Mike” as he walked in front of the “Loud and Proud” marching band.

He followed motorcyclists wearing rainbow wigs and feather boas and the parade’s two other grand marshals — the coordinator at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity and a transgender student who won a discrimination lawsuit after her school refused to let her use the girls’ bathroom.

Aside from fundraising, observers say Michaud’s sexual orientation will likely have other political importance in one of the first states to approve same-sex marriage at the ballot box in 2012.

It could turn away some deeply conservative and religious voters, but they likely wouldn’t have supported the Democrat anyway, said Michael Cuzzi, a former Democratic campaign strategist.

Michaud has come under fire from his political foes for voting against anti-discrimination laws for gays and other pro-equality measures while in the state Legislature. His campaign said his position on the issues has evolved over the years and he’s now strongly pro-equality.

That turnaround and his decision to come out could attract progressives who were not fans of his in earlier elections, said Sandy Maisel, political science professor at Colby College.

Michaud is headlining a group of several openly gay candidates around the country this year, including Heather Mizeur, who’s seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Maryland. Meanwhile, three candidates are trying to become the first openly gay Republicans to be elected to Congress: Dan Innis in New Hampshire, Richard Tisei in Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio in California.

If elected, Michaud wouldn’t be the first gay governor. New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey had already been voted into office when he announced in 2004 that he was gay and admitted to an extramarital affair with a male staffer. He subsequently resigned.

Twenty-nine year-old Amber Hodgkins, who was watching the parade with her dog, said a victory for Michaud could improve Maine’s image nationally as an inclusive community and provide a powerful example to young gay people across the country.

“You don’t have to choose to be out or have a career,” she said. “You can have it all.”

Michaud currently leads by a slim margin in the polls.

Plenty in play: Races to watch in 2014

The irritation voters feel today might be the six-year itch that has plagued many second-term presidents and their political parties. Or maybe it’s an itch to scratch the majority out of the U.S. House.

Early primaries in 2014 may reveal how the high-stakes midterm elections will look. Voters in November will decide majorities in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and 36 governorships, including Wisconsin’s.

A look at key races beyond the Badger State:

For governor

• Arkansas has an open race, with Democrat Mike Beebe leaving office. Democratic Rep. Mike Ross is running and, on the GOP side, the candidates are Rep. Asa Hutchinson, state Rep. Debra Hobbs and businessman Curtis Coleman.

• Florida is preparing for a battle between incumbent Republican Rick Scott, who is widely unpopular but has vast wealth, and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is widely popular but has some baggage. He served as governor when he was a Republican and endorsed right-wing initiatives, including an anti-gay marriage amendment. Crist has since apologized for that.

• Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is expected to face two challengers on Election Day — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who came out as gay in 2013, and independent Eliot Cutler. In 2010, LePage won another three-way race because of a split Democratic vote.

• Pennsylvania has at least eight Democrats —  including state Treasurer Rob McCord, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, businessman Tom Wolf and former state environmental protection official Katie McGinty — lining up to take on Republican Tom Corbett. 

• Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not seeking re-election, which means the state is wide open. And there’s a historic battle shaping up. On the GOP side, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has raised more than $20 million. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national fame with a 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions, has the backing of EMILY’s List. And, for the first time in Texas, two women are at the top of a party ticket. Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is running for lieutenant governor.

For the Senate

Voters will elect 33 U.S. senators on Nov. 4. Democrats currently hold a 55–45 majority, but will be defending 21 seats in the fall. Still, the big story right now is the number of Republican incumbents facing primary challenges from the party’s right wing.

Georgia Republicans are scrambling to run for the Senate seat held by two-termer Saxby Chambliss. At least eight have announced for the primary, including former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who influenced Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Others in the GOP primary include U.S. Reps. Paul Brown, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue. The Democratic candidate will be nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn.

Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, now serving a third term, faces a primary challenge from Milton Wolf, who is attacking Roberts for initially supporting the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary. Roberts has more recently called for Sebelius to resign, but the primary may still be a battle over Obamacare involving two of the program’s opponents.

Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, running for a sixth term, has low approval ratings and faces a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. The winner faces a costly general election race against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term, but before a general election he must face tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.

North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan won her first term when the state went for Barack Obama in 2008. The state went for Mitt Romney in 2012, and now Hagan is seen as vulnerable. On the GOP side, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and the Rev. Mark Harris are running in the primary.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who worked with Democrats to draft comprehensive immigration reform, faces a primary fight in his quest for a third term. He faces state Sen. Lee Bright, businessman Richard Cash and Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college.

