Diane Russell, a local state house rep who’s currently running to represent downtown Portland in the Maine State Senate, has run an intense campaign all spring.
In the last week, however, she went beyond what I think any reasonable person would consider fair game when she sent out both a mass email and a bulk mailing containing vicious, misleading personal attacks on Ben Chipman, her top opponent.
Then a couple days later, she did it again with this piece, restating the same vicious misrepresentations of Ben’s record that I dissect in depth below, this time accompanied by a photo of Ben pausing for a second during a lengthy legislative session to review prospective campaign materials.
Ben has by far one of the best attendance records of anybody in the state house and has proudly made the trek up to Augusta through multiple blizzards. The picture only makes sense because it’s clearly been cropped and dramatically darkened so as not to show the rest of the legislature in detail, many of whom are surely browsing their work email or surfing Facebook. It’s hard to see it as anything but an incredibly cheap shot.
I never thought she’d go this far. Ben’s a well-loved local community leader who for the last six years has represented the low-income Portland neighborhoods of Parkside and Bayside in the Maine House of Representatives.
Originally from Harpswell island, Ben treats everybody with the same simple, straight-forward respect whether they’re a new immigrant on public assistance or a millionaire. He genuinely cares about people. He visits every door in his district at least once a year, whether he’s running or not, just to keep in touch. People love him.
He’s scrappy and diligent, a real street-level community organizer, running his senate campaign on the $10,000 he got from Maine Clean Elections, a drop in the bucket compared to the almost $87,000 that Diane has raised privately.
Here’s a photo of one of the other mailings Diane lobbed at him:
Let’s break it down:
1. “Last-Minute Democrat”
This isn’t a particularly deceitful attack, but I mean, who cares that Ben used to be an independent? As has become more clear this year than ever before, lifelong loyalty to the Democratic Party is a rotten gauge of how progressive a person is. If anything, Ben’s history as an independent is a badge of honor.
If Ben had run for senate as an independent, come November, he’d be going against the entire Maine Democratic Party machine, not just Diane and her mailing list. He’ll always be an independent thinker, but the only way he had a real shot at this, the most powerful seat that Portland has in Augusta, was to run as a Democrat. So he did.
2. “He took money from Republicans to veto healthcare access”
Wow. That’s not true. Yikes.
Eight years ago, Ben helped organize the campaign to veto the Flat Tax, a wildly unpopular bill, which the legislature had just passed, and that was ultimately overturned at the ballot box by over 60% of Mainers.
This bill would have cut the income taxes that Maine’s wealthiest residents were paying by 25%, reducing the State’s income tax revenues by over $175 million dollars a year. To make up for these taxes the wealthy would no longer be paying, new heavy sales taxes were to be levied on a wide range of things that working people do everyday, from moving to fixing up old cars.
Some of the projections estimated that the new plan would take in marginally more revenues, which, yes, could have been put toward MaineCare, but nobody, on either side, thought this was a plan to fund healthcare. It was about taxes. Specifically, it was about rich people evading income taxes and passing the burden onto their workers and customers in the form of sales taxes.
Across the spectrum, the vast majority of Mainers disagreed with the bill, but the leadership in opposing the bill ultimately came from conservative business owners who opposed the increased sales taxes. It made for an unusual coalition, but folks across the political spectrum agreed – this was poor legislation.
That’s what Ben worked on. I would have done the same. Diane, ever loyal to Maine’s elite, stood by the bill, pointing to the paltry $150 or so that working folks might get off their taxes, and turning a blind eye to the fact that Maine’s wealthiest residents were doing everything they could to wiggle out of their income taxes.
So much for her being a hard-edged populist.
Read about the tax bill for yourself:
3. “He voted against GMO labeling”
The truth here, again, is pretty close the opposite of what Diane is claiming.
Far from being an opponent, Ben has always been an incredibly well-loved leader in the fight against Monsanto and their franken-crops. Here’s him at a press conference he helped organize about the issue:
Here’s what actually happened with the vote.
For years, Ben worked to pass hard-hitting legislation requiring grocery stores to label food containing genetically modified organisms.
By the time the legislature voted on the bill, however, the legislation had been amended enormously. Sure, the legislature decided, Maine would label GMOs. As soon as four of the other five states in New England agreed to do so as well.
Once amended so significantly, an overwhelming majority of legislators were willing to vote for the bill, but, by requiring so many other states to sign on before anything could happen, the final language practically ensured that it would take decades before a single product carried a GMO label.
Comfortable that the vast majority of legislators were about to vote in favor of the watered down bill, Ben effectively cast a protest vote, rejecting the amended language. Personally, I find that totally respectable. Once it became clear that at least something was about to go through, Ben had no obligation to vote for the amended version. The law just isn’t a victory. Declaring it a success would have been the definition of acquiescence.
In conclusion, cherry picking little bullets like these and using out of state money to lob them at the electorate isn’t leadership. There’s nothing admirable about couching criticisms of your opponent in language that’s this misleading and out of context.
It’s been devastating to see one old friend assault another like this, but I know where I stand. If Diane is willing to stoop this low to get into higher office, who knows what she’d do if she got in? I don’t feel comfortable trusting my taxes with somebody like that.
Ben is honest. He’s consistently risen to face difficult situations and take real risks, initiating the thwarted effort to impeach Paul LePage and standing strong as a solid, principled representative of our community. I like him, and I’m going to vote for him to be our next state senator.
I encourage you to do the same.