LEWISTON — In a bombshell announcement Monday, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, a candidate for governor, announced he's gay.
Michaud told the Sun Journal in a phone interview Monday he had relationships with women in the past, but announced he was gay because "other people were trying to make this an issue . . ."
Michaud said he wasn't currently involved in a relationship.
Michaud is running for governor against incumbent Republican Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler.
Michaud said he wanted to end any speculation or rumors about his sexual orientation.
"I figured I would just give an honest direct answer and let people know, yes I am gay, so we can move forward and focus on the issues affecting Maine," Michaud said.
He said the news didn't change who he was as a candidate for governor or who he is as a person interested in serving the people of the state.
"Nothing has changed as far as who I am," Michaud said. "I'm going to continue to fight for issues that are important for the people here in the state of Maine; (the announcement) is not politically motivated one way or another."
Michaud, home on a weeklong break from Congress, said Sunday and Monday were the only two days he had free and "now is the time for me to address it."
He also said it was unclear how the news would reverberate with voters, especially those in the more conservative portions of the 2nd Congressional District.
"It's hard to speculate and I'm not going to speculate what this is going to do as far as the election," Michaud said. "All I do know is it became clear to me that other people were trying to make this an issue."
Michaud did not elaborate on who those other people were but said he had not previously disclosed his sexual orientation, despite running in numerous campaigns, including six successful bids for Congress.
He said simply the matter had not come up in the past.
In a letter penned exclusively for the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Press Herald and the Associated Press, Michaud wrote that a whisper campaign and rumors, some on talk radio, led him to the disclosure.
Michaud's campaign staff later said they felt it was important that voters hear the news first in Michaud's own words but would not say why the Sun Journal had been excluded from the release.
When asked why Sun Journal readers in western Maine were not afforded the same courtesy, Michaud said, "I don't want to get into that" and offered to speak to the newspaper's executive editor about the decision.
The decision to go public was a difficult one and one he knew would affect his family and friends, but most have "been extremely supportive," Michaud said.
"The fact that the people who supported me in my race for governor came out and said they are very glad they did, now more than ever," Michaud said.
Meanwhile, former opponents and statewide political observers were left speculating over the timing of Michaud's announcement.
Some also congratulated him on his courage but said they didn't believe the move would be that useful in terms of garnering votes in some quarters of Maine.
"I wonder why he announced it now and I wonder why he announced it, frankly, at all," said Jason Levesque, an Auburn Republican who challenged Michaud for his U.S. House seat in 2010.
Levesque also said he recalled meeting a woman on the campaign trail in 2010 that Michaud was introducing as his "girlfriend," although he couldn't recall her name.
Michaud later confirmed he was on the campaign trail with a woman.
"I've had relationships with women in the past," Michaud said. "But, as I've mentioned earlier, my personal life is my personal life and I'm not going to get involved in that regard."
Levesque also said the announcement that Michaud is gay could diminish his popularity in the 2nd Congressional District, where all but one of the district's 10 counties voted against the 2012 same-sex marriage referendum.
While approved by overwhelming margins in Maine's most populous counties, York and Cumberland, voters in the state's most rural counties largely rejected the initiative that made gay marriage legal.
"Honestly, I think it hurts him in the 2nd District," Levesque said.
Levesque said he didn't think people would question Michaud's sexual orientation so much as they would question why he waited so long to tell people about it.
"I do not believe that it will be him being gay that's the issue," Levesque said. "I believe it will be that he hid it for so long that's the issue. It's not his homosexuality — it's why did he hide it for so long? That's an important distinction. People will cross the line and say, 'Oh, you are not going to vote for him because he's gay? You're homophobic.' I don't think that's a question, I don't think that's an issue."
Levesque said what people will start to question is Michaud's honesty.
"What else has he said that isn't true — or is a bending of the truth?" he asked.
Still, Levesque said since the 2010 campaign, he had been able to work with Michaud on several issues that were important to the call center industry in Maine and credited Michaud with being an advocate for entrepreneurs and small business in Washington.
Levesque said he was also impressed with Michaud's bravery in announcing his sexual orientation.
"I'll never fault the man for not having guts and courage," Levesque said. "He left a seat that was basically his until death in the U.S. House to run for a non-open seat for governor and then he announces this two months later — yeah, he's got some guts."
Michaud has easily carried Lewiston and Androscoggin County in his last few runs for Congress. In 2008, he won the city with 12,361 votes while his Republican challenger John Frary of Farmington garnered 3,711 votes.
In 2010, Michaud won 7,033 votes and his Republican challenger, Levesque, picked up 4,775 votes.
Last year, Michaud won Lewiston with 10,562 votes while his Republican challenger and former state Senate President Kevin Raye won just 4,877 votes.
Meanwhile, Lewiston voters rejected the same-sex marriage proposal with 8,396 voting against it and 7,482 supporting the measure.
Michaud said his sexual orientation was never made an issue in any of his previous campaigns.
"There are some who would actually try to make it an issue and that's why I figured I would address it now," Michaud said.