AUBURN — A trio of Republicans, including one sitting state representative and two who served with Democrat Mike Michaud in the Legislature in the 1990s, said Friday that Michaud has misrepresented his legislative work on the state budget.
Michaud is the Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. Paul LePage. Also in the race is independent Eliot Cutler.
Joe Bruno, a former state representative from Raymond, said he served with Michaud when he was Senate chairman of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing Appropriations Committee and, contrary to his claims of bipartisanship, Michaud forced through a budget that was supported only by Democrats in 1997.
Bruno said the move created a partisan divisiveness in Augusta that lingers today. “That majority budget that was passed in 1997 ruined the tenor. From there on in, that session was totally ruined and it will always be a black mark in the state of Maine,” Bruno said. “That same confrontational politics continues to this day.”
Rick Bennett, Maine GOP chairman, also served with Michaud in the 1990s and said the narrative that Michaud and his campaign have crafted about their candidate being a bipartisan deal-maker isn’t true.
Bennett, who shared the presidency of the state Senate with Michaud when the Senate was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, confirmed Bruno’s statements.
Bennett said the debate was over repealing a series of tax cuts that were passed in the previous lawmaking session, and Republicans were resistant to that.
“So the Democrats, with then-Gov. Angus King’s enablement, passed the first majority budget in anyone’s recollection of history,” Bennett said. He said the move led to a special session and thousands of dollars of taxpayer expenses, not to mention the loss of the original tax cuts.
“But what was really lost, and it reverberates to this day, was the sense of bipartisan harmony in the construction of the budget and a sensible, inclusive process for state budgeting,” Bennett said.
He said crafting the state’s two-year budget, which takes place during the first year of the two-year lawmaking session, is the Legislature’s top priority and how it gets done is key to setting the tone for all subsequent legislative debate.
“It’s the driver of the entire legislative process, and what they did that year, people just need to remember this as people go into the ballot booths on Tuesday,” Bennett said.
He noted that King has since said allowing that budget to go forward was one of the independent governor’s biggest regrets. Bennett said rolling back the tax breaks set Maine’s economy up for long-term problems that continue to resonate today.
But Lizzy Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud’s campaign, said Republicans were making a desperate last-minute attack in an attempt to tear Michaud down before Election Day.
She noted that Bennett has previously praised Michaud for his legislative work, including his work on state budgets.
“We are four days out and they are going to try and throw everything they have at us in an effort to mislead voters and try to put Mike in a negative light,” Reinholt said. “We’ve seen it throughout the entire campaign and they just continue to get more and more desperate, and it’s a shame. Voters deserve better.”
Reinholt said Michaud, while in Lewiston recently, was endorsed by several high-profile Republicans, including Anthony Principi, a former secretary of the Veterans Administration and an appointee of Republican presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
During that same stop, former U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Indiana, said he worked with Michaud on the Veterans Affairs Committee in Congress and touted Michaud’s ability to study the facts and put aside partisan rhetoric in crafting solutions for veterans and their families.
Reinholt said Michaud has “a proud record of working across the aisle in a bipartisan fashion and has been praised by both Democrats and Republicans for his work.”