Technically, you can’t make up these shenanigans

You have to love politicians in primary season. Some of the things they do you just can’t make up.

For example, the Democratic primary fight in Maine’s Second Congressional District is heating up. The two top dogs are the (State) House Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. Jared Golden and former “Elliotsville Plantation” frontman Lucas St. Clair.

Each candidate checks all the usual left-leaning boxes expected of a modern Democrat in Maine: pro-union, pro-environmentalist, anti-”dark money.” Nevertheless, while the race will nominally be decided by “ranked choice,” the third candidate — Craig Olson of Islesboro — is assumed to be far behind the pace. Whether that holds true come June 12 remains to be seen, but the race is shaping up as if it is.

So that means, despite all the hoped-for improvement in campaigns due to ranked choice voting, Democrats are being subjected to a traditional head-to-head primary. With that comes some more pointed jabs between the candidates as they jockey for position.

That is why it was interesting to watch from afar as political ads take to the airwaves. The “Maine Outdoor Alliance” fired one of the first shots. Although the group claimed it was an “issue ad” focused on protecting the new federal land in Penobscot County, it seemed much more like a biopic on Mr. St. Clair.

The “Maine Outdoor Alliance” is one of those dreaded “dark money” groups that Democrats claim to oppose. It stayed further in the shadows by donning its advertisement in “issue” clothing; if the people behind the group admitted they were working to get St. Clair elected, campaign finance law would have required them to share more information about their funding sources.

What we do know about the organization is that it is led by the best man from St. Clair’s wedding. The P.R. team included a consultant — from away! — who had been hired to push for the National Monument by none other than Roxanne Quimby, St. Clair’s mother.

That is why Rep. Golden called foul.

Lucas St. Clair talks to Jessica Masse and John Hafford before announcing his candidacy for the 2nd Congressional District in October 2017. Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN

 And they custom built a grandstand for Lucas to seem magnanimous; he asked the “dark money” group to show themselves or take the ads down.

They chose the latter. What they neglected to mention was that federal law would have required them to disclose their funding sources if they kept the ads up after — wait for it — Mother’s Day.

You can’t make it up. Even my old little league coach, a leading liberal voice in a different Maine paper, called out St. Clair.

Meanwhile, the maybe-sort-of-possible front runner in the Democratic race for the Blaine House, Attorney General Janet Mills, has taken to the airwaves herself. Positioning her campaign as the equal-but-opposite reaction to Gov. Paul LePage, her ad includes a lot of arm crossing and stern looks at the camera. The voiceover highlights battles waged over MaineCare.

Attorney General Janet Mills in February 2015. BDN file photo.

One such fight included coverage for certain 18- and 19-year-olds. Despite the fact that those individuals can volunteer to serve in the military or vote for any of the candidates running, the regulatory morass included their coverage in the “children” category of MaineCare. So, when Gov. LePage sought to change eligibility requirements, Mills struck back to protect these “children.” Therefore, her ad, too, is technically correct.

But while the voiceover might be right, the imagery used by her ad consultants — we don’t know yet whether from Maine or away — showed a young girl around nine years old. While effective, it doesn’t quite jibe with reality on who the “children” actually are.

That is why you have to love primary season. As the candidates scramble, elbow, and fight to find their way to a party’s nomination, convictions and facts are lost to expediency. If they can just eke out a victory, then the glory days of — in these instances — liberal governance lie ahead. And, as long as they are technically correct, what harm can there be?

I don’t know. But you can’t make it up.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.