In his opening remarks to the MFPC Board June 5, Congressman Mike Michaud emphasized his determination to bring stability back to Maine government and his “proven track record” at working with Democrats, Republicans and Independents. But he began by answering a question he said he is often asked: “Why are you going to give up a safe seat in Congress to come back to run for governor?”
“A lot of people think it’s because Congress is dysfunctional, which it is, but I really do love my job, what I’m doing in Washington,” Michaud said. “It was a very difficult decision for me to come back and decided to run for governor. But I love the state of Maine more . . . I’m very concerned with where we’re heading as a state under the current leadership of this governor.”
Below are excerpts from Congressman Michaud’s priorities and views on issues during the hour long meeting, which included a Q&A period. The excerpts have been edited for length, continuity and clarity.
Budget stability: As governor what I want to do is . . . hold the state budget below what the actual revenues are, set it aside, (so) that when there’s a downturn in the economy you’re going to fold that back into the budget so it helps smooth out the problems, so you don’t have to raise taxes or cut programs dramatically to smooth it out. Unlike the rainy day fund, that money is for one-time expenditures, such as road infrastructure . . . That will bring budget stability back to the state government, but also the county government and local government. It will help businesses as well, whether it’s the BETR program or other programs that are out there.
Working across the aisle: I’m the only candidate running for governor that actually has a proven track record of being able to work across the aisle. This governor clearly doesn’t have it. The independent says he wants to do it. But I’m the only one that actually does have that proven track record . . . That’s what’s missing today, both in Augusta and in Washington. And that’s something we need to get back . . . So I intend to reach out to Republicans and Independents and Democrats to really work together, focusing on the issues.
Utilize federal options from health care to trade agreements: When you look at the experience at the federal level over the last 12 years, there are a lot of opportunities. Maine is a very poor state but we can tap into some of the federal programs that actually would help Maine’s overall budget. And on Day 1, I intend to introduce legislation to expand access to health care for the 70,000 Mainers . . . By expanding access to 70,000 Mainers that need that health care it actually will save Maine over $600 million over a 10-year time frame. Hospitals will receive an additional $348 million over that same time frame. The reason why you save that money is because the enhanced reimbursement rate under the Affordable Care Act. By covering those 70,000 Mainers it actually will help hold down the cost of health care. Utilizing what we have at the federal level will definitely help the state’s overall budget and hold down the costs.
Capitalize on Maine’s advantages: We have three ports here in the State of Maine – Portland, Searsport and Eastport. Eastport is the deepest port on the East Coast that doesn’t have to be dredged. So there’s a lot of opportunity to actually have Maine shipping products into the state and out of the state . . . The problem with Eastport is that in Washington County you need that rail and what I’ve proposed is that the state build that rail system for two reasons. You can utilize the Maine Army National Guard as a training project to build it, so you get the free labor, free equipment. One thing that can’t use their money for is materials, but you’ve got other federal dollars you can utilize for that.
Infrastructure needs: When you look at what’s happening in the mills and other businesses, natural gas, the problem is right now we’re at the end of the pipeline. We definitely need more gas. I’ve already talked to Gov. Patrick in Massachusetts. I know the governors came up with an agreement for more gas into Maine, but what I believe we really need is a two-pipeline solution for that gas . . . And one way to do that is through bonding . . . We have to put a 10-year plan in place for all our infrastructure. It’s more than just rail and ports, it’s our highway system and our broadband system. So I’m committed and I actually have a 10-year plan for bonding $100 million a year, so that brings that stability to the process.
Forestry and other natural-resource based industries: I think all too often when you look at what’s happening in the Legislature because of Health and Human services, the natural resource-based departments usually take the short end of the stick . . . So I’ve always been a strong supporter of our natural resource-based industry and departments to make sure they have the resources to be able to address the problems that they’re currently facing and the problems that will be coming down the road . . . Spruce budworm is coming back and we definitely have to get ahead of it and part of that is to educate the public.”
Landowner relations: “We’ll definitely be restoring the landowner relations in the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which as you know has been cut. We definitely would be restoring a strong connection between landowner relationships and state government.
Taxes: We have to have a government that works and before we deal with the revenue side you have to make sure that we have the responsible, efficient, effective government we need . . . And there are different ways of doing things to actually hold down the costs and really make government more efficient and effective. In doing so as governor, I’m definitely going to pick the best and the brightest in the new administration, to really focus on how we can do things differently, how we can improve the economy here in the state of Maine and do it in a way that’s collaborative.
Establish Office of Inspector General to focus on Health and Human Services: Utilize the folks that are already within the departments of Health and Human Services, audit and the attorney general to focus on waste, fraud and abuse, not only within those individuals who are getting those benefits but also the waste, fraud and abuse that’s occurring in mismanagement from the department itself, which are millions of dollars that are being wasted because of mismanagement.
