AUBURN — It was bad enough that they Photoshopped his head onto someone else’s body, but what really bugs him — besides the fact that they misspelled his first name — is the claim that he’s against women having mammograms and he opposes access to birth control.
The mailed political postcard, known as a “mailer,” is one of dozens filling mailboxes these days. But the claims just aren’t true, said Eric Brakey, a first-time Republican candidate running for the District 20 seat in the Maine Senate.
Brakey is challenging incumbent state Sen. John Cleveland, a Democrat and former Auburn mayor.
The district includes the city of Auburn and the towns of Minot, Poland, Mechanic Falls and part of New Gloucester. The seat is one of a handful up for grabs that will determine which party controls the state Senate.
The mailers, which claim Brakey is against birth control and mammograms for women, were not authorized by Cleveland and not approved by him. They were sent by the Maine Democratic Party. The postcards are part of more than $30,000 the party’s political action committee has shelled out to keep Cleveland in the state Senate.
The Maine Democratic Party is standing by the mailer’s message, saying Brakey once chaired the Defense of Liberty Political Action Committee and the PAC was opposed to the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Because the ACA requires insurers to cover reproductive health care for women, including birth control, and the Defense of Liberty PAC was in opposition to the ACA, Brakey is therefore against birth control and mammograms, the Democratic Party reasoned.
But Brakey said the mailer, including its misspellings and bad photo manipulations, is flat-out wrong.
“Of course it’s politics, but saying someone opposes mammograms, I don’t know anyone who opposes mammograms,” he said. “It’s kind of like saying someone supports breast cancer. It’s a little frustrating, especially when we all have people in our lives who have been affected by breast cancer.”
As to access to birth control, Brakey said, it’s an issue for the federal government. His preference wouldn’t be to limit birth control but to make it more accessible by allowing for the sale of Federal Drug Administration-approved birth control medications over the counter.
He said a proposal that is supported by a number of Republicans in Washington and based on the recommendations of the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians would make birth control pills available that way.
“That’s one way we could have a market-based approach to birth control and make it more affordable for women,” Brakey said.
Right to choose?
Brakey declined to say whether he would support allowing women who may become eligible under any expansion of Medicaid in Maine to have access to reproductive health services, including abortions. It’s an issue that’s set conservative Republicans and most Democrats in Augusta at sharp odds.
Brakey’s opponent, Cleveland, said he supports expanding Medicaid under ACA and that all services currently offered under Medicaid should continue to be offered to anyone eligible for coverage in an expansion scenario.
“I support decisions being made about a woman’s reproductive health to be made by her and her physician based on what’s best for the woman’s health,” Cleveland said. “I think that’s a decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor in consultation with her family if she wishes to do that.”
Experience in region
Cleveland said the difference between himself and Brakey on health care — Cleveland supports an expansion of Medicaid while Brakey opposes it — is only one of many between the two candidates.
Cleveland said his experience as a city councilor, mayor and state lawmaker sets him apart from his opponent, as well. He is a lifelong resident of Auburn and a business owner in the city for 25 years.
“Having been born and raised in this community and having lived here my entire life gives me great depth of knowledge about the community,” Cleveland said. “So my entire sense of experience … all helps to inform my decisions that I make for my constituents. That whole area of experience is quite different from my opponent.”
Cleveland added, “I think this is an important election. There are going to be some very large challenges before us in regard to the state budget, energy and health care. Those things are going to require some experience, some knowledge and an understanding of how the process works to get legislation passed to become law. That’s not something you know how to do in the first two years of your Senate service.”
Brakey recently moved to Auburn from New Gloucester, where he became a Maine resident three years ago. Brakey’s immediate family, which has roots in New Gloucester, lived in Ohio, where Brakey grew up, went to high school and college, before spending time in New York City pursuing an acting career. He moved to Maine in 2011.
Some of Brakey’s acting work in New York featured the candidate dancing in a Brazilian Speedo in an advertisement for VitaCoco, a coconut water drink. The video drew media attention to the conservative’s state Senate campaign in August 2013.
A direct mail piece that Brakey’s campaign has sent to voters, including a questionnaire, touts his family’s “eight generations” in Maine.
Brakey said his mother and father both grew up in New Gloucester but left the state to find work. While growing up in Ohio, he said, his family spent summers in Maine. His father, Michael Brakey, is an alumnus of the University of Maine’s School of Engineering; a profile of him on the university’s website notes his long career in Ohio. The site also mentions “a back office in New Gloucester.”
Active in Community Little Theatre and the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn Clubhouse, as well as his church, Brakey said he moved to Auburn from his parents’ New Gloucester home to be closer to the activities and organizations he has been involved with, and not because Auburn was the largest city in the Senate district.
“It was just more convenient all around for me,” Brakey said.
Maine’s high energy costs
Brakey and Cleveland have conflicting views on reforming Maine’s energy policies. Cleveland is serving as Senate co-chairman of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. He’s been largely credited with brokering a deal around a large energy bill that eventually passed the Legislature and was passed into law over a Gov. Paul LePage veto.
Among other things, the bill expanded funds for energy-efficiency programs, including renewable sources, and it also lays the groundwork for an expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the state, a key component for lowering Maine’s high electricity costs, according to most energy experts.
While Cleveland opposes a move proposed by LePage to remove a 100-megawatt cap in the state’s renewable portfolio standard as it applies to hydro power, Brakey supports that change.
Cleveland said dropping the cap would damage a host of emerging renewable energy technologies that benefit from it, including solar, tidal, biomass and wind power.
LePage has argued that removing the cap would pave the way for low-cost hydropower from Quebec, but Cleveland and others in opposition have said Quebec hasn’t shown any interest in selling to Maine’s energy market.
He also said if the Quebec hydropower generators were to sell into Maine they would first need a transmission line and would likely sell their power at the market rate, meaning Maine would not get any cheaper power than it has now.
While Maine produces more electricity than it consumes, prices remain high because the going rate for certain kinds of energy, especially renewable, is in demand in other New England states that have policies requiring certain percentages of their electricity to come from renewable sources.
“It’s a commodity that we sell, like lobsters,” Cleveland said. “We don’t just sell lobsters in Maine, we sell lobsters to people around the world who want to buy them. It’s the same thing with electricity.”
Brakey said lobbyists in Augusta, not citizens, are ultimately crafting the state’s energy policy.
“I’ve testified in front of the Energy Committee on several occasions and it’s frustrating to see that committee, more than most any other committee, is when you go in any day, you see it’s packed with paid lobbyists and everybody asking for a handout,” Brakey said.
Cleveland said crafting good energy policy is complex work and there are many misconceptions about what is and is not driving Maine’s high energy costs.
Even if the regulatory policies were in place to allow an expansion of natural gas inflow to Maine, it would take a minimum of two to three years to permit and build that pipeline infrastructure.
LePage confirmed recently that he agrees it would take a minimum of two years to build up the natural gas pipeline infrastructure that’s needed in Maine and New England to lower electricity prices substantially.
LePage has also said Maine’s high energy prices have been a major challenge to recruiting companies with good-paying jobs to the state.