2014-12-12 / Maine

Michaud bows out after 3 decades in office confident he ‘made Maine a better place’


MIKE MICHAUD concedes defeat in the governor’s race early on Nov. 5 in Portland. Michaud ends his 12 years in Congress on Jan. 3. 
TROY R. BENNETT / BANGOR DAILY NEWS MIKE MICHAUD concedes defeat in the governor’s race early on Nov. 5 in Portland. Michaud ends his 12 years in Congress on Jan. 3. TROY R. BENNETT / BANGOR DAILY NEWS AUGUSTA

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud capped a 32-year political career Thursday confident that he has “made Maine a better place” and content with the prospect of returning to a quiet life in the Katahdin region.

Michaud, who gave up his seat in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District for a gubernatorial bid that ended last month in defeat, has likely given his last speech on Capitol Hill. Whenever Congress can agree on a continuing resolution on the federal budget — which is likely to be by Friday — he’ll cast his final vote. Michaud’s 12-year congressional tenure ends Jan. 3 when the newly elected Congress, including Rep.- elect Bruce Poliquin, the Republican taking over Michaud’s 2nd Congressional District seat, is sworn in.

Michaud, a Democrat, exposed himself to a barrage of criticism during the gubernatorial campaign that undoubtedly changed the way many Mainers see him. Regardless, he will go down in history as the high school-educated paper mill forklift driver who went to Augusta and then Washington and didn’t lose an election for three decades. He worked with Republican and Democratic presidents and carved out a place as a voice for union members and veterans in a Capitol dominated by lawyers, lobbyists and others more comfortable in expensive suits than work boots.

“I do have a unique background,” Michaud said during a telephone interview with the BDN on Thursday afternoon.

Calling from the coat room of the U. S. House chamber, Michaud said, “I think I’ve been looked at as being a person who was pragmatic, someone who cares deeply about the issues of the state of Maine and someone who is always willing to fight for the working people. I’ve never forgotten my roots as someone who is a blue-collar worker, but serving in Congress has been a highlight in my life.”

Michaud said his first years in Congress exposed the troubling realization that “Maine was being left behind in so many ways,” including on issues such as receiving federal grants and caring for its veterans in rural areas, which are two subjects on which Michaud has focused his time and energy. He also realized that Maine was seen as politically moderate and a place that regularly sent collaborative leaders to Washington.

In his farewell remarks, which will be permanently filed in the Congressional Record, Michaud listed some of Maine’s past congressional luminaries in advocating for more collaboration and bipartisanship in Washington.

“Mainers are known for our tenacity and our willingness to roll up our sleeves and get things done,” Michaud said in his farewell remarks. “We have a proud history of wellrespected lawmakers who have done just that, from Margaret Chase Smith to George Mitchell to Olympia Snowe. I am confident that if Maine’s representatives continue to be guided by a commitment to partnership over partisanship, we can continue to achieve great things.”

But Michaud said that Poliquin faces some serious challenges, not the least of which is serving constituents in the vast 2nd Congressional District and staying above the partisan rancor. As an example of the demands implicit in representing the largest — by acreage — House district east of the Mississippi River, Michaud said he slept in his own bed 23 nights during his first year in Congress and 26 nights in the second.

There are already indications that the Republican party sees Poliquin as an up-and-comer, namely his appointment last month to the prestigious House Finance Committee.

“ I hope Congressmanelect Poliquin will not forget people in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and not get tied up in the political rhetoric that so often happens down here,” Michaud said. “Hopefully, he’ll continue to do what I’ve done since Day One in Congress, get out there in the district. It takes a lot of effort.”

Michaud said he and Poliquin have been in contact more than once since the election to confer about transition issues.

Michaud said Maine’s reputation as moderate is on the downswing, for which he blames Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who beat him by five percentage points in a bitterly contested gubernatorial race this year.

“The governor’s tactics and his demeanor have put Maine in a totally different light,” Michaud said, echoing a central theme of his campaign. “ We’re the laughingstock of the country.”

Michaud, 59, was noncommittal about his plans after Congress, other than he’ll return to the Millinocket area and begin planning a retirement cottage he intends to build in Medway. Other than that, he plans to take some time off to contemplate the future. He isn’t ruling out another run for elected office.

“Right now I’m just going to take some time to think what my next step might be,” he said.

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