October 8, 2012

2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Michaud never too far from mills

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

MEDWAY -- Mike Michaud leaned into a table at a roadside diner and quietly sipped coffee.

click image to enlarge

U.S. Representative Mike Michaud stands outside Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket earlier this month. Michaud, a five-term Democratic incumbent, is running on his support for U.S. manufacturing against Republican challenger Kevin Raye.

Staff photo by Ben McCanna

It was mid-afternoon -- halfway between the lunch and dinner rushes -- and the wood-paneled dining room was motionless except for an attentive waitress, who regularly topped off the congressman's cup.

Michaud's sixth congressional campaign was suddenly in full swing. After a month of soft-selling his bid for re-election, Michaud entered October with a bang. Four debates against Republican challenger Kevin Raye had just been announced, and Michaud's schedule was booked solid.

During the previous six months, the five-term Democratic incumbent maintained a comfortable, double-digit lead in the polls, but it was clear he didn't intend to rest on his laurels.

Except for the moment.

The 57-year-old had an hour to spare before he made tracks for his next appearance -- a documentary screening in Waterville. By day's end, the silver-haired Democrat would log more than 300 miles. He attended a new charter school opening in Fairfield, toured an adult learning center in East Millinocket, doubled back to Waterville, then spent the night in Portland before jetting back to Washington D.C. for a hearing with the American Legion.

The hearing was clearly on his mind.

Michaud is leading the charge in Washington to enforce compliance with the Berry Amendment, a provision that requires American service members to wear U.S.-made clothing, but allows an exemption for athletic footwear. In recent days, Michaud learned that some soldiers are also wearing boots made in China.

The thought doesn't sit well with Michaud and he faults the White House for not closing the loopholes. Recently, President Barack Obama announced a $40 million challenge grant to bring jobs back to the United States, but Michaud proposes an easier solution.

He lightly thumped his hand on the table to emphasize his words.

"If the president really means what he says about bringing jobs back here to the United States, here's a way he can do it," he said of the Berry Amendment. "It's good that he'll spend money to try to bring jobs back here, but why doesn't he have the secretary (of defense) comply fully and have our soldiers dress head to toe in American-made clothing? That wouldn't cost a penny."

Jobs and the economy are cornerstones for each candidate's campaign in the 2nd Congressional District. Raye is focusing on Maine's small businesses, while Michaud has touted its manufacturing.

It makes sense that Michaud would rally for factories, because they're among the things he knows best.

Millworker mentality

For 29 years, Michaud was employed by the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket.

In Millinocket and the surrounding towns, Michaud is a living legend. A trail system alongside Millinocket Stream bears his name, as does a classroom in nearby Katahdin Region Higher Education Center.

"Normally, they wait until you're dead and gone before they name something after you," Michaud joked.

Even during the 2010 election, when being a Democrat was suddenly a liability in Maine and elsewhere the country, East Millinocket voters turned out for Michaud in a big way. District-wide, Michaud beat his Republican challenger by only 10 percentage points, but in East Millinocket Michaud won by 37 points.

Michaud was born in Millinocket in 1955, and was raised alongside four brothers and a sister in Medway. He was a typical kid -- fishing in the summer, tobogganing in the winter and helping out on his neighbor's farm.

After graduating from Schenck High School, Michaud joined the ranks of millworkers at Great Northern Paper, instead of continuing his education.

"It was the school of hard knocks," Michaud said. "Back then, that's what people did. You've got generations after generations that went to the mill -- from the time when they built the mill, pretty much until the 1980s."

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