Congressman Mick Michaud in his Waterville, Maine office. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Winter- 2005

Article by Ramona du Houx

“Literally we are putting Maine on the map. I remember being shown maps where Maine wasn’t included,” said Congressman Mike Michaud, referring back to when he first arrived in Washington, DC. “The East-West Highway designation is a major breakthrough for the state. The Calais border is the eighth busiest in the country.”

According to Sandy Blitz, executive director of the East-West Highway Association, the east-west corridor starts in Calais and runs along US Route 9. Then it connects with Interstate 395, then I-95, and then Route 2 in Newport. The planned connector in the Skowhegan area would provide easy access to Montreal.

“Because of Congressman Michaud’s work, the federal government has recognized the importance of this corridor,” Blitz said. “What we’re talking about is not just a road across Maine. By continuing the road from Halifax to Montreal and Toronto, not only does it help us be connected to our neighbors, other states alongside of us and the Canadian provinces, but it also creates an economic region.”

The highway will help generate ecotourism plans and help open the state up for entrepreneurs.

“Having a beginning and an ending point is what we needed to get the designation official,” said Michaud. His work with other members of Congress on the committee made it happen.

The congressman assured me that the people of Maine will be able to express their opinions about the highway before construction starts in their area.

Congressman Michaud worked in a truly nonpartisan fashion with Maine’s senators to ensure success. “You can’t be afraid to reach across the aisle,” said the congressman. “I don’t care who gets the credit. It’s more important to work together to get legislation passed that will help the people of the state of Maine.”

Congressman Michaud is disarming. He is straightforward, friendly, outgoing, and makes anyone feel at home in his presence. He has a passion for helping the people of Maine that keeps him working nonstop. He has a built-in sense of justice that guides his actions, always doing what he considers to be the right thing for his constituents.

Whenever there is an important vote he is present, no matter the hour. The timing of many votes recently has been an issue all on its own.

In Congress our representatives should abide by rules of procedure. However, since the Bush administration, and with a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate, those rules are continually being broken.

“Most controversial bills are pushed through in the middle of the night,” said Michaud. “And they all went way over the fifteen-minute timeframe.”

The actual degree of impropriety happening in Washington, DC is inconceivable unless it is experienced first hand.

“If a Republican dares speak out against the president and stands up for what they believe to be the right thing to do, they find themselves out of a job,” said Michaud, citing well-known officials.

During the critical budget votes that narrowly passed, they only did so because they were in the dead of night without the TV cameras present and when many members were asleep. In fact legislation like the Patriot Act, which has taken some of our civil liberties away from us, was passed in this fashion.

“The budgets are robbing the poor to feed the rich. They are putting lives at risk. It’s unconscionable,” stated the congressman, clearly upset.

“We have the largest debt — $8 trillion — in history. The Untied States is going deeper into debt to foreign counties.”

Michaud is a longtime union supporter, being a member of USW Local #4-00037 when he worked at the Great Northern Paper Mill, following a long-standing family tradition. He always stands by his union brothers and passionately against the outsourcing of jobs. He led the charge to fight CAFTA and opposed NAFTA.

The vote to try and stop CAFTA won by the narrowest of margins, largely due to the congressman’s activities lobbying to stop a trade agreement that will mean more outsourcing of jobs.

Still, Michaud believes it’s important to work with foreign counties for a peaceful future and a sound economy. “You have to work together to bridge the divide. North Korea is a hot spot which we can’t ignore. In less than two years Iran will have nuclear capability. In ten years the Chinese navy will surpass ours. Economically, China could ruin us down the road if we don’t work with them.”

Recently, the congressman held a meeting with other colleagues and a Chinese delegation. The Chinese sat on one side of the table, the US on the other. At the beginning only one Chinese gentleman answered the cordial, politically correct questions. No one else seemed interested in the conversation, as it wasn’t achieving anything. Tired of questions that never addressed the issues, Congressman Michaud spoke up and honestly addressed the delegation. He said, “With all due respect, we have lost jobs in my state due to outsourcing to your country; what can you do for us?”

It was the question some members of the delegation were waiting to hear and it opened up the dialogue. Many of the Chinese officials had come in the hope of initiating new trade deals.

The no-nonsense direct manner in which the congressman works is refreshing and has him blazing trails in Congress. In the US House of Representatives, he serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is the Ranking Member on the committee’s Health Subcommittee. He also serves on the following committees and subcommittees:

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines; Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management; House Committee on Small Business; Subcommittee on Tax, Finance and Exports; Subcommittee on Rural Enterprises, Agriculture and Technology.

Normally, it takes years and seasons of experience in Washington, DC to become a ranking member on a committee as Michaud has done on the Veterans Subcommittee on Health. With determination he lobbied to ensure a position on Transportation, Small Business, and Veterans’ Affairs, as he identified them as issues of great importance to the people of Maine.

