The Political Career of Bruce Poliquin
Maine Treasurer Bruce Poliquin is brazen in the pursuit of his political goals.
Sometimes, this works out for him, such as when he pursued the legislature-appointed position of State Treasurer in a more public way than is usual for the position. He secured the endorsement of incoming Governor Paul LePage, organized his former gubernatorial campaign supporters to call their legislators in support of his appointment and won a narrow victory over former House Minority Leader David Bowles.
At other times, Poliquin’s political style has caused him problems. In the Republican race for governor in 2010, he ran the most negative campaign of the primary and was by far the most willing to attack his opponents, such as with his grammatically incorrect but effective “Les Otten, Less Jobs” TV ad (which flew in the face of his previous claims to “deplore” such attacks).
Poliquin’s tactics hurt his standing with his fellow candidates (A.J. Higgins declared him a “skunk at the picnic”) and hurt his chances at the polls. Despite spending more per vote than any other candidate, he placed a distant sixth out of seven candidates.
Poliquin’s damn-the-torpedoes opportunism has been a hallmark of his tenure as Treasurer as well. Many reporters and political observers have remarked on the fact that he seems to have treated the job as if it were a political campaign – speaking publicly throughout the state, constantly blasting emails and blog posts to his supporters and attempting to put his stamp of influence on every area even tangentially related to his office.
Poliquin’s tactics were certainly display when he set his sights on Maine Housing executive director Dale McCormick. A fascinating series of emails obtained by Maine’s Majority through a Freedom of Access request show Poliquin and his allies working closely with the Maine Heritage Policy Center to isolate McCormick and force her from her position in what Maine’s Majority’s Chris Korzen described as a “witch hunt.”
Even the laws of the state of Maine and basic ethics have sometimes taken a back seat to Poliquin’s drive. His questionable actions have ranged from the relatively small – like hoodwinking the press by misrepresenting his fundraising numbers during his gubernatorial race or – to major failings while in office, such as not fully disclosing his personal finances, falsely claiming a property tax credit, and apparently violating the State Constitution by engaging in commerce while serving as Treasurer.
A few weeks ago, the Sun Journal ran an editorial headlined “Poliquin leaves trail littered with ethical lapses” and this past week Democratic State Senator Phil Bartlett, in a public letter, asked Poliquin to resign his office.
The latest brazen, political act by Bruce Poliquin comes as he jockeys with five other contenders for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. He has gone to sometimes comical lengths to imply a connection to and endorsement by Governor Paul LePage. These include airing TV ads where he’s shown hugging the Governor and a mailer with their photos side by side and the headline “Paul LePage and Bruce Poliquin – Two Conservatives Fighting for Maine’s Future.”
Poliquin’s ploy became so blatant that LePage felt compelled to issue a statement clarifying that he was not endorsing any candidate in the race and Poliquins Republican rivals have attacked him for his tactics. Fellow candidate and fellow constitutional officer William Schneider accused him of attempting “to ride the Governor’s coattails and claim as his own the successes of the Republican administration and Legislature.”
The literal and metaphorical hugging of LePage may be a smart move. It’s usually a good idea for candidates seeking to build support to hitch their wagons to more well-known politicians, and while LePage may have a negative job approval rating statewide, he’s still very popular with the Republican base. If Poliquin can win a large fraction of his supporters, he can win the six-way race in what is expected to be a low-turnout election.
The Poliquin campaign sure wants people to think that they’re winning. They recently released fundraising totals showing them ahead of their rival campaigns but refused to disclose how much of the money came from Poliquin himself. In a recent email they also claimed that “Our internal polling shows us ahead in the race.”
Reached by email, Poliquin campaign consultant Tyler Harber refused to give any real information about the poll, except to say that “I can tell you that we are leading outside the margin of error in our internal survey conducted late last week.” Without numbers and methodology, obviously, this contention isn’t worth the pixels it’s printed on.
If Poliquin does win the race, he may find some of his advantages in the primary to be detriments in a general election. Being tied closely to LePage may not be useful within the wider electorate. Additionally, while Poliquin may currently be able to claim that coverage of his ethical lapses is the result of leftist persecution and an unfair media, that defense likely won’t fly outside of the Republican base.
One thing is clear. Wherever Poliquin is going, whether it’s to the U.S. Senate or to the dustbin of Maine political history, he’s headed there at top speed and without looking back.