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Cutler a Spoiler?

Recently at Portland Stage Company I was approached by an usher who had noticed that I was wearing an Eliot Cutler button.  She wanted Mr. Cutler to specify a date when he would leave the race – so that he wouldn’t be a spoiler.  I have other Democratic friends who advance versions of this argument.  Mike Michaud and his team use the “spoiler” argument as a mainstay of their campaign.  In fact, relatively little is said of what qualities Michaud would bring to the Blaine House.  The buzz is all about:  “We can’t have another four years of Lepage.  If Cutler takes away Democratic votes, it will propel another Lepage win.” So beats the Democratic drum.

In truth the Cutler camp could argue that Michaud is the candidate who may be the spoiler, just as Libby Mitchell (with early voting by Democrats) was the “spoiler” in 2010.  Back then Cutler, who was polling in the 10% range in mid-October, came within a whisker of defeating Lepage with Mitchell a distant third.

Of course the Cutler campaign is not making the spoiler argument because it is a bogus argument.  Maine’s electorate is about evenly split between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents (or unenrolled).  Why wouldn’t the state have candidates representing these three constituencies?  Indeed, that has been the case several times before in Maine politics – most recently in the Senate and Gubernatorial races of Angus King.  In King’s first race for governor in 1994 he was pitted against Democrat and former Governor, Joe Brennan and Republican Susan Collins.  King narrowly won that race 36% to Brennan’s 34% with Collins a distant third.  I recall no serious comment about King being a “spoiler” by either party.

We in Maine should welcome the most qualified candidates whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent. Eliot Cutler is indeed a qualified candidate. Arguably, he is the most qualified candidate in the race. He has experience in government as a staffer to Senator Ed Muskie and in the Office of Management and Budget. He has been an accomplished lawyer and entrepreneur. He is a leader who has demonstrated that he can work collaboratively and effectively to get results. He has shown, in the 2010 race, that he is a viable candidate. In fact, most pundits agree that Cutler would have won that race if the outsized group of early voters had waited a week or two.

The recent mill closings in Bucksport and Millinocket highlight the struggles of the Maine economy. Paul Lepage has amply demonstrated that he doesn’t have the answers. Mike Michaud talks about a plan, but he can’t say how he would fund it. Mike’s rhetoric and approach is reminiscent of that of John Baldacci, Governor for the eight years prior to Lepage. The Maine economy will not survive another four or eight years of a Baldacci-like approach. We Mainers should be thinking first and foremost about which candidate would be best for the job. Cutler has proposed an approach to the economy focusing on significant property tax relief, tax restructuring, and building the Maine brand that combines good ideas with a practical pay as you go approach.

 Do not cast your vote out of fear.  Cast your vote for the Governor who stands the best chance of leading us out of the scenario of plant closings, tepid educational progress, and promises without much to back them up. Last week Bill Nemitz criticized Eliot in the Press Herald as “being the smartest guy in the room”. Amen to that. With Maine’s issues we need a smart guy in charge. Nemitz thinks Cutler is arrogant. Critics said that about FDR and he got us out of the Depression. Would you rather have a smart guy with a touch of arrogance, an ideologue with a chip on his shoulder, or a nice guy without much of the kind of experience we need.

For me, the choice is clear:  Eliot Cutler is the candidate with the best ideas and the most experience at translating ideas to action.  If you doubt my word, take a look at any one of the recent candidate debates.  There is only one adult up on the stage, and Maine desperately needs an adult in the Blaine House.