A special state Senate election Tuesday between a liberal and a conservative is being seen by some as a referendum on the popularity of Paul LePage’s policies.
It was not.
Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth hammered Republican businessman Louis Maietta Jr. by a 2-to-1 ratio for a seat in the state Senate representing South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth.
The vacancy was created by the resignation of Sen. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland, who is moving out of state.
Dill is a civil rights lawyer and was portrayed by Republicans as a liberal elitist. They described Maietta, meanwhile, as a Republican moderate with business experience.
While Dill’s victory was decisive, and while LePage’s popularity has definitely slipped during his first four months in office, this election says little about the mood of Maine’s voters.
The real reason for Maietta’s poor showing was voter suspicion that he has handled his own financial affairs poorly and has not paid his taxes.
In fact, he never should have been a candidate in the first place.
A Maine Public Broadcasting report found Maietta was facing property tax liens totaling $14,400 on three properties and that his family’s construction business was in bankruptcy.
Maietta also has two judgments against him for more than $770,000 for misusing money belonging to a 96-year-old woman.
What’s more, when he was contacted for comment shortly before the election, he was on the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos for his daughter’s destination wedding.
Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster argued, rather remarkably, that none of that should matter.
“Who’s somebody sleeping with or where they moved here from or how much debt they have or if they owe money to somebody — those things are not significant,” Webster told MPBN.
Maietta showed a similar blindness to how his financial problems would affect voters.
“Up until I throw my name into the race to go up and serve the people of Maine, nobody cared about what went on in my life three years ago, two years ago, 10 years ago,” he told MPBN.
Which is exactly the point, isn’t it?
Not many people cared until he became a candidate for office.
Mainers may be forgiving people, but we also pride ourselves on paying our bills and keeping our financial houses in order.
We do realize that people make mistakes and that business decisions can go wrong for a variety of reasons. The construction business has been particularly hard-hit in recent years and many companies have gone under.
We even admire people who get knocked down, get back up and start over again.
But we’re guessing a majority of Mainers probably think Maietta should have cleared up his obligations before seeking a low-paying job in Augusta.
A similar problem hurt the 2006 gubernatorial candidacy of Chandler Woodcock.
Woodcock’s campaign unraveled shortly before the election when it was reported that 10 tax and sewer liens had been placed on his Farmington home in nine years.
But Woodcock’s debts were minor compared to Maietta’s.
The only lesson that can be drawn from Maietta’s defeat is obvious: Get your own house in order before running for the State House.