Saving trees to housing the needy: What the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates say they’ve done

One takes credit for leading the fight to save the forests. One for lowering Mainers’ taxes. One champions cleaning up a river. Another for housing the old and poor across Maine.
Exterior of the Maine State House during the winter with trees missing all their leaves.
The Maine State House in Augusta.

One takes credit for leading the fight to save the Maine forests.

One takes credit for lowering Mainers’ taxes.

One takes credit for cleaning up a Maine river.

One takes credit for housing the old and the poor all across Maine.

Those are some of the claims suggested by the campaign biographies of the four remaining active candidates for the Democratic nomination to be governor. The fifth candidate dropped out after he was denied public financing because of fundraising irregularities.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reviewed the claims on the candidates’ website bios. The following analysis summarizes that review:

Pat McGowan

One of McGowan’s selling points to Democratic primary voters has been his electability against a Republican in the final election.

To support that, he cites his 1990 bid for the second congressional district seat versus Olympia Snowe, the current U.S. senator: “Up against a well-known and long-time incumbent, Pat came within one percentage point of garnering the votes to win the 1990 election.”

The actual results were Snowe 51 percent, McGowan 49. That’s two percentage points, not one. But if there had been a one-point switch (McGowan going up one point to 50 percent and Snowe down one to 50) there would have been a tie, not a win. McGowan’s spokesman Dan Cashman said that’s what the “one point” claim means.

McGowan’s bio details his conservation victories while serving as a state representative and, most recently, conservation commissioner. As a legislator from Somerset County, McGowan sponsored the 1987 bill that created the Land for Maine’s Future program. McGowan claims the program has conserved nearly 600,000 acres with projects in all 16 counties, a statement confirmed by Director of Land for Maine’s Future Tim Glidden.

His bio also states: “In the course of his recent tenure as Maine’s Conservation Commissioner, 1 million acres of land has been placed in public trust.”

The phrase “In the course of his recent tenure …” is an artful construction: while it is not a claim that McGowan was personally responsible for the land acquisitions, at the same time it connects his name to that achievement.

According to data supplied by the Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks & Lands (BPL), when McGowan became commissioner in in 2002 there were 651,772 acres owned or held in conservation easement by the department and the BPL.

When he stepped down in 2009, this number had risen to 1,648,544 acres — a gain of 996,772 acres — roughly the 1 million McGowan cites.

His campaign web site also states, McGowan  “successfully led the effort to complete Percival Baxter’s dream for Baxter State Park by purchasing and securing Katahdin Lake.”

News coverage tends to confirm that claim, including a Downeast magazine story that said, “in 2003 … Governor John Baldacci asked Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan to open negotiations with the lake’s owner.”

After the acquisition, public snowmobile and ATV access to the lake was reduced, calling into question one part of McGowan’s claim to have an “impressive record with outdoor enthusiasts — ensuring their access to water and their ability to boat, hike, hunt, fish, and snowmobile.”

Some boaters, hunters and fishermen may agree with that, but some snowmobilers don’t.

The Katahdin Lake deal left a sour taste in Executive Director of the Maine Snowmobile Alliance Bob Meyers’ mouth. He argues that it was structured to limit recreational access from the get-go. According to Meyers, the only snowmobilers currently allowed on the parcel are guests at the Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps.

While Meyers praised McGowan for the purchase of old railroad beds to use as snowmobile trails, he believes his “record on access to outdoor recreation is spotty at best.”

On the other hand, the Natural Resources Council of Maine cites the purchase as one of the top 10 environmental victories of the decade.

As the New England regional administrator of the Small Business Administration under President Bill Clinton, McGowan claims to have set record-breaking numbers for loans and downsized his office by 80 percent. According to Phil Lader, the head of the SBA at the time, “the loan-expansion numbers seem correct.” He added that the down-sizing was “part of our national effort,” and not unique to McGowan’s branch of the SBA.

Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell

Some resume claims can be taken two ways — witness Mitchell’s reference to state taxes on her campaign web site:

“In 2004, Maine had the fifth-highest tax burden in the country. By 2008, it dropped to 15th. This past year, while other states in the country increased taxes, we reduced our highest income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.9 percent.”

All of that is accurate. As Senate president, she led a landmark tax reform bill though her chamber that lowers the income tax rate precisely as she states.

What she doesn’t state is that for much of period that Maine was achieving some of highest tax burdens in the country, she was in the legislature. She has served 12 terms in the House and the Senate, going back to 1975, and has been in leadership much of that time.

And while it also true that other states — but by no means all — raised taxes in 2009, so did Maine: The sales tax was broadened and increased in some categories in order make up for the loss from the income tax decrease.

