U.S. Rep. Jared Golden came to Portland Wednesday to join a rally with lobstermen outraged over new regulations, breaking with fellow Democrat Janet Mills over the state’s role in a legal fight with the federal government.
The rally was advertised by organizer Ray Richardson, a conservative talk radio host, as being apolitical, but quickly swerved into heavy criticism of Governor Mills. Several speakers focused on her support for offshore wind projects in the Gulf of Maine, something the lobster industry protested last year.
The governor was not in attendance and Mills spokesperson Lindsay Crete said she was unaware if Mills was invited. She noted that Mills has been a strong supporter of the lobstermen in the ongoing fight.
“The full weight of the State of Maine is behind Maine lobstermen,” she said.
The event was held in tandem with the Maine Lobstering Union, which has called on Mills to make Maine the lead plaintiff in its lawsuit against the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration over proposed regulations to protect right whales.
Golden echoed those calls Wednesday, saying the lobster union needs all the support it can get. He said he would work with whoever was in the Blaine House to ensure that happens.
“People need to see around the country that the government is backing the Maine lobster industry,” he said.
Also in attendance at the rally was former Governor Paul LePage, the Republican who is trying to unseat Mills. Golden and LePage did not appear together on the stage.
While Golden avoided directly criticizing Mills for not centering the state further in the lobster union’s lawsuit, his alignment with LePage on the lawsuit speaks to the political tightrope the congressman is walking this election. His race against Republican Maine 2nd District’s former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin — who also attended the rally — is widely seen as a toss-up. Mills has been polling with a more substantial lead over LePage, but opponents have hammered her on the lobster regulation issues despite her vocal support of the industry. An Emerson College poll found the majority of Mainers are concerned about the industry’s red listing by the influential Seafood Watch.
Golden has made his name by bucking his party on major initiatives, a trait that has kept him in the swingable 2nd District for two terms.
“If I’m Golden, the message should be: I’ll meet with anybody, anywhere and at any time, to defend the lobster industry,” said Jeremy Fischer, a former Democratic state representative and lawyer at Drummond Woodsum.
Fischer was doubtful that Golden’s appearance at an event featuring LePage would affect his standing with Mills, noting the congressional district has been largely aligned with the governor on supporting the lobster industry.
Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office has said becoming the plaintiff in the lawsuit would be “legally insignificant” given that the state is already an intervenor in the case. LePage, speaking after the event, dismissed that idea, saying Frey needs to “get a real job.”
Crete pointed to several other legal actions Maine is taking on behalf of the lobster industry, including partnering with the Lobstermen’s Association in a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service and contracting with outside counsel to represent the state.
Listening in the back of the gathering was independent Maine 2nd Congressional District candidate Tiffany Bond, who said she was not invited to the rally and was not planning to speak. She accused her opponents of engaging in showmanship and that politicians need to focus more on having scientists work with lobstermen to solve the issue.
That sentiment was echoed by several lobstermen speaking at the event.
“I’m so pissed off at politicians, I’m tired of them,” Jim Hanscomb, a Bar Harbor lobsterman and the vice president of the Maine Lobstering Union, told the crowd while looking at the assembled politicians.
Later, Hanscomb, a Republican, said he appreciated seeing Golden travel to the rally outside of his district. He likes LePage, but wants to see more from Golden on the lobstering issue before making a decision in the congressional race.
“I like what he has to say, I just gotta see [action] happen,” he said. “That’s kind of where I’m at with it.”
Caitlin Andrews covers state government and elections for The Maine Monitor. Reach her by email with other story ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org.