AUGUSTA — Although Joseph Brennan was crying foul Wednesday after his latest political ads were characterized as inaccurate and misleading by an opponent, the Democratic nominee was clearly guilty of making the same charges in a near identical situation during his 1990 campaign against Gov. John R. McKernan.
In the recent series of tandem television advertisements, Brennan’s gubernatorial policies were said to have contributed to the creation of 76,000 jobs in Maine. Another ad proclaims that Brennan opposed new taxes during his terms as governor from 1978 to 1986. Angus King, an independent who is determined to become Maine’s next governor, countered it was the economic climate of the 1980s — not Brennan’s economic initiatives — that were responsible for any new jobs during that period. He added that in contrast to the state’s employment boom, Brennan was unable to save 11,000 Maine manufacturing jobs.
The Brennan campaign immediately returned fire, charging that King was misrepresenting himself in ads that depict him in a factory with clusters of employees discussing how he built his own business and created new jobs.
King was adamant in his claim that Brennan created “tens of millions of dollars” in new taxes during his administration by increasing taxes on a variety of items and transactions. The independent candidate demanded that the Brennan campaign pull the ads from air.
If the entire scenario sounded like deja vu to members of the Brennan campaign, it was because the entire point-counterpoint could have been lifted from an exchange between the veteran politician and McKernan during a similar skirmish.
On July 3, 1990, Brennan accused McKernan of lying to Maine voters by airing ads that claimed McKernan solved the state’s budget problem with no new taxes when a variety of new taxes were imposed during the GOP administration. Brennan insisted then that McKernan should pull the ads and apologize to the voters for trying to deceive them.
“Governor McKernan raised taxes on drinks, tobacco, gasoline and oil,” Brennan was quoted as saying in the 1990 Associated Press story. “That’s the record. How in good conscience can he now be paying for advertising claiming he raised no new taxes?”
Now, in an advertisement released this week, Brennan maintains that as governor, he had said no to new taxes — a point hotly contested by King earlier this week.
“He raised taxes on gasoline, beer, cigarettes, wine, liquor, diesel fuel, home purchases — do I have to go on through this list?” King joked in a news release. “He raised taxes on hotel rooms, cable television, long-distance telephone calls. He also raised fees on driver’s licenses, car registrations, hunting licenses and fishing licenses.
“The bottom line is that when Joe Brennan left office, Maine people were paying tens of millions of dollars more in taxes than before he was elected,” King said. “And these were taxes that hit working families the hardest.”
Alan Caron, Brennan’s communications director, acknowledged that the spat over taxes amounted to something of a classic political dodge. He recalled how former Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Cragin had made a similar accusation when he sought to depose Brennan in 1982. Unlike the characterization offered by King, Caron maintained that the Brennan ad never claimed that the candidate had said “no new taxes” explaining that, in fact, the commercial specifically stated that Brennan had said “`no’ to new taxes.
“We’re not saying that he said `no’ to every tax,” Caron said. “Well, maybe we should have been more explicit there. Maybe we should have spelled out that he said `no’ to income and sales taxes. If we had to do it over again, we’d probably do that.”
Caron and Phil Merrill, Brennan’s campaign manager, were not backing down from the candidate’s jobs ad Wednesday and maintained that Brennan never claimed to be “single-handedly responsible for every one” of the 76,000 jobs. Merrill said that King’s characterization of the economic times in the 1980s was correct, but added that Brennan played a major role in contributing to the atmosphere of government stability leading to enhanced employment opportunities.
Rather than pull the ads, the Brennan campaign spokesman said he will increase air time of the commercials by 25 percent. Merrill characterized King as the “master of deception” with the independent’s ads illustrating his business background. King netted $8 million from the sale of his Northeast Energy Management Inc. in Brunswick to the Massachusetts-based, utility-holding company, Eastern Utility Associates. The firm employed fewer than a half-dozen people.
“In King’s ads when they speak of King starting a business and creating jobs, they always show him in a factory with many employees,” Merrill said. “This deliberately creates the false impression that his business had many employees, and we know that the truth is that he had four or less — including himself. Brennan’s record on jobs, therefore, is all the more important as a contrast to King’s piddling contributions.”