Mining Act and regulations: “I’d have to look at it first and I haven’t had a chance to look at it. So it would be premature for me to say. I feel strongly whether you look at environmental regulations or any other regulations that we make it easy and it’s understandable and we’re actually able to implement it. I’m concerned about the long drawn-out process whether it’s the permitting process – I like the permit by rule type of process . . . But I do believe that we have to have balance . . . between jobs and the economy and environmental.
Workers comp: I’m interested in moving forward. I know a lot of people think we’re going to go back to the old days. I’m not interested in going back to the old days. Whether or not the workers comp system is working today or whether there are ways we could improve on it, I’m interested in improving on the workers comp system, if there are ways that it could be improved. So as far as rolling back to where it was before, the answer is no.
Merged Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Department: I probably would have done it differently because I think any time you merge more and more departments together, you lose focus. And when you look at our natural resource-based industries, we definitely have to have that focus. So I’m not going in there on Day one and say, “All right we’re going to split in back up.” I’d be interested in seeing how it’s been working and in other ways that we can do it a little bit differently. But that’s where I’d actually be interested in focusing on where – from you folks – where it needs improvement on.
Ways to help Maine’s forest products industry: I think stability, Number one. When you look at whether it’s the tree growth tax, or property tax and you look at the stability, and that’s why I focused upfront, all the stuff I talked about on the budget, how to bring stability to the budgetary process. And when you look at promoting forestry and what we have, I did pick up the book here (Maine’s Forest Economy) but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so if you have any suggestions in here. But I think some of the big problems that we’re going to be facing in the forestry area will be the spruce budworm again and how do we get ahead of the game as it relates to that. When you look at workforce training and development, how can we make sure we have a workforce that’s available out there to work in the forests
Energy: It’s my goal to reduce the dependency on home heating oil by 50 percent by the year 2030. And the way to do that is through green energy, whether it’s offshore wind, whether it’s solar power, whether it’s tidal power. Biomass, geothermal, which we haven’t even begun to tap into. When you look at also weatherization and conservation programs. I was talking with someone actually a couple of years ago, when you look at insulation, rather than fiberglass insulation, they actually were using wood and the pulping machine that actually makes the energy, the R factor actually was higher than the fiberglass.
Arming forest rangers: I know there was a study done on that . . . I haven’t had a chance to look at that study. I’ve asked for the study to look at where we might go in that regard. I know it’s a controversial issue, but that’s something I’ll definitely be looking at. I don’t have a position as of today.
National park: I’ve been opposed to that all along. I think you have to have an independent analysis of whether that will benefit the region to move forward. And I know that’s always been a huge issue and there are a lot of people who are adamantly opposed to it and in support of it. Nothing is going to happen in this Congress. And the reason I say that is Congresswoman (Chellie) Pingree and I have a bill in about 13 islands off the coast of Maine being managed as a wildlife refuge. The chamber of commerce, businesses, everyone supports it and we can’t get it through Congress. So if you can’t get a bill through Congress that everyone supports, you’re definitely not going to get one through that there’s a lot of local opposition to. But having said that, I do know that Lucas St. Clair has been doing a lot of work to try to get the regions to get behind it and he’s actually had been able to get some support from local folks. I know he’s continued to try to do that because that’s going to have to be the first step – to get local buy-in.
Peter Triandafillou, Huber Resources: Mike, I appreciate your long-time support of our industry, but moving to a broader perspective under your administration what initiatives do you plan to undertake to improve Maine’s overall economy and attract new businesses here?
Michaud: Actually if you look at small businesses, and small businesses are the backbone of Maine’s economy, if Maine was to grow at just the national average that’s 31,000 jobs here in the state of Maine. And how do you do that? Well, several things. One is I will definitely be looking at the regulatory process and seeing where we can smooth out the problems there. But also create an office of – a Maine Domestic Trade Office. One of the problems I see within small businesses is they don’t have the resources to be able to market their products or find ways of doing things. With a Maine Domestic Trade Office, you’ll be able to do that . . .
Another strength Maine has is we do have the oldest population in the country per capita, but we also have the youngest population per capita in the nation as far as farmers. There’s no reason why Maine cannot be the food basket for New England . . .
I think the paper industry is still going to be a big component of Maine’s jobs and the economy. As governor, I’ll sit down with all the CEOs of all the paper companies and actually put forth a plan. Listen to what they have to say about what the problems are, why they’re not investing in the state of Maine and try to get them to invest more here. With a governor who understands the industry and is willing to sit down with the industry, hopefully we’ll be able to get some of that capital investment from the companies we already have here in Maine.
Ron Lovaglio, forestry consultant: Mike, first I’d like to say thank you for your leadership over many years on truck weights. That really has been a big help. Secondly, it’s always easy to contrast yourself with the other party’s governor. But my question would be, how would your administration differ from Gov. Baldacci’s administration?
Michaud: They would differ tremendously. Because I’m the type of individual who does think out side the box. And with my experience, not only in the Maine Legislature on Appropriations, I’ve been president of the Senate and now a member of Congress. I want a Maine I can be proud of and as governor, I don’t plan to be running for any more offices. Quite frankly, this is going to be it.
