Congressman Mike Michaud: His passion to help people how and how he will help create jobs

Congressman Michaud celebrates with a union leader, and Governor John Baldacci, after he and the Congressional Delegation helped defeat the BRAC Commission in Portsmouth. Photo by R.du Houx

Exclusive Interview by Ramona du Houx

Back in 2005 the Federal Government’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission announced that there would be closures of military bases across the country. Maine was targeted at three major facilities: Kittery-Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) and Defense Finance and Accounting Services Center (DFAS) in Limestone.

The State’s Congressional Delegation swung into action along with Gov. John Baldacci, and the communities effected. Press conferences and meetings were held at each threatened facility, sometimes one a day at each location, and Congressman Mike Michaud was at the majority of them, (above photo by Ramona du Houx) from promoting the attributes of workers in Limestone to rallying shipyard employees in Portsmouth. He fought for the workers and their communities in Portsmouth and BNAS in Maine and D.C., even though those bases were not in his congressional district.

After ten years of reporting on the Congressman’s activities, I’ve learned that there is nothing more important to him that making sure the people of Maine are treated fairly and have good paying jobs with healthcare benefits.

Recently we talked about his economic development plans for Maine.

Q:  What is your highest priority?

A:  My biggest priority is building a Maine economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest among us. That starts with job creation, but it also means an intense focus on education, starting with early childhood, and continuing through college; it means a higher minimum wage and expanded access to health care for nearly 70,000 Mainers, and 3,000 veterans; and it means empowering business to grow and expand.

Under Gov. LePage and his failed policies, Maine has lagged behind the rest of New England in private-sector job growth. His “open for business” policy is nothing but rhetoric. He’s actually driven hundreds of millions of dollars of private-sector investment out of the state.

Q:  What do you see a minimum wage being for Maine?

A: Working families are long over due for a raise. I support moving the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Absent a new federal minimum wage, I would propose an incremental approach of increasing the minimum wage in Maine from $7.50 today to $9 over three years. 

Michaud’s first job was at the Great Northern Paper Mill in his hometown of East Millinocket and he proudly displays his lunch box he carried to work, on his Congressional office desk. A tradition he said he would continue in Augusta if elected as governor.

He left the mill because Great Northern was polluting the Penobscot River with sludge, and he felt he had to stop it, so he ran for the state Legislature, won, and passed legislation to clean up the river.

Once Michaud sees an issue he feels in his soul he has to do something about he doesn’t stop until he does. Such was the case with New Balance Shoes. The company, with two locations is Maine, is still celebrating the announcement that declared shoes for the military will no longer be outsourced to foreign counties. Because of Michaud’s actions there is a large possibility military orders will now come to New Balance.

Q:  You asked the President about the issue when he came to Bar Harbor on vacation, you even gave the President a pair of New Balance shoes. You kept at this issue, for years. And your strategies apparently worked. Why were you so passionate about this issue?

Congressman Mike Michaud on a visit to New Balance in Skhowegan, Maine. He helped change the law so that shoes for American military personal must be made in the U.S.A.

 A:  First, our men and women in uniform deserve the very best equipment from head to toe and that means quality footwear. The federal government must do more to protect and encourage U.S. manufacturing. Jobs are at stake. Our middle class is at stake.

Our country has made terrible mistakes with some of the trade deals that have allowed jobs to be shipped over seas while hard working men and women are left behind. That’s not right, and I will do everything I can to protect and grow jobs in Maine and make sure that our policies are working for Maine people and not some multi-national corporation looking to make a quick dollar by exploiting lax labor and environmental protections in other parts of the world.

Michaud is known for working with all political parties to make sure work that helps his constituents is accomplished. As President of the State Senate he made sure that laws were passed that improved the lives and livelihoods of Mainers. Some healthcare laws he helped author and pass were used as a models for legislation in Washington, D.C.

In Congress, he continues to fight for the people of his state.

When President Obama’s affordable healthcare legislation was first introduced, Michaud voted against it because that version of the bill wasn’t fair for Maine. “We weren’t being treated equally to other states,” said Michaud at that time. Michaud insisted for better reimbursements under Medicaid and Obama agreed. Now, the Congressman is fully supportive of the Affordable Care Act.

Q:  Over and over again your tenacity has brought success to Maine. How do you think this quality will help you as governor?

A: When you set a goal, you have to be willing to work hard to make sure it happens. With New Balance, I am convinced that our men and women in uniform deserve the very best and that a Maine company can provide the highest quality training shoes. But to translate that it to federal policy meant that I had to keep pushing, pushing, pushing to make it happen.

As governor, I will bring that same determination to getting our state back on the right track to create an economy that works for everyone, and not just the wealthiest among us.

But tenacity alone isn’t enough. A leader must be willing to listen, treat everyone with respect and be open to good ideas no matter who they come from… We can compromise without betraying our core values if we’re willing to put the best interest of Mainers ahead of political ambitions and ideology.

Michaud wrote legislation in Congress that created the Northern Border Regional Commission, which seeks to grow rural economies in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont because he was concerned about the lack of jobs in rural communities.

Q:  How does the Commission help?

A:  The Commission works to break down barriers to economic success in the region by investing in important infrastructure projects such as water, sewer, energy and telecommunications. The Commission also works to help people develop jobs skills, while supporting entrepreneurship and business development.

