Steve Sleeper calls U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin “a capable guy” and said he campaigned for the Republican from Maine’s 2nd District when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2012.

But on Tuesday, Poliquin was among just three House Republicans who voted against the chamber’s 56th attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the health care law reviled by Republicans that President Barack Obama and Democrats have championed.

It was just a symbolic vote. The House bill would need 60 votes to pass in the Senate, and if it did, Obama would veto it. Still, it burned Sleeper and others like him. To the 57-year-old retiree from Bangor, Poliquin’s vote runs counter to his 2014 campaign slogan: “More jobs, less debt.”

“How do you run on a platform of less debt and then go vote for Obamacare?” Sleeper said. “We’re the folks who voted for him, and he said he won’t vote for it; and he isn’t in office a few weeks, and he goes and does what he did.”

When Poliquin ran for Senate, he said one of the first things he’d do in Washington is “repeal Obamacare.” Repealing and replacing Obamacare was listed as a goal on his website during the 2014 House campaign, but his rhetoric softened a bit. He said he liked certain aspects of the law and he told WCSH that it’s “the law of the land” and said he’d work to improve it.

Poliquin’s Tuesday vote got national media attention. In a Thursday video on his Facebook page, littered with negative comments, he defended it by saying while people have been “hurt by the negative impacts” of the law, Republicans must coalesce around an alternative that builds momentum and makes “a way forward” for the 60,000 Mainers with insurance policies under the law.


“A free market alternative that ends the expensive Obamacare mandates will help our small businesses grow and hire more workers,” he said, “and a healthy, growing economy will provide our families with fatter paychecks and more freedom.”

But his vote has been criticized by libertarian-leaning conservative groups. The Republican Liberty Caucus pulled its 2014 endorsement of Poliquin, saying in a statement that it was “stunned and disappointed” by his vote; while the Campaign for Liberty said Poliquin violated a pledge he had made after answering “yes” to a survey question that asked if he would vote for bills that “will repeal or defund” the law.

However, Brent Littlefield, Poliquin’s political adviser, said the word “will” in that question is crucial, since the bill Poliquin voted against has no shot at becoming law.

“His position has not changed,” Littlefield said. “People say they are tired of politics as usual in Washington. If they’re tired of politics as usual, they should look towards leaders who don’t just keep trying to do the same thing over and over again and get the same results.”

The slim chance of passage isn’t lost on Vic Berardelli, a Republican Liberty Caucus board member from Newburgh. But he called Poliquin’s move “politically tone-deaf,” since the vote was “symbolic to the base” and is a litmus test for Republicans to show their base that “you’re still with them.”

“It makes me now not trust him, and it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Berardelli said.


Sleeper and Berardelli said Poliquin could feel the effect of the vote in the 2016 election, with Berardelli saying “there’s a lot of anger” in the grass roots. But Lance Dutson, a Republican strategist who has worked for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, doubted Poliquin’s vote would hurt the congressman.

He said the groups criticizing Poliquin don’t like moderate Republicans such as Collins, yet they have had “zero impact” on her political trajectory. Dutson said Poliquin clearly opposes the health care law and would repeal it if he could, but he “voted pragmatically on it.”

“The good thing about the grass roots is they provide you an army during the election,” Dutson said. “The bad thing about the grass roots is sometimes they don’t understand the process of governing if someone wins.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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