Still, Maine Revenue Services estimates 90 percent or more of Maine residents will see their total taxes go down an average of $77 due to the legislation, which is subject to a people’s veto in the June 8 primary.

Some other claims include Mitchell’s work on the worker’s compensation reforms of the early 90s, which she says has taken the state’s insurance rates for such claims from being the worst in the country to the middle of the pack, a finding backed up by most studies.

Her leadership on education issues includes passage of the Learning Result bill, setting new standards for each grade level, when she was speaker of the House.

“Energy costs are still high,” she states, “But we took steps in the last two years to transform Maine’s energy picture. Fifteen wind power projects are now in development. Ocean-based wind power is coming.

The wind power projects number is confirmed by the Natural Resources Council of Maine web site.

Mitchell’s optimism about off-shore power is hard to check on because she cities no timetable.  Gov. John Baldacci’s task on wind power report stated: “Offshore wind power may not be economically viable in the near term …”

Her claim to putting more resources into efficiency is backed up by her sponsorship of a bill to fund the weatherization of Maine homes.

Research confirmed Mitchell’s list of political and community service, including serving on the Board of MaineGeneral Health to three terms as a Vassalboro selectwoman to Federal Home Loan Bank Board and others.

Steve Rowe

Rowe is the only candidate to claim — accurately — that he won a case before the highest court in the land.

He characterizes it this way: “He (Rowe) led efforts to clean Maine’s air and water by successfully enforcing state and federal environmental laws, arguing and winning a Clean Water Act case in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

What’s left out of that summary is that there would have no case to argue if it hadn’t been for another state agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, which denied the dam relicensing on the Presumpscot River, leading to the court challenge that Rowe took up as the state’s attorney general.

He also states that he “led his fellow state attorneys generals in national efforts to reduce prescription drug prices.”

Documents confirm Rowe chaired a drug pricing task force for the National Association of Attorneys General.

He also says he “led the passage of a $50 million Land for Maine’s Future bond issue …” While that bond was proposed by Gov. Angus King, it arose out of a proposal made originally by Rowe and state Sen. Chellie Pingree.  It was approved by both the Senate and the House while Rowe was speaker of the house in 1999. Actual “passage” was achieved when a majority of Maine voters approved the referendum.

The Center confirmed his West Point graduation, his masters degree in business administration from the University of Utah and his law degree from the University of Southern Maine.

Rosa Scarcelli

A key element of Scarcelli’s claim on the Blaine House is that she’s not a politician, but a business person. So, unlike the other three candidates for the Democratic nomination, much of the record that might support her claims is not in the public domain.

Checking out her resume was further complicated by the fact that her spokesperson, Dennis Bailey, declined to answer the Center’s questions after publication of its story titled, “Democratic candidate Rosa Scarcelli: more than a political ‘newcomer.’

Bailey objected that the author, MCPIR contributing writer Marian McCue, had given a $100 contribution before she worked with the Center to Mitchell, which was disclosed by the Center.

Nevertheless, from some available records and material Bailey provided at an earlier point, the Center was able to check on some of Scarcelli’s resume.

For example, she says this in her web bio: “Through her hard work, she provided a place that offers a sense of security for the elderly, more opportunities for the disadvantaged and the ability for many to be part of a larger community. Her company does this in over 35 towns across our state …”

Material provided by Bailey shows Scarcelli’s company, Stanford Management, manages 1749 units in 59 locations across the state. Scarcelli has an ownership interest in about 23 percent; her mother Pam Gleichman, a well-known housing developer, about 22 percent; the rest are owned by others.

The data also shows that all the projects were built under three government programs: The federal Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the Maine State Housing Authority.

While one of the first lines in her bio states, “Her background isn’t in politics,” just a few sentences later it says, “She knows how to be successful within government restraints.” The latter is a reference to the rules and regulations placed on housing developers by the government agencies that fund them.

An example of a Scarcelli statement that could not be confirmed: “Rosa has sat across from Fortune 500 companies at the bargaining table …”

The Center confirmed Scarcelli’s graduation from Bowdoin College and much of her list of memberships and awards, including the Aspen Institute 2009 Henry Crown Fellowship, membership in the Young Presidents Organization and being featured as a top 50 owner by Affordable Housing Magazine.


Nathaniel Herz

Raised in Maine and a graduate of Bowdoin College and Columbia University’s journalism school, Nathaniel Herz worked as an intern at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting in 2010.

Emily Guerin

Emily Guerin was an intern for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting after earning a degree from Bowdoin College.

John Christie

John Christie is the co-founder, former publisher and former senior reporter of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. He has covered local, state and national politics as a reporter, editor and publisher at newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida and holds a BA in political science from the University of New Hampshire.
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