U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is popular in Jay. In 2012, the Democrat from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District won 67 percent of votes in the paper mill town on the Androscoggin River.
But the same year, same-sex marriage, which was successful statewide, failed in the Franklin County town with nearly 62 percent of Jay voters against it.
The issues collided somewhat on Monday, with Michaud, a six-term congressman from East Millinocket and the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, announcing that he is gay in op-ed columns in Maine newspapers.
At first glance, Michaud’s revelation — long an open secret among Maine political insiders — could create conflict in his political base, largely in working-class communities that vote Democrat, but rejected allowing the state to grant same-sex marriage licenses.
But most voters across central Maine contacted Monday reacted with verbal shrugs.
Deborah Labbe, a Democrat from Jay, said though Michaud has represented her congressional district well, she hasn’t decided who she’s supporting for governor. But she said his sexual orientation won’t change the way she votes.
“Why should it?” Labbe said. “It’s his life.”
Paul Mills, a Farmington attorney and historian who is a Republican, said Michaud is as well-positioned as virtually any politician in New England to tell voters he is gay with little impact to the public.
“He is, of course, well-rooted in all parts of the 2nd District because he’s made so many personal approaches and has had deep connections with many sectors of the electorate,” Mills said. “He has a very conservative persona. He has a very mainstream appearance.”
The same day in Waterville, Republican voters praised the congressman’s honesty.
“It wouldn’t change how I think of him,” said Gerald Mason, an Albion Republican. “He’s a great guy and one of the best Mainers in Washington right now.”
Wendy Hallenbeck, a Waterville Republican, said she thought it would be a shame if Michaud’s decision to open up about his sexuality hurt his campaign.“I respect him even more for being honest,” she said. “It absolutely wouldn’t affect how I vote and I think it is a sign that he is an honest person.”
In 2012, Michaud won every county in his district except Washington over Republican challenger Kevin Raye. But all except for two of those counties opposed gay marriage, including Kennebec, Somerset and Franklin counties.
But Sandy Maisel, a Democrat and a professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, said he thought “some, but very few” people who have traditionally supported Michaud will switch based on his announcement.
He said those who are very opposed to gay marriage will likely vote for Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, and Michaud’s announcement could shore up support from liberals who may have voted for independent Eliot Cutler, because they were suspicious of Michaud’s moderate stances on issues like abortion and gun control.
“Where people were on this vote two days ago, I don’t think many people are going to change now that Mike Michaud has come out of the closet,” Maisel said.
Richard Rambo, a Gardiner Democrat who said he has supported both Michaud and same-sex marriage, had a succinct response to Michaud’s announcement: “A: Not a surprise; B: I think it’s good for him.”
Ten years ago, Michaud would have been hurt politically by his announcement and five years ago he may have been, Rambo said.
Now, “I think our society has moved forward on this and a number of other issues,” he said.
In a Monday interview, Michaud said he was “hopeful” that people who supported him in the past will continue to support him.
When Dale McCormick was elected to the Maine Senate from Monmouth in 1990, she was the state’s first openly gay senator. She went on to become Maine’s treasurer and head of the state housing authority. She said as an unknown, she had to go door to door during her first campaign to meet thousands of people just “to make sure they knew I wasn’t the bogeyman.”
But she said Michaud’s operating in “a whole new world” and on a big stage, where many in Maine know him well.
“The essence of prejudice is that people judge you before they know you,” said McCormick, now an Augusta city council candidate. “Many people know Mike.”
For McCormick, coming out, she said, was a “net plus,” and in future campaigns, people “found out there was no gay way to plow roads and fund schools.”
“Being open about yourself and who you are shows people that you’re transparent and honest,” McCormick said. “And what more can you ask in an elected official?”
Staff Writer Rachel Ohm and State House Bureau Writer Steve Mistler contributed to this report.
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652