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Maine police group’s endorsement of Golden could undercut key GOP attack

Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, visits Acadia National Park, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Winter Harbor, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, visits Acadia National Park, Friday, June 18, 2021, in Winter Harbor, Maine.

Maine's largest police union is "splitting the ticket" this year by endorsing Republican former Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic Congressman Jared Golden in a state where voters are known for their willingness to look past party labels.

But the Golden endorsement could undercut a popular line of attack from Republicans this election season.

The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed LePage during a press conference Monday morning in Augusta where president Matt Nadeau said “the overwhelming majority of our membership feels that Paul LePage is the right person for this job." A Republican, LePage served two terms in the Blaine House but is seeking a third, non-consecutive term this November by challenging incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

Roughly two hours later, leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police were in Auburn to endorse Golden as the Democrat seeks a third term representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

"This endorsement was not a given. Congressman Golden has earned it,” said Mike Edes, executive director of the group, which has about 800 members in 50 law enforcement agencies across the state.

For his part, Golden used Monday's endorsement as a way to both praise law enforcement and to criticize the "violent protests carried by the partisans of the extremes of both left and right that are equally out of touch with mainstream America." He also accused unnamed other politicians of attempting to score political points at the expense of law enforcement.

"So I'm calling on other elected officials to back-the-blue,” Golden said. “Here in Maine and elsewhere in America, leaders need to get serious about taking down drug cartels, mafia, gangs, traffickers and dealers that push deadly, illegal drugs."

Golden is a moderate Democrat seeking a third term representing a congressional district where the majority of voters supported former Republican President Trump – twice. His Republican opponent this year is former Congressman Bruce Poliquin, who Golden defeated in 2018. The pair are joined again on the ballot by independent Tiffany Bond.

While Golden votes consistently with his party on some issues – such as protecting abortion rights – he has staked out much more moderate and, at times, conservative position on guns, stimulus spending and law enforcement.

For instance, he was one of just two Democrats to vote against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act named for the Black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests for police reform. That bill, which passed the House but stalled in the evenly divided Senate, would have banned chokeholds, prohibited no-knock warrants and ended the legal protection for police officers known as qualified immunity.

"His voting record stands for itself,” Nadeau said. “”He is not afraid to do the right thing. He’ll vote against his party when he needs to.”

That willingness to vote contrary to party leadership – and sometimes opposite of all other House Democrats – has angered many Maine progressives but is likely to play well among moderates and independents in the 2nd District.

The police group’s endorsement is also likely to undercut a popular line of attack from Republicans: that Democrats want to "defund the police." In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is the GOP's campaign arm for U.S. House races, accused Golden of accepting donations from organizations that supported "defund the police" campaigns.

“Jared Golden’s actions speak louder than words and that’s bad news for Maine’s law enforcement community,” NRCC spokeswoman Samantha Bullock said in a statement last week.

Poliquin's campaign downplayed the endorsement even as LePage’s campaign – which involves some of the same advisors – held a press conference to tout his blessing from the police group.

“The FOP endorses people of both political parties and sometimes gets it right, but with Jared Golden they had the wool pulled over their eyes,” Poliquin said in a statement. “Jared Golden not only accepted the endorsement of radical organizations promoting a defund the police ideology, Golden actually donated to a group pushing defund the police.”

Golden called such statements "insulting" but he also sought to put distance between himself and anyone who would advocate for defunding the police.

"It's just a small group of people, I think, who were using that slogan in a way that was wrong, scapegoating law enforcement officers,” Golden said. “And it really doesn't get to the heart of the issue they were speaking about. But yeah, I am completely critical of that."

During his endorsement press conference at the State House in Augusta, LePage accused Gov. Mills of not doing enough to address the worsening opioid crisis, which claimed a record number of lives last year.

“Janet Mills has failed to call on the Biden administration to enforce our border laws and redouble our efforts to stop the influx of narcotics into our country,” LePage said. “Her silence is inexcusable and Mainers continue to die daily from our drug epidemic.”

The Mills campaign responded by pointing out that, as governor, the Democrat has invested heavily in drug treatment and made medication-assisted treatment along with counseling and recovery support services available to all residents of state-run correctional facilities.

As Governor, she has increased funding for the Maine Department of Public Safety by $34 million and the Maine State Police by $10 million,” Mills campaign manager Alexandra Raposo said in a statement. “She has added new positions to the State Police and other law enforcement agencies, including the Maine Warden Service and Marine Patrol, and she has worked with Republicans, Democrats, and independents to deliver more resources to municipalities – the very resources cut by Paul LePage – to bolster local police and EMS to protect Maine communities.”