Michaud makes the right move at the right time

Mike Michaud’s announcement that he is gay is the right move at the right time — for him, for his campaign and for Maine.

Michaud’s policy stances fit with most Mainers but in part his campaign focused on his likability. Campaign signs say, “I Like Mike.”

The voters of the second congressional district know Michaud as a person. Voters have known him for years and many have met him, looked in his eyes, shook his hand, maybe even gotten a hug.

Some of those voters may have heard rumors but didn’t know one way or the other. But, over many campaigns, they liked Mike.

A surreptitious campaign focusing on Michaud’s sexual orientation could have eaten into his personal appeal.

With whispering campaigns and push-polls underway, the best way to staunch the gossip was to make a direct statement.

It’s done, a year before the election.

It’s also better for the candidate himself, as a human being.

Every gay person, especially one Michaud’s age, has had to go through the personal process of recognizing and coming to terms with their sexual orientation.

When being gay was heavily stigmatized, it was very hard for people to accept who they are.

Telling others about it, one’s friends and family, was another difficult step. One never knows how they will react.

(Let’s face it, it still is hard for many young gay men and lesbians. Personally, I know several young people who, when in high school just a few years ago, had their parents kick them out of the house when their parents found out they are gay.)

Now, Mike Michaud is not a young man. But that doesn’t make this an easy decision.

Taking it must feel like removing a heavy coat, must lighten him. No longer does Michaud have to worry about someone finding out and consider how it might affect his life and political future.

It’s done.

And Maine is now ready. 

A Lewiston veteran at Michaud’s announcement for the governor’s race at the Franco-American Heritage Center. Photo credit: Russ Dillingham l Sun-Journal

Pundits Ethan Strimling and Mike Tipping have offered excellent political analyses of Michaud’s move, including regional breakdowns and poll data, to which I have little to add.

But I will add this: Maine is a multi-faceted state, with varied cultural currents.

Maine has a strong libertarian streak and is largely tolerant. National polls show that more people accept gay people and support anti-discrimination laws than support marriage equality. And just last year, most Maine voters supported marriage equality.

Maine people have strong connections and commitments to veterans and people in the military, which Michaud has shared and taken as his policy focus in Congress. With “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” in the past, people in the armed forces work with uncloseted gay men and lesbians. This makes it easier for all gay people to be open, including in Maine.

Of course, there are other facets of the population, including social conservatives who may be quite dismayed right now (although most wouldn’t have supported Michaud anyway).

But for many portions of Maine, including ones that very well would have been uncomfortable with Michaud’s announcement a few years ago, they’re ready now.

Michaud’s step is historic. There never has been an openly gay candidate for governor in the United States.

Now the rumor-mongers and push-pollsters are sidelined.

This will be a long race, with much to develop. But the timing of this announcement is right.

Addition: The personal side of this story can be seen in the fact that Michaud had not come out to his own mother and sister until a few days ago.  

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.