Until recently, Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, who is in his third term, faced a primary challenge for his seat from political commentator Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president. Cheney had been showing off her right-wing credentials in a high-profile feud with her out sister Mary over same-sex marriage. In early January, Cheney announced she was giving up the fight, citing family health reasons.

Alaska Republicans are lining up to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Begich, including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, former state natural resources director Dan Sullivan and tea partier Joe Miller.

Democrats in the Hawaii primary include U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, appointed by the governor to succeed the late Daniel Inouye, and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who Inouye had wanted for his successor. The seat is considered safe for Democrats, but Republican Linda Lingle, a former governor, may run.

For the House

Since 1921, the midterm elections in a president’s second term have brought big losses — an average of 29 House seats — for the White House’s party. Voters’ irritation has been dubbed the “six-year itch” and the exception was in Bill Clinton’s second term.

But Democratic optimists stress that the six-year itch may not apply to the current administration, because the White House already had a miserable midterm in the president’s second year in office and polls show voters far more dissatisfied with Congress than Barack Obama.

There are other factors to consider, including the fact that redistricting has created more safe seats for parties and incumbents. In a recent study, “Monopoly Politics 2014,” the non-partisan Fair Vote said it could project the outcome of 373 congressional races because of the crafting of safe districts and a winner-take-all system.

“The outcomes of those 373 races are effectively predetermined, regardless of national partisan tilt in 2014 or the quality of challenger candidates,” said Fair Vote, which has an near perfect accuracy rate for prior elections. “Only in the case of an incumbent retirement, scandal or extreme party wave are any of these projections likely to be incorrect.”

The group projected the election of 210 Republicans and 163 Democrats in 2014. It has not made projections for 62 seats.

Maine’s leading gubernatorial candidate comes out as gay

If successful in his bid to become Maine’s next governor, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud would become the first out candidate ever elected to serve as chief executive of a state.

Michaud came out as gay in a column that he released to three of Maine’s major news outlets this morning.

Michaud said that he acted in response to “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” about his personal life. His goal, he said, was to respond “with a simple, honest answer.”

“For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer,” Michaud wrote to news outlets. “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

“I don’t plan to make my personal life or my opponents’ personal lives an issue in this campaign. We’ve had enough negativity in our politics and too many personal attacks over the last few years. We owe it to the people of Maine to focus on how we get our state back on track.”

Michaud, a six-term Democratic Congressman, has been leading in the three-way gubernatorial race against incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent candidate Eliot Cutler, according to polls.

Rep. Mike Michaud, a Maine candidate for governor, comes out as gay

A six-term congressman and former paper mill worker hoping to unseat Maine Gov. Paul LePage next year announced that he’s gay — a response to what he called a “whisper campaign” by political opponents hoping to weaken his gubernatorial bid.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, 58, wrote in an op-ed provided to The Associated Press, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News that “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” attempted to get voters to question whether he’s gay.

“Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: `Yes I am. But why should it matter?'” he wrote in the op-ed published Monday.

The Democrat’s announcement adds intrigue to a tight three-way race with LePage, the Republican incumbent, and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.

A poll released in October suggested that Michaud is about even with LePage. Cutler, who finished second to LePage in the 2010 election, is touting himself as a better alternative in a state where unenrolled voters comprise the largest voting bloc.

Michaud didn’t identify who he thinks is behind the alleged whisper campaign against him. His campaign has not previously raised the issue.

It’s unknown what impact, if any, Michaud’s disclosure might have in the race. Maine voters approved a gay marriage law a year ago; Michaud supported the measure.

Across the country, gay and lesbian candidates are making strides.

There are currently 538 non-straight candidates in office in the U.S., and those include a U.S. senator and a half-dozen members of the U.S. House, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which aims to increase the number of openly gay leaders at all levels of government. Currently, there are no gay governors.

For his part, Michaud downplayed the significance of his announcement.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation mill worker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine,” Michaud wrote.

Born in Millinocket, he worked in the Great Northern Paper Mill in East Millinocket when he launched his career in the Legislature. In Washington, he has focused on veterans’ issues and considers himself a conservative Democrat, part of the “Blue Dog” caucus.

The son and grandson of mill workers, Michaud said he’s never forgotten where he came from.

“Most of all, I was brought up believing you should judge a person based on the content of his or her character, not by their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. That’s a value I know most Mainers share,” he said.

Michaud said he never liked to talk about himself but wants people “to know that I am not ashamed of who I am.” A spokesman declined to say if he’s in a relationship.

