Capitol Notebook: Moody swerves to the right

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For a Democrat driving through rural Maine, last week was discouraging.

Moody for Governor signs lined the roadside, one of the many signals that the newly minted Republican and auto body shop entrepreneur could be tough to beat in November.

And if he wins, it’s because his politics have swerved from the moderate ideas he promoted when he ran for governor as an independent in 2010. Instead, he has adopted the extreme conservatism of Gov. Paul LePage, whose two terms of bellicose obstruction have thwarted Maine progress. LePage’s daughter, Lauren, is Moody’s campaign spokeswoman and responds for the candidate when reporters call him for a comment. Other LePage veterans are involved in the Moody campaign.

When Moody ran for governor in 2010, he said he was running because LePage was from the “perimeter of the party.” How things change. Old differences fade away as Republicans unify in their quest to keep the Blaine House. In 2010, Moody was “neither a liberal or a conservative,” adding that “the party’s over.” Now he is a “lifelong conservative” on his campaign website.

Moody now vows to follow the LePage line, and questions the expansion of Medicaid, which voters approved last year and which the governor stalled, in defiance of a court order. Last winter he said “proponents of Medicaid expansion even after all of this time, still have not shown how Maine can pay for it. Maine should focus on ensuring services are provided to those truly vulnerable Mainers, and not providing taxpayer-funded benefits to able-bodied, non-disabled adults.”

And he is now eager to restrict abortion rights, although in 2010 he described it as a matter of personal choice. In February, he said, “As someone who is personally pro-life, we are all living under Roe v. Wade as federal law. Governors can, however, make important decisions which fall under state law. … I will support efforts requiring that both the risks and alternatives be fully explained prior to any procedure. I support requiring 24-hour waiting periods, and very importantly requiring parents or a legal guardian be notified before minor children receive an abortion.”

So if a 17-year-old is faced with that awful decision, Moody says the government will play a role.

Asked why he’s running in a lengthy interview with Matt Gagnon of the rightist Maine Heritage Policy Center, Moody criticized the state referendum process, which he said had been hijacked by out-of-state interests seeking to set policy in the state. But he supported an initiative effort that successfully overturned a tax reform plan, seeing that process as an important check on the Legislature. He also is skeptical of Clean Elections funding for candidates.

Maine’s business leaders, construction industry and most car dealers have opened their wallets for Moody’s campaign. His campaign finance reports are a list of Maine’s business leaders in the construction industry, and the sand and gravel crowd.

The press has generally fawned over Moody, where the typical headline is “Moody used his hands to lift himself out of poverty,” or “Shawn Moody eyes gubernatorial race with quiet civility.”

If the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Janet Mills, is to succeed in November, the party will have to unify with a strong message about health care and expansion of economic opportunity, and connect with voters in the rural 2nd Congressional District. If Moody wins that district by a decent margin, and stays even in the southern and coastal 1st District, he wins. The quixotic vanity campaigns of the two independent candidates, Alan Caron and Terry Hayes, who have no chance of winning, will likely hurt Mills’ chances.

If Moody wins, it’s because he exploits the current fashion of denigrating those who have experience in public office, by tarring them with the “career politician” brush. It is a fashion that throws experience out the door, and helped bring us the current disaster in the White House.

Politicians run the gamut, from the good to the bad. We need good people stepping up for political office, and the best news leading up to the November election is that we are already seeing new faces, many of them women, step up and run for public office.

In the famous words of a politician, U.S. Sen. John McCain, “A fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed.” The Republicans have shown how much they enjoy fighting, and they’re good at it. Democrats, without resorting to the personal meanness that has characterized LePage, will need to fight hard to win this one.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.