Northern Girl in Van Buren was one of the first Maine businesses to benefit from the Commission. Thanks to those resources Northern Girl is a successful business and has now formed a partnership to provide healthy, Maine-grown food to the school kids in Portland. It’s a great partnership.

Q:  Maine is beginning to get a worldwide reputation as a state of handcrafted quality goods. Yet too many artists and artisans barely make a living. Will you promote Maine’s artists and artisans and how will you help them earn a livable wage from their craft?

A:  One of the ideas I’m really excited about in my Maine Made plan is the creation of a domestic trade center. Modeled after the successful Maine International Trade Center, it would help Maine businesses, farmers, fishermen, artists and artisans reach new markets with their products.

Mike Michaud talks with a craftsman in his business. Michaud's Domestic Trade Center should help small businesses get their products to new markets.

Q:  The creative economy has taken root in cities and towns across Maine. Federal Community Block Grants, which you fought for, and state bonds have helped to renovate some of our downtowns. But more needs to be done. What will you do?

A:  Our downtowns are critical to our state’s economic success, and the creative economy has played an important role in the renaissance that is happening in communities around the state. If you look at Eastport, Waterville or Biddeford, to name a few, you can see how creative people are strengthening their communities.

I think Maine needs to improve the partnerships between towns, cities, and the state and make smart investments to protect our high quality of life.

Q: Maine has tremendous research and development taking place but compared to other states still ranks low on bonds to help support innovations that can come from this type of research. Will you change that?

A:  Absolutely. In my Maine Made plan, we place a strong emphasis on supporting innovation. My 10-year plan would also bring predictability and stability to our investment strategy. It’s time we development and implement a consistent investment strategy that businesses and taxpayers can count on.

 Q:  We have innovative agriculture taking place in the state represented by Backyard Farms in Madison where they grow tomatoes in greenhouses. You visited the company a number of times. How will you promote innovative Maine businesses and how will you attract them to set up in Maine?

A:  Backyard Farms is one example of the exciting things happening with agriculture in Maine. We will start by creating a predictable and stable business climate. Gov. LePage has created uncertainty— that scares business investment off.

We’ll also hold down the cost of electricity by investing in clean, renewable energy and conservation.  And we will support entrepreneurs and innovators who are willing to work hard to turn their good ideas into successful Maine businesses.

Q:  Your plan says you’ll create “food hubs.” What do you mean?

A: Food hubs are facilities that help farmers and fisherman process, package and distribute their products. They can add value and help our farmers and fishermen reach new markets, and they can also create the kind of partnerships that that will help farmers and fishermen expand the products that they offer.

Maine has the potential to become the food basket for New England. The average age of the farmers in the state is going down and agriculture has the potential to provide economic rejuvenation for rural communities. Our large farms and small, diversified farms can play an increasingly important role in providing local, healthy food to our region.

Congressman Mike Michaud went on a tour around Maine in 2013 to ask questions to farmers about their needs for the future and what he could do to help them.

Q:  Our working waterfronts and farmlands are under continuous pressure from developers who would like to buy their land. These are traditional Maine industries that have gotten some help from the state in the past. But property taxes remain an obstacle for many who are dependent upon seasonal harvests and Governor LePage’s policies have forced many towns to increase their property taxes because they are receiving less state revenue sharing funds. What do you propose to do to protect and help grow these businesses?

A:  My Maine Made plan includes specific plans to protect farmland and working waterfronts through public-private sector partnerships. We can both preserve these important assets and help these sectors to become more vibrant with smart, focused state support.

And by meeting our obligations, as a state, to fund K-12 education and municipal revenue sharing, we can help to hold down property taxes.

 Q:  A state with 16 counties makes an overall plan for economic development challenging. What do you propose?

A:  We have to work cooperatively.  The strategies that will be successful in Portland or Bangor aren’t the same as the strategies for our rural communities. We have to recognize that each part of the state has it’s own assets that have to be developed.

In my Maine Made business and investment plan, we are proposing a predictable economic development strategy that will help our state grow by focusing on our strengths.

We need to focus on investments that have the greatest potential to create jobs. That means smart investments in education and workforce training, in roads, bridges, rail and broadband and in strengthening our communities.

We need a governor who is proud of the state – and who the state can be proud of – who can take our message to the rest of the world and talk about what’s right with Maine.

Michaud helps to cut the ribbon for a company to bring more broad band facilities to Maine. He supported the American Recovery Act which helped to fund this initative.

 Q: Maine is amazing with mountains, rivers, walkways, boating and the seaside. Literally, it is a state that has what people look for on vacation and to live but is still undiscovered. How will you change this while maintaining Maine’s quality of life?

A:  Our state is a great place to live, work and raise a family, as well as a great place to vacation. One of the responsibilities of a governor is to tell our state’s story to the rest of the world. I love Maine and I’m proud of our state and our people. I want to tell the world about them.

 In addition, our tourism strategy seeks to build upon Maine’s reputation for quality by turning visitors to the state into lifelong consumers of our products. People come to Maine and fall in love with all that we have to offer. We can keep those strong connections going all year long.

I know that we can protect the things that make Maine special while growing our economy and attracting more people to the state – to visit and to live.

Front Street Shipyard in Belfast, Maine, was helped by Community Block Grants that Congressman Mike Michaud fought for in Congress. Photo by Ramona du Houx