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The Universal Notebook: The progressive dilemma

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: The progressive dilemma

Anything can happen between now and November, but as a lifelong Democrat I 1) would vote for my elderly cat before I would vote to re-elect Republican Gov. Paul LePage, 2) want to vote for the Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, but 3) may well end up voting again for Independent Eliot Cutler.

Why? Because Mike Michaud’s record on gay rights, reproductive rights and gun control are going to make it hard for me to support him.

OK, I get it, Michaud is a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind of conservative Democrat you have to be to get elected in Maine’s 2nd District. With his positions on gay rights, reproductive freedom and gun control, he could never have been elected to Congress from the 1st District. Now that he has to appeal to those of us who live in the 1st District, his views seem to have “evolved,” which gives me just as much pause as his past anti-gay rights, anti-abortion and anti-gun control votes.

Michaud got a lot of good publicity back in November by coming out as a gay man. Some said it took courage for him to declare his sexual orientation. I didn’t think so.

It would have taken courage for him to come out as a gay man when he was in the state Legislature, or when he first ran for Congress. But not in 2013, not in a state that legalized gay marriage by popular vote.

When Michaud came out, I also had to wonder how a gay man could have opposed gay rights all these years.

Michaud repeatedly voted against gay rights when he was in the state Legislature and as recently as 2007 voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Some gay rights activists take Michaud at his word that he opposed ENDA because it did not cover transgendered individuals, but since it was a gay man with real political courage, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who had the transgendered removed from the legislation in order to get it passed, I got the uncomfortable feeling that Michaud was having it both ways. He could tell conservatives back home that he opposed ENDA and he could tell progressives that he opposed it because it wasn’t inclusive enough.

The progressive dilemma when it comes to the 2014 gubernatorial race became clear just a couple of week’s after Michaud came out as a gay man when Betsy Smith, former EqualityMaine executive director and one of the state’s leading gay rights advocates, came out for Cutler.

“Rarely do I support a candidate who is not a Democrat,” Smith wrote in a Bangor Dailey News op-ed piece. “But this time around, not only are my core values of equality and choice most closely aligned with Cutler’s – a lifetime of being pro-equality and pro-choice – but his leadership strategies of building coalitions among all political affiliations are an extension of the work I’ve been doing for the last two decades and are critical for moving Maine forward.”

The fact that EqualityMaine last week endorsed Michaud just strikes me as an expedient, knee-jerk move. Michaud has never lost an election, but he has also never been a champion of gay rights.

I also wish Michaud could say he has a lifetime of being pro-equality and pro-choice, but he can’t. He was pro-life before he was pro-choice.

Michaud’s record on reproductive freedom is as inconsistent as his record on equal rights. Back in 1999, he earned a 100 percent rating from the Maine Right to Life Committee; in 2012, he earned a 100 percent rating from National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice America. That’s quite an evolution. But I’m not sure whether it indicates someone who is a public opinion leader or a public opinion follower.

Michaud has a record on education, environmental and labor issues I can support, but I am also troubled by his anti-gun control record. I noted in this column a couple of weeks ago that Michaud opposed gun registration in Washington, D.C., and voted to prohibit victims of gun violence from suing irresponsible gun sellers and manufacturers.

More recently, Michaud failed to co-sponsor a bill calling for universal background checks, a measure supported by the other three members of the Maine congressional delegation. When pressed, Michaud insisted he would have supported it had it came up for a vote, but since there was no chance that Speaker of the House John Boehner would allow such a vote, there was no point in sponsoring a bill that was dead on arrival.

Unless, of course, you want to take a principled stand.

And I guess that’s what bothers me most about the prospect of voting for Mike Michaud: his positions on social issues often seem dictated more by convenience than conviction. He’s going to have to convince me between now and November that he believes in something more than getting elected.