So I want to position Maine not only for the next five, 10, 15 years, but 20 and 30 years down the road. To think long-term, have that vision long-term, of how to reform Maine. And in order to do that, I want to bring people into my administration that can think outside the box, that’s creative, finding creative ways of doing things .
Jim Robbins, Robbins Lumber: What do you think about power from Quebec hydro?
Michaud: Actually I think the biggest mistake that the Public Utility Commission ever made was to deny that access a number of years ago when Hydro Quebec was actually willing to come down here to the State of Maine. At that point in time I made it clear that that was a biggest mistake to deny Hydro Quebec from coming down here. But I think what we have to look at when we look at energy, yes hydro Quebec, if we can get it from Canada, a friendly company. But I’d just soon be as energy independent as possible here. But in order to get there we have to have something in the interim, whether it’s natural gas or hydro Quebec or other opportunities.
Steve Schley: You mentioned Katahdin being your home base, as you look at the economic situation there now, what direction would you head in as governor? What would your leadership be for that region to improve the situation there?
Michaud: Energy is one, because that’s an issue. But also to think outside the box. And when you look at the needs at the federal government level, all the data mills that are going to be needed, particularly with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. That they’re actually in the process of looking at increasing the capacity for that computer system. And when you look at where a lot of those data mills are located, they’re along the riverbanks. And when you look at where the mills are in Maine, they’re on the rivers.
So I think there’s an opportunity there to actually try to get some of the data mills here in Maine, whether it’s in the Katahdin region or not. Number one.
Another area that I mentioned is weatherization. There’s a lot of opportunities here, particularly using pulp for the insulation. What they need is a pulp mill and a lot of them are shut down here in Maine. So that’s another opportunity as it relates to that.
Infrastructure – we need broadband. A lot of the new types of businesses, they need that infrastructure that’s available and we don’t have it throughout the state of Maine. That probably will require some regulation changes, as far as the last mile is concerned, but we have to build that infrastructure out. It’s going to require new investments.
Joel Swanton, Forestry Resource Association: Mike one of our challenges is having access to a qualified labor work force, both in the woods and in the mills. Our population is shrinking and we’re all getting older. What would your administration be able to do to work with the forest products industry to ensure we have access to good qualified workers, particularly in some of the more remote areas of the state?
Michaud: Well, first of all I’d restore the governor’s training initiative funding, which was eliminated. And the reason why I’d want to restore that, because if you look at other federal training dollars, usually you have to go through a specific program. The governor’s training initiative is flexible so you’re able actually to utilize those funds for what you need to utilize them for.
One of the problems I see is people think that manufacturing is dying, is going out, and this starts back in the schools because when students go to the guidance counselor they want to send them off to the university, but manufacturing is – there’s nothing wrong with manufacturing. I think we actually have to promote manufacturing as a state and say, “Yes there are good jobs and actually talk about the good jobs that are out there.”
I think we could have a better coordination among higher ed whether it’s the community college or the university to actually get them focused on what’s the job skill set needs that are out there. To have them focus on that and also to get them to think –I know the community college is doing some of this now – is to think outside the box and have their programs extend during summertime as well as different hours so people can actually be retooled and retrained for different jobs that are out there.
But to get that workforce, actually this dovetails, because as I deal with issues quite often I hear about waste, fraud and abuse in the system, is to have a better coordination between the department of Labor, Health and Human Services, as far as those who are getting unemployment benefits or getting state assistance. And pairing those individuals up to the jobs that are available out there. And get them trained so they can take those jobs that are out there.
Roberta Scruggs, MFPC: Where are you in the election?
This race is a two-way race, between Gov. LePage and myself. I feel really good about where we’re at in this election.
If you look at this election compared to last time, I know Eliot(Cutler) thinks that he came close last time around and he can do it this time around. There’s no pathway to victory for Eliot to win this race.
Here’s why. If you look at what happened the last time around, that November there were five candidates – all five were pretty much unknown. Going into the November election there was a huge uncertainty because a lot of the candidates were unknown. And three weeks before the election, a poll came out that showed Libby Mitchell was tanking.
There was a huge shift among Democrat and independent voters to vote for Eliot. Not because they really believed in him, but because they didn’t want the Republican candidate to win. So he did come close.
This time around that’s not going to happen. If you look at the three of us, we’re all pretty much known entities. Eliot has the least name recognition, but he still has 85 percent. So he’s a known entity. So the uncertainty is very very small.
The second big difference is the Democratic candidate last time around never had a base. I’ve got a very strong base in the 2nd Congressional District, which is harder for a Democrat to win. I won last time around by 15-16 percent. So I start off with a very strong base.
The second big difference is at the end of that Democratic primary, when there were five candidates in that race, there were still a lot of hard feelings and they were not able to bring together before November. I’m unopposed, so I don’t have to worry about being able to bring people together.
The other big difference is we’re getting endorsed by a lot of the traditional endorsements that Democrats get, but also we’re getting endorsements that Democrats don’t traditionally get. We’ve already got the firefighters. The police, the Maine state troopers’ endorsement. So I feel really good where we’re at.