Locked in a high-profile fight to preserve bear hunting law in Maine, a top sportsman's group has kept its grades for the state's politicians decidedly uncontroversial.
On Thursday, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine released the grades for candidates in Maine's top races, which were based on responses to a group questionnaire and interview. None of the candidates received lower than a B grade, and the alliance gave no endorsements for governor or Congress.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler and Democrat Emily Cain got the lowest marks because of their support for expanding background checks to firearms purchased in private sales and their willingness to discuss a national park in Maine's North Woods region.
The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine has recently been the state's most vocal foe of gun control proposals and opposes a new national park in Maine. There is no formal park plan before Congress now, but environmentalist Roxanne Quimby has proposed giving the federal government 70,000 acres around Millinocket for a park and $20 million to maintain it. Cutler supports the park and Cain is undecided.
On the group's scorecard, A grades were awarded to Republicans and two independents: Incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and the party's nominees for Congress -- the 2nd District's Bruce Poliquin and the 1st District's Isaac Misiuk. The independent candidates were Blaine Richardson in the 2nd District's Blaine Richardson and Richard Murphy in the 1st District.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District, the Democratic nominee for governor, got an A- due to his support for expanding background checks. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, her Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, did not respond to the questionnaire and were not graded.
Still, the group is careful to praise all candidates who responded.
That's because the alliance has just about all of Maine's top politicians in their corner on a November referendum question that will ask voters to ban bear baiting, trapping and hounding in Maine. The alliance is leading a coalition of groups to oppose the question, which is supported by the Humane Society of the United States, an animal rights group.
LePage, Michaud, Cutler, Cain, Poliquin, Bellows, Misiuk, Murphy and Richardson all oppose the referendum. Pingree has stayed neutral, according to the alliance, while Collins didn't respond to the group's question on it.
In a press release, the alliance said that group "is a fragile collection representing a wide array of political interests." In an interview, David Trahan, the group's executive director, said endorsing any of the candidates could erode the unified opposition, though the alliance will make endorsements in legislative races.
"Whether people like it or not, there's going to be hard feelings and we wanted to avoid that," he said.