LEWISTON — Maine Democrats and the campaign of Mike Michaud are becoming increasingly agitated over a series of attacks being made by their Republican rivals in the race for governor.

Michaud, Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Congressman, is the Democrat in the the three-way race. He faces Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

On Wednesday, Lizzy Reinholt, Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman, said a new flier paid for by the Maine Republican Party and being sent by mail to voters is attacking Michaud for a bill he sponsored as a member of the state Senate in 2002.

The law, which passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support and was signed by independent then-Gov. Angus King, allowed the Great Northern Paper Co. in East Millinocket to sell its hydroelectric power facilities.  

The mailer states since the bill passed into law 12 years ago the paper maker has laid of 212 workers. But Democrats said Republicans supported the bill as well because it protected jobs at the time and there’s no direct correlation to the legislation and the loss of jobs. 

According to Legislative records, the bill passed with unanimous support in the state Senate and was approved by the House on a vote of 118-13. That vote included only two Republicans voting against the measure while 11 Democrats did.

The law change, according to reports at the time, was meant to help keep the company solvent and prevent job losses. 

But according to the mailer being sent by the GOP, the bill accelerated the mill’s financial woes and led to the elimination of jobs.

A release from Michaud’s campaign lamented the Maine GOP’s “contempt for the facts.”

The campaign also noted that Maine GOP Chairman Rick Bennett also supported the bill and shared the Senate presidency with Michaud in 2002 in an agreement the two had worked out when the Senate was split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

“I’ve seen my share of misguided and misleading attacks in my years in politics, but I’ve never seen anything like a state party attacking someone for a bill that was supported by their own chairman and passed under his leadership,” Michaud’s campaign manager, Matt McTighe, said in a prepared statement.“It’s outrageous to see the Maine GOP trying to capitalize off of hundreds of Mainers losing their jobs with a misleading attack against a Mike, who worked along side many of those workers on the mill floor for 29 years. “

McTighe also challenged Bennett to stand up and set the record straight, “by denouncing this negative mailer immediately and apologizing for the false claims of his party.”

Reinholt also said the bill did not lead to the loss of jobs but helped preserve many jobs for a longer period of time.

David Sorensen, a spokesman for the Maine GOP, dismissed the complaint, saying lawmakers often offer support for a bill based on the recommendation of a senator or representative from the region the bill impacts.

He said Republican lawmakers likely supported the bill based on Michaud’s urging. Michaud is from East Millinocket and worked at the mill.

“Lots of votes in the legislature are unanimous because lawmakers defer to the expertise of committees and members like Michaud who represent the area affected,” Sorensen said. “Chairman Bennett and others gave Michaud the benefit of the doubt but it turns out Michaud was wrong. He needs to be held accountable for the bill he sponsored.”

Sorensen said this year the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, repealed the 2002 law change at the urging of the mills, and LePage signed the repeal into law.

A request to speak to Bennett about the vote in 2002 was not immediately returned.

But Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said the Maine GOP was deploying a “shoot first, aim later campaign of false attacks against Mike Michaud.”

He said the tactics came as no surprise to Democrats after four years of “negativity and divisiveness from Paul LePage.”

“Chairman Bennett and his party should be held accountable for their deliberate effort to mislead the public and voters,” Grant said in a prepared statement.

Brent Littlefield, a consultant to the LePage re-election campaign, declined comment, saying the campaign is not allowed to coordinate activities with the party’s political action committee.

He said he was aware of the mailers only through the grapevine and that LePage’s campaign did not have any input on their content and was not involved in their distribution.

Also weighing in on the GOP mail campaign Wednesday was Maine AFL-CIO President Don Berry.

Berry defended Michaud’s record on working to protect mill workers’ jobs and called the GOP mailer a “new low.”

“These lies show how desperate and scared the Republicans are in this election,” Berry said in a prepared statement. “Mike Michaud has been fighting tirelessly for good jobs in Maine his entire life and he will continue to do so when elected governor. He stands up for hard-working Mainers and he stays rooted in where he comes from every single day.”

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