If John Baldacci runs for governor in 2014, he will encounter trouble on his left.
Last fall the former Democratic governor expressed interest in getting his old job back. He also emerged as cochairman of the Maine branch of a well-financed national group called Fix the Debt.
Liberal commentators characterize this outfit as a front for big corporations aiming to slash Social Security and Medicare while preserving their tax advantages in the name of reducing the $16-trillion national debt — a Republican fixation. Fix the Debt's website (fixthedebt.org) makes it clear that "unsustainable entitlement costs" should be on the chopping block.
It's "unfortunate" Baldacci has allied himself with Fix the Debt, said progressive Maine political columnist Mike Tipping. It's "not politically smart" to be connected to a group focusing on cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which have support across party lines, instead of "making the broken tax system more fair."
Left-wing activists are becoming exercised by Fix the Debt and Baldacci's involvement in it. Lew Kingsbury, an Occupy Augusta organizer, promised a future protest, with a possible location the state-capital offices of the Preti Flaherty Beliveau and Pachios law-lobbying firm.
While Baldacci actually works for Pierce Atwood, another influential corporate lobbying firm, Preti Flaherty partner Severin Beliveau — the state's uber-lobbyist, former Baldacci fundraiser, and a member of Fix the Debt's state steering committee — is an almost-routine target of activists upset with the Democratic Party's attachment to Big Money.
Something needs to be done "to raise the awareness of Baldacci's involvement" in the "duplicitous" group Fix the Debt, agreed Heidi Brugger, an environmental activist who was prominent at the Occupy-movement-led Alliance for the Common Good rally at the State House in January (see "Aggressive Progressives," by Lance Tapley, January 18).Both she and Kingsbury called Fix the Debt an "Astroturf" fake-grassroots enterprise. As reported by the New York Times in January, Fix the Debt's leadership has strong ties to financial and industrial titans such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Honeywell, and General Electric.
In an email to the Phoenix, Baldacci made the case that Fix the Debt was nonpartisan, mentioning, among others, independent New York mayor and Wall Street billionaire Michael Bloomberg as one of its national figures. Fix the Debt's other Maine co-chairman is Rick Bennett, former Republican Senate president and chairman of GMI Ratings, an international corporate consulting firm.
Although Baldacci was commonly seen as a pro-corporate governor, he took pains to accentuate his progressive credentials. He was "the first governor in the United States to sign a law allowing same-sex couples to marry," and he created the state-subsidized Dirigo Health Program.
"I also believe that we need to look at ways to make Medicare more sound," he said.
Baldacci implicitly admitted he's not the strongest candidate, repeating to the Phoenix that he wouldn't mount a primary challenge to Mike Michaud, the Second District congressman, who has expressed interest in a gubernatorial run; or to First District congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who recently said, according to WCSH 6, she was thinking "carefully" about running.
Democrats urgently need to put up a strong candidate. Otherwise, party leaders fear, wealthy independent Eliot Cutler, a former Democrat, might repeat 2010 — taking enough votes from the Dems to elect Republican Paul LePage.