In Maine’s Senate, Michaud cosponsored the legislation for Maine Rx, which has successfully lowered prescription drug prices for seniors. In Congress, Michaud worked to lower prescription drug costs for all Americans through his America Rx legislation. When the Bush administration proposed the Medicare D program, he foresaw problems.

“I knew that there would be problems. The Medicare D program should have been simplified,” said Michaud. “I commend the governor for all that he has done to protect Maine’s seniors and disabled. Maine has really led the nation dealing with this issue.”

The congressman’s experience showed him that unnecessary complexity for dispensing a new prescription drug program would be disastrous. Making seniors choose between different providers with different polices, Michaud saw as a surefire way to discourage seniors from even applying.“This administration didn’t even bother to negotiate for lower prescription drugs. Seniors won’t be getting what they need. It’s immoral.”

Michaud is equally upset with the inaction of the Bush administration in securing sufficient funds for the Low Income Heating Economic Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to offset the increase in fuel costs.

“The high cost of home heating fuel is making it harder than ever for many families to keep up, and is stretching the resources of the LIHEAP program thin. For the average family nationwide, heating costs for the 2005-2006 winter heating season are expected to be almost $300 higher than last year.Lives may be lost because of this,” said Michaud.

In February Congressman Michaud took action of his own and introduced legislation that is intended to increase funding for LIHEAP. The resolution states that it is the sense of Congress that, following a year of record-setting profits, major petroleum products companies should incorporate LIHEAP into their corporate citizenship and responsibility programs by donating a small percentage of their profits to the program.

“This would be a powerful way for some of our top companies to demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship without new regulations, and it would help countless families make it through the rest of this winter,” Michaud said.

“Congress has failed to appropriate adequate funding for LIHEAP, leading to less than one in five eligible LIHEAP beneficiaries receiving assistance in fiscal year 2005 in some states. Mainers deserve better than this, especially given the fact that the big oil companies are clearly benefiting from the same skyrocketing prices that are squeezing so many low-income families.”

The unique resolution calls on the top ten oil companies in the world, that made more than $100 billion in profits in 2004, to donate a small percentage of these profits to help low-income families through LIHEAP.

The economy is never far from the congressman’s thoughts. “Companies are relocating to Canada for two reasons. The first is the lack of an educated workforce here in America; the second is the cost of health care.

“This administration should be investing in education not cutting it,” said Michaud. The budget proposes to cut 42 different educational programs, including student loans and Pell Grants.

“We need to be investing in America. We need more students graduating from college. In this global economy jobs of the future depend on it. Other countries are investing in their people. India is producing top-notch engineers.” In ten years India’s economy will be larger than Italy’s, and in fifteen years it will have overtaken Britain’s, according to a Goldman Sachs report. Indian companies are growing at an extraordinary pace, posting yearly gains of up to 25 percent.

To help Maine compete and gain more jobs in the ever-changing economy, the congressman proposed creating the Northeast Regional Development Commission.

The commission would be charged with investing $40 million per year in federal resources for economic development and job creation in the most distressed areas of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, based upon the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). ARC has reduced the number of distressed counties in their region from 219 to 100 and cut the poverty rate from 31 percent to 15 percent. ARC helped 1,400 businesses create 26,000 new jobs since 1977.

The congressman saw a huge opportunity for Maine to work with neighboring states with the commission. His proposal will create the first body focused on the need for jobs and economic development in the Northeast region.

“Whether the need is new irrigation systems for agriculture, land and forestry conservation to maintain productive traditional uses, investment in our fishing infrastructure, new roads, or health-care facilities, a federal commission can play a key role in investing in our economy. Maine needs this kind of investment,” stated Michaud.

Already, the interest that this proposal has generated among diverse groups has helped to bring people together from many different sectors. Working together, new ideas are being generated, new partnerships gained, opening the door to possibilities that will benefit the Northeast region’s economies.

“We are off to a good start, and now there is a lot more work to be done,” said the congressman.

He is also working to ensure that our veterans receive fair and equal treatment, as well as the benefits they deserve.

At a time when veterans’ services should be increased, they are under threat. More service men and women are returning from Iraq and experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome. The medical disorder is serious but unfortunately not all heath-care providers treat it seriously. Over 30 percent are refused treatment from the private sector. Michaud is working to increase help for the veterans. “It’s incumbent that we do everything we can to help them. It’s our nation’s duty.”

Michaud’s drive to do the right thing for the people of Maine got him going in politics back when he wanted to help clean up the polluted Penobscot River near his home. This thirty-year mill employee found himself in an election for a seat in the Maine House of Representatives in 1980. After winning he went on to serve seven consecutive terms. In 1994, he defeated a millionaire incumbent in his first bid for the Maine Senate. Eventually he became president of the Maine Senate, and is now serving his second term as a US representative to Congress.

Michaud is a man of his word; when confronted with an issue, he will work tirelessly until he comes up with a solution. He believes in the people of Maine and works day in and day out to improve their livelihoods. He currently resides in East Millinocket, where he is remodeling his late grandmother’s home.