Every citizen should have the opportunity to sit down for a beer with the candidates running for elected office. With this truth of democracy in mind, I thought, I should have a beer with the gubernatorial candidates on the November ballot and share my findings with the people of Maine.
So I contacted the three candidates vying for the Blaine House and invited them out for a beer. Both Mike Michaud (D) and Eliot Cutler (I) responded with an immediate “yes.” Incumbent Paul LePage (R), unfortunately, declined my multiple invitations, citing a busy campaign schedule.
My only request for the candidates who accepted my invitation was that they pick the location and the beer. From there, I had no political agenda. The first column focuses on my beer with Mike Michaud. While the second column (it will be in the Oct. 16 edition) centers on Eliot Cutler.
It’s an impossibly beautiful afternoon in August. I shade my eyes and lean against the brick exterior of the Biddeford mill that now houses one of Maine’s best new breweries, Banded Horn Brewing.
Across the dusty parking lot two men approach on foot. I recognize the older man as Michaud by his shock of white hair, tall stature and boyish smile. We shake hands, get the “Nice to meet yous” taken care of, and head into the mill for a beer.
At the tasting room bar, he asks me, “What do you recommend?”
I tell him that my favorite beer is the Binary Double IPA. “Just so you know,” I warn, “it’s 9.2% alcohol.”
He studies the board for another moment then says, “I’ll have that.”
I tell the tasting room attendant to make it two, and Mike and I sit down with our glasses.
My first question for the Democratic candidate: Why did you choose to meet at Banded Horn?
Michaud takes a healthy swig of his beer and tells me that last year he was in this mill while the Banded Horn team was setting up the brew kettles. He likes the trend in Maine of repurposing abandoned mills.
Ian McConnell, head brewer and owner of Banded Horn, comes over to ask how we’re enjoying our beer, and Michaud inquires if any of his ingredients are locally sourced. McConnell and Michaud then launch into a lively conversation: McConnell explaining that he wants to brew with more locally produced grains and hops, and Michaud noting that he would like to help make that happen.
Seeing that our glasses are empty, McConnell asks if we want another. I say to Michaud, “It’s your call.”
Michaud looks to Matt McTighe, his campaign manager, to see how they’re doing on time. McTighe gives a thumbs up, and Michaud asks, “What should we drink?”
I recommend the Green Warden, an American ale brewed with locally harvested spruce tips. Michaud loves this idea.
The tasting room is filling up, and I notice people giving Michaud double takes. The place is becoming electrified by the Congressman’s presence. Then I remember that I’m having a beer with a guy who just last week sat down with President Obama.
While Michaud explains his desire to bring tidal power to Maine, McTighe hands him a sandwich. Michaud opens it and says, “This is way too big. Here, have half.” Before I can protest, he places half a sandwich on a napkin, and slides it my way. This sums up the kind of guy I perceive Mike Michaud to be, a guy who will give you half his sandwich while the two of you are drinking beers.
We eat and our conversation moves away from political territory where Michaud appears most comfortable. I ask if he’s a cat or a dog person. He quickly responds, “Dog.” He tells me he’s thinking of getting a boxer later this year and wants to know everything about my lab.
“What’s your favorite spot in Maine to drink a beer?” I ask.
He laughs and says, “On my front porch in Millinocket.”
Sensing that our time together is coming to an end, I ask him one last question: “If you could have a beer with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”
He thinks for a moment and smiles. “My mom,” he says. “We lost her last November, and I really miss her.”
We raise our glasses and finish the last of our spruce tip ales. With the sandwich done and our second beer drained, he tells me he has to get going.
Before standing, he says, “Next time, we’ll share a beer in the Blaine House.”
I tell him that I’m going to hold him to that. On his way out of the brewery, Michaud shakes hands with the dozen eager people who approach him. He smiles and makes sincere eye contact. Then he disappears out the door, back onto the campaign trail.