Mike Michaud’s pitiful political past

At the end of last year’s season of “The Walking Dead,” the character Milton Mamet is subjected to a fate worse than death. Having turned a blind eye to the sadistic behavior of the Governor, who leads a small town of survivors during the zombie apocalypse, Milton finally realizes he’s been an accomplice to butchery and undermines the leader’s plans to sic flesh-eaters on another band of survivors. When the Governor discovers his toadie’s treachery, he knifes him and leaves him to die, but that’s only half of his punishment. Before he expires, Milton is locked in a torture chamber with another victim, who’s bound to a chair, and told by the Governor that he will turn into a zombie and turn on her, which is exactly what he does.

Which brings us to Mike Michaud, the Democratic congressman and former state lawmaker vying to be the governor of our little band of survivors.

Like Milton, Michaud sat on his hands while a governor, Republican John McKernan, and fellow toadies in both parties perpetuated a gross injustice — in this case, refusing to outlaw discrimination against gay Mainers. As my colleague Al Diamon wrote in a devastating column last week, Michaud voted against gay rights at least five times during his tenure in the Legislature — even in the early ’90s, when McKernan vetoed an anti-discrimination bill passed by enlightened lawmakers in both chambers. Michaud also voted against gay marriage and stayed silent when voters rejected civil rights legislation for gay people in 1998 and 2000.

Being on the wrong side of a moral issue is bad enough, but we now know that Michaud’s opposition to equality was much worse. The votes he cast, coupled with the political support he refused to give, made life more miserable for Mainers whose sexual orientation was the same as his own. Like poor Milton, Michaud was compelled to turn against his own kind.

I applaud Michaud’s decision to come out of the closet, but I’m appalled when I consider the experiences that preceded it. It’s difficult to imagine the anguish Michaud felt every time he voted against the rights of fellow gay Mainers. Over the course of his 33-year political career, Michaud must have had hundreds of conversations with constituents and fellow lawmakers who expressed bigoted views toward homosexuals. Did he nod in silence, attempt to change the subject, or express agreement with their hateful and ignorant comments while inwardly cringing in torment?

Like Diamon, I’m not willing to call Michaud’s revelation “brave,” especially in light of the true courage displayed by all the politicians and activists who paved the way for him over the past several decades, while he was either acting against their interests or complicit in their common oppression.

I don’t deny that it would have been hard for Michaud to come out sooner, but the barriers he faced were primarily personal and political, not matters of life or death, as is still the case in too many parts of the world. The prospect of upsetting his family and friends, or losing an election, trumped the imperative to do what’s right. The announcement itself was politically motivated, made in response to rumors spread by political opponents, and is now being used for political gain, as the BDN’s Mario Moretto reported this week.

Far from inspiring courage, Michaud’s revelation inspires pity, and all the more so in light of the 58-year-old’s subsequent assertion that he has never had a romantic partner. To the extent that’s true, it’s deeply sad. To the extent it’s not, it’s further evidence the congressman has an honesty problem.

Michaud is correct in saying his sexual orientation shouldn’t be an issue in the gubernatorial race. But his campaign’s efforts to raise money based on the prospect he’d be the nation’s first openly gay governor add yet another hypocrisy to what’s becoming a tall pile. Michaud’s wobbly record on gay rights and women’s rights undermines his support among the liberals whose votes he’ll need to win, as evidenced by this week’s OpEd by Betsy Smith, a Democrat who formerly led EqualityMaine, in which she endorses the unenrolled spoiler Eliot Cutler.

On “The Walking Dead,” Milton’s weakness empowered a “governor” unfit to lead civilized people. A weak showing by Michaud in next November’s election would do the same thing to us.

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Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.