Senator Troy Jackson, left and Senator Emily Cain, right.
Senator Troy Jackson, left and Senator Emily Cain, right.
On June 10, Democrats in Maine's Second Congressional District will pick the person who will run in November for the seat vacated by Congressman Mike Michaud. As out-of-state money pours into the race, bombarding TV viewers with ads and clogging mailboxes with campaign mailers, a vigorous debate about the core values of the party is being waged among the party faithful.

Sen. Troy Jackson, a 45-year-old logger from Allagash, says many in the modern Democratic Party have largely abandoned working-class voters and have been complicit in fostering an era of crushing income inequality by creating a tax system favoring the very rich, offshoring jobs through free trade agreements, and deregulating corporations and financial insitutions.

In a fiery populist speech on May 31 at the state Democratic convention in Bangor, Jackson blasted corporations, Walmart, trade agreements, the "privileged elite" and members of the Democratic Party who "hold hands with members of the Tea Party to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires."

"I'm not running for Congress because I wanted to for a long time or I want it for a springboard for bigger and better things," Jackson said in that speech. "I'm running because of income inequality, poverty, unfairness, corporate greed and political cowardice. I've known these things my entire life, and I've watched them wreck communities and tear