Grim economy in Katahdin region divides political loyalties in governor’s race
|By Christopher Cousins, Bangor Daily News, Maine|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Few are more aware of this fact than U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate
"Generation after generation went to work in this mill and we never thought we had to worry about anything because Great Northern provided for the community," said Michaud recently while overlooking the mill, which is currently shut down.
He was standing on a squeaky pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks that used to carry thousands of workers a day, but is now rust-covered and mostly unused.
"It was something we never thought would change and it has," he said. "It just tears me apart."
During his 12 years in
Though there are several other paper mills still running in
"It is extremely tough," said Michaud, framed by now-silent smokestacks. "[The mill] was supposed to start up again in May, and as you can see, it's not running."
The mills closed for multiple reasons, all of which were beyond any one person's ability to influence. The closures, however, could have a significant influence on the region's politics, which historically have been solidly blue-collar and Democratic.
In 2010, the Democratic candidate for governor,
Given this background, and the current economic troubles brought on by the mill closings, the 2014 question for many in the region is this: Who among the candidates is now best equipped to help us?
For decades, the answer to that question has been Michaud, first as a state legislator and later as congressman. There are many who still say so today.
"Mike has always been a spokesman for the common man," said
"I don't think very much is done for this area, period, but Mike himself has done quite a lot," said Gallant.
So has LePage, others argue.
"LePage all the way," said Linscott. "He's a businessman and this state is a business. He's what we need. LePage is really trying to work with these people."
"I think LePage can do a lot more for the area," said Buckingham.
Cutler, who won the mill communities four years ago, has supporters as well.
"Sometimes the independent doesn't have a personal and party agenda like the Republicans and Democrats do," said MacArthur, a registered Democrat who voted for Cutler four years ago.
"I don't feel that anybody pays attention to much of anything in
Hard realities, hard times
The economy couldn't be much worse for the
But locals don't need statistics to know life is hard and becoming harder. There are shuttered downtown businesses, homes that cost less than a nice pickup truck, and talk in local government of more drastic cuts if the mills don't pay their back taxes.
"We've got nothing here," said Rudge during the town's recent Summerfest celebration at
"We're all just trying to do the best we can do." said Rudge.
MacArthur, a retired 31-year
He said many people have left the area and more would if they could.
"I'm sitting on a
If it weren't for
That's why he is among what he said is a growing number of people who think creating a national park in the region might be its best shot.
National park, redux
A proposal to create a massive 3.2 million-acre national park, backed by millionaire landowner
But Quimby's son,
With hopes for restarting the paper mills fading, the idea of a national park could sway voters convinced it's the region's last and best alternative. Cutler has expressed support for St. Clair's idea, and Michaud has indicated he's open to it. LePage opposes a national park in the region.
"These proposals, it seems to me, are potentially very positive aspects of a plan to reinvigorate the economy of that entire region," said Cutler, who said he also believes that the area is ripe for a new wood products industry, albeit not papermaking. "This is an amazing tourism and recreation resource. We already know that in
"Generations of Mainers have enjoyed the beautiful outdoors of northern
Michaud said he is against the original 3.2 million-acre proposal but is intrigued by St. Clair's plans -- as long as Mainers' access to the woods is protected.
"I am absolutely committed to protecting sporting opportunity in the woods of
Parks and politics aside, there is widespread respect for Michaud in these communities. Local after local talked about his responsiveness to constituent requests, no matter how small, and how he has the area's best interests at heart.
Yet Michaud's future, locked in a competitive gubernatorial election, is uncertain -- just like the
One thing for Michaud is certain, however: Someday, he'll retire in
"This will always be my home," he said.
(c)2014 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)
Visit the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) at www.bangordailynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services