November 5, 2013

Michaud says it was difficult for him to announce he’s gay

The congressman and candidate for Maine governor informed his family just hours before going public.

By Steve Mistler
Staff Writer

The candidate for governor informed his family he is gay just hours before telling the world.

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U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud fought back emotions at times during an interview Monday at his Portland campaign office. He said he felt compelled to disclose his sexuality because of increased speculation.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud’s announcement that he’s gay touched off a wave of speculation Monday that was mostly political, but for the 58-year-old former mill worker, the decision was deeply personal.

In an interview with the Portland Press Herald at his campaign headquarters on Commercial Street in Portland, the typically guarded Michaud fought back emotions as he described telling his family about his sexuality for the first time on Sunday, just hours before he made it public.

“It was a very difficult decision,” said Michaud, who comes from a Franco-American, Catholic family. “It’s a personal decision. It’s one I wish I didn’t have to make, but the fact there was suspicion out there ... I thought it was important for me to let the people of the state of Maine know up front.”

The six-term congressman reiterated that he felt compelled to disclose his sexuality because of increased speculation and innuendo on talk radio and elsewhere.

Michaud said Mainers are more focused on health care, jobs and the economy than on his sexual orientation. “That’s what people really care about. They don’t care if I’m gay,” he said. “There’s no difference in me today than who I was last week. I’m still Mike.”

While Michaud discussed his decision in the interview, prognostications about the impact of Monday’s announcement swirled. State and national political experts said the timing was just right for Michaud to make his sexuality public, after decades of speculation. Nearly all said that Michaud, who represents Maine’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District, could gain an advantage in the more liberal 1st District over his biggest threat in next year’s election, independent Eliot Cutler.

Both are gunning to unseat Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who defeated Cutler by 2 percentage points in a three-way race in 2010.

Michaud revealed his sexual orientation in a column submitted late Sunday to three of the state’s major news outlets, including the Press Herald. He wrote that he was making the announcement in response to “the whisper campaigns, insinuations and push polls” that unidentified people had been using to raise questions about his personal life since he declared his candidacy.

“They want people to question whether I am gay,” Michaud wrote. “Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: ‘Yes I am. But why should it matter?’ ”

Michaud has long sidestepped questions about his sexuality, so some of his ideological opponents have affixed a political motive to Monday’s announcement.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the announcement could shift some of Michaud’s support from blue-collar voters to college voters. The latter, he said, appear to be in Cutler’s camp.

“Exactly what that trade-off is, I don’t know,” Sabato said. “This is less and less of a shock for people. And college students will feel pressure to support the gay candidate.”

He said Michaud’s move may change the dynamic of the three-way race, but it won’t be the greatest threat to his candidacy.

“His problem is not that he’s gay, it’s Eliot Cutler,” said Sabato, referring to the likelihood that Michaud and Cutler will divide progressive and left-leaning independent voters, to the benefit of LePage, who will formally announce his re-election bid Tuesday.

Cutler offered a muted response to Michaud’s announcement, saying in a written statement that the congressman’s sexuality is “an entirely personal matter that has no bearing whatsoever on a candidate’s qualifications to be governor.”

Brent Littlefield, LePage’s political adviser, said the campaign wouldn’t comment on Michaud’s disclosure.

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