AUGUSTA, Maine — A governor’s race endorsement for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud by the group that successfully pushed for same-sex marriage in Maine drew a swift rebuke Thursday from independent Eliot Cutler, who pointed out inconsistencies in the congressman’s record when it comes to supporting gay rights during his time in the state Legislature.
EqualityMaine’s announcement that it’s backing Michaud, a Democrat who would become the first openly gay person to be elected governor in the U.S., sparked an early tussle between the two candidates vying to unseat Republican Gov. Paul LePage in November.
Cutler’s campaign called the endorsement a “partisan political decision” and accused Michaud of trying to reinvent his image to cover up the fact that he voted against equal rights for gays and lesbians 19 times while in the Maine Legislature, including measures aimed at prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment.
Michaud contends his position on gay-rights issues have evolved over the years, pointing to the Democrat’s “nearly perfect” record on equality issues since entering Congress in 2003, including his co-sponsorship of a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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“He’s a strong pro-equality candidate who has been a leader on these issues in Congress,” said Lizzie Reinholt, a spokeswoman for Michaud, who announced in November that he’s gay to clear up any questions after what he descried as “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls.” ”It’s clear that Cutler is trying to make this an issue by only giving voters some of the facts.”
Crystal Canney, a spokeswoman for Cutler’s campaign, said it hopes to prevent the “reinvention of Mike Michaud” on issues where his past voting record stands in contrast to where he stands now.
Michaud’s record since joining Congress hasn’t been perfect, Canney said. In 2006, Mi chaud said he supported a Maine law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, but voted against a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage because he believes that issue should be left to the states.
Meanwhile, during the 2010 campaign, Eliot said he opposed sending the same-sex marriage question to Maine voters, calling it “a matter of equal protection under the law,” not a subject for referendum. Maine voters approved the measure in 2012.
“EqualityMaine cannot take away Eliot Cutler’s record on these issues, any more than they can create a new record for Mike Michaud,” Canney said.
Brent Littlefield, political adviser for LePage’s re-election campaign, said the governor is focused on creating jobs and making all Mainers more prosperous.
EqualityMaine said it’s confident that Michaud would best stand up for issues that are important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community while boosting the economy, providing a ffordable health care to residents and helping Maine students succeed, said Ali Vander Zanden, the organization’s political director.
“In 2012, Maine made history when we won the nation’s first proactive marriage initiative,” Vander Zanden said. “Now it’s time to come together and make history again by electing Mike Michaud as our state’s next governor and the first openly gay governor in America.”
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