LePage echoes Raye’s 12-year-old Social Security attack on Michaud

In a video being described as a “message to supporters,” Republican Gov. Paul LePage reiterated his support for Social Security. Here, watch the video before we go on any further. It’s short.

The video comes just a short time after LePage recorded a robocall about his love for Social Security, which was sent to Mainers across the state. It’s hard not to see both the call and the video above as efforts by LePage to take the sting out of a recent communications flub, where the governor referred to Social Security as “welfare” — the incumbent’s No. 1 bogeyman headed into November’s election.

Democrats and other LePage opponents, predictably, seized on the governor’s comments, which he later clarified to say he didn’t see Social Security as welfare.

In the video above, an attempt to shore up his bona fides with seniors, LePage has turned to an attack that’s already been used once, and failed, against his Democratic opponent for the Blaine House, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.

In addition to attacking Michaud for his support for the Affordable Care Act, LePage mentions a vote Michaud cast in 1999, as a member of the Maine Senate. The vote was for a bill that would have levied a tax on high-income Social Security recipients. The tax would have affected about 42,000 of the state’s 251,000 Social Security beneficiaries, and would have resulted in an average tax of about $600 for those affected.

The idea was to equalize the tax levied on those Social Security earners compared with state pension earners. Those receiving state pension payments pay taxes on that income, while Social Security earners do not. Pensioners are ineligible for Social Security, even if they paid into the system before or after earning a state pension.

Facing a firestorm of public opposition, then-Gov. Angus King vetoed the bill after it passed the House and Senate.

LePage seems to be hoping attacking Michaud for the vote will work better in 2014 than it did in 2002, when Michaud ran for Congress for the first time. That year, Michaud’s Republican opponent, Kevin Raye, made quite a to-do over Michaud’s vote.

“It’s a matter of trust, and it seems unbelievable to me that someone would do that,” Raye said at the time.

Social Security may be the third rail of American politics — as LePage and his staff have learned in the past month — but Raye’s criticism weren’t enough to take down Michaud in 2002. The Democrat won the election to Congress with 52 percent of the vote.

LePage’s campaign spokesman and current Assistant House Republican Leader Alex Willette said the video is meant to “compare and contrast the governor’s position on taxation, especially with his record of letting seniors keep the money they earned. … contrasting it with Congressman Michaud’s effort to tax social security.”

Michaud’s campaign spokeswoman, Lizzy Reinholt, said the LePage ad and robocalls were “distractions.”

“This is an issue that has been well debated, and Mike has been a champion for protection social security while in Washington,” she said. “This is a distraction from Gov. LePage’s failed leadership and out of touch views that Medicare and Social Security are welfare.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.