“And if seeing someone from my background, in my position openly acknowledge the fact that he’s gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better,” Michaud wrote.

If elected, he wouldn’t be the first gay governor. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey announced in 2004 that he was gay, making him the first openly gay governor. Nor is Michaud the first gay candidate. In Maryland, an openly gay candidate, Democrat Heather Mizeur, is running for governor.

Candidates for Maine gov. take marriage stands

Five candidates for governor are divided on gay marriage in Maine, where, a year ago, voters rejected a same-sex marriage law adopted by the legislature.

Two of the candidates – Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler – say they support efforts to recognize same-sex marriages.

Republican Paul LePage said, “I support and trust the voters’ decision to keep the current law defining marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman.”

Independent Shawn Moody said he wouldn’t sign a gay marriage law unless it had a provision sending it to voters. Fellow Independent Kevin Scott said he would work with all sides “to propose a law that ensures we are protecting all Maine people equally.”

Maine gov. candidates give views on gay marriage

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The five candidates for governor are divided on gay marriage in Maine, but most are cool to downright icy on casino gambling even as residents prepare to vote on a proposed $165 million casino and resort in the hills of western Maine.

An Associated Press survey of Blaine House contestants also shows sentiment for reducing education costs and making health care revisions despite the overhaul enacted by Congress.

Candidates responding to five questions in a survey by the AP differed most sharply when asked whether they would propose or support a new law recognizing gay marriage a year after voters rejected a same-sex marriage law adopted by the Maine Legislature.

Two of the candidates — Democrat Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler — say they support efforts to recognize same-sex marriages.

“Yes, I will continue to lead on this issue until Maine ends discrimination in our marriage laws,” Mitchell said. “It is a matter of human fairness and constitutional fairness and it is past time for Maine to adopt marriage equality.”

Cutler said he also strongly supports marriage equality “as matter of equal protection under the law.”

“I don’t believe that religion should be making laws for government, or that government should be making laws for religion,” said Cutler.

Republican Paul LePage said he would not propose such a change, saying, “I support and trust the voters’ decision to keep the current law defining marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman.”

Independent Shawn Moody said he wouldn’t sign a gay marriage law unless it had a provision sending it to voters. Fellow independent Kevin Scott said only that he would work with all sides “to propose a law that ensures we are protecting all Maine people equally.”

There was little disagreement on casino gambling. A Nov. 3 referendum asks whether a casino in Oxford County should be allowed. Three previous proposals have been rejected by voters.

Mitchell, Cutler and Moody said flatly they oppose casino gambling. Mitchell called it the wrong way to achieve economic development, while Cutler said it would do nothing to enhance Maine’s quality of life or differentiate Maine from other states. Moody said there are better economic development tools.

LePage, saying gaming expansion “is not high on my radar screen,” said he would support voters’ decision if they endorse it. Scott dodged the Oxford question, but said he’d work with the Legislature to create a casino gambling law that works in Maine’s best interest.

With changes in health care regulation beginning to take effect, candidates were asked whether the state should hold off on its own reforms until the impact of the federal law becomes clear. The gubernatorial candidates’ responses were varied.

LePage, the favored candidate of many tea party activists who loathe the federal changes, said more competition and more health insurance choices are needed before the “disastrous” changes pushed by President Barack Obama take hold. He supports allowing consumers to buy plans available in other New England states to give them more options.

Mitchell said the state should move swiftly to create health insurance exchanges as mandated by the federal law, allowing businesses and individuals to pool together and access lower costs.

Cutler called for “substantive” changes as proposed in his wellness plan but said he believes the federal law offers the state opportunities to be innovative in improving health care.

Moody, like LePage, sees a need for more competition to give consumers more choices. Scott said he would move ahead with innovations despite the Obama law’s changes.

While Maine lawmakers have passed a school consolidation law, efforts to cut public education costs should continue, candidates said. Scott goes so far as to call for a fresh look at the complex issue of school funding itself.

LePage sees a “bloated education bureaucracy” that’s ripe for cuts, and called for more focus on giving teachers and classrooms what they need to succeed. Mitchell said the state and school districts should work together to further cut administrative costs, saying “we need to move money from administrators to students.”

Cutler said that while further efficiencies are needed, “forced consolidation isn’t the answer.” Moody agrees consolidation is not the best route and efficiencies can be found elsewhere.

Three of the candidates — LePage, Cutler and Scott — said they favor charter schools, while Mitchell and Moody say they oppose them. Lawmakers last session rejected a bill to the independently run, public schools, which are allowed in most other states.