Eliot Cutler is a bigger boob than Paul LePage.
LePage, Maine’s Republican governor, throws infantile tantrums and has the political awareness of deep-fried hake. Even when he’s right on the issues (and he often is), his haphazard approach usually renders him ineffective and, sometimes, counterproductive. If LePage is on your side, you start at a serious disadvantage.
Unless your opponent is Cutler.
The millionaire independent from Cape Elizabeth came close to defeating LePage in the 2010 gubernatorial race, not because he offered a credible alternative to the GOP nominee’s bombast and blather, but because the Democratic candidate – whatever her name was – never showed up. Few people cast ballots for Cutler. They were just voting against LePage.
Nevertheless, Cutler is again running for governor in 2014 on a platform that consists mostly of not being Paul LePage.
He’s right. He’s not. While Cutler is slicker and more articulate than LePage, he differs from the governor in fundamental and important ways. Primarily, the two men can be distinguished from each other thusly:
LePage has clear stands on the issues.
Cutler has almost none.
Let’s take the question of whether Maine’s minimum wage should be increased. LePage is opposed. He’ll veto the bill the Democrats are pushing through the Legislature. No ambiguity.
Where does Cutler stand? According to an interview on WGAN radio on March 28, he’s not sure, because the problem “requires a much more strategic and sensible answer than just raising the minimum wage.” That same day, he told the Portland Press Herald he favored “a plan and a strategy that will get more workers back at the top of the wage levels instead of focusing on the bottom.”
What’s that mean? I suppose Cutler could be advocating for a law requiring fast-food joints to start paying their employees $25 an hour. But I suspect what he’s really saying is he doesn’t want to take a firm stand on a controversial issue, so he’s doing what weasels always do, which is to claim that such a complex matter requires a more comprehensive approach involving a special commission of experts who’ll study the problem long enough so most people making more than minimum wage will forget all about it.
This is hardly an isolated example of Cutler’s refusal to choose a side. On the controversy over the debt the state owes to its hospitals for caring for poor people, Cutler told WGAN he wants to make sure hospitals “get paid off in the right way.” What’s that? “I would try to settle it in a very different way [than LePage],” he said. The state needs to “move in the direction of getting it done.”
If you’re confused, take heart. That answer is nowhere near as incomprehensible as one he gave in a 2010 radio interview on how to reform the health care system. “We have to stop paying for procedures,” Cutler said, “and start paying for outcomes.”
On education, Cutler is equally elusive. He endorsed LePage’s pick of Stephen Bowen as state commissioner of education, but reverts to vagueness when it comes to Bowen’s policies encouraging virtual charter schools and other alternatives to public education. During his gubernatorial campaign, he told a radio interviewer he supported “massive reforms,” including merit pay for top teachers. He wants a longer school year, but he’s also called for big cuts in spending on education at all levels, saying the state doesn’t receive enough value for its investment. Even so, he’s against school consolidation – except he’d merge the University of Maine System and the Maine Community Colleges.
Like most politicians with something to hide, Cutler ignored repeated requests in 2010 from Project Vote Smart to put his positions on the record. But he’s occasionally been tricked into admitting he’s pro-choice on abortion, in favor of same-sex marriage, opposed to casinos and generally against gun control. On environmental matters, he’s favored increased regulation of greenhouse gases, but also wanted to abolish the state Board of Environmental Protection. He said he’d address the need for cheaper power in Maine by creating an Energy Finance Authority to look for some. Maybe it could conduct a lengthy study.
Pressed by a WGAN interviewer to clarify his stand on the minimum wage, Cutler said, “What we’ve got to focus on in Maine is making our overall economy better.”
One way to accomplish that would be to have a comprehensible plan. LePage does. You may disagree with his approach, but it’s readily understandable. In contrast, Cutler has a bunch of simplistic catchphrases, designed to avoid having to take firm positions.
He’s a boob. If you buy his hokum, you are, too.
Corrections: In last week’s column, I got the number of times Joe Brennan ran unsuccessfully for governor wrong. It was three. Also, Plato Truman’s first failed bid for major office came in 1966, not 1970. Thanks to Paul Mills, historian extraordinaire, for the facts.
Take a firm stand, and email it to me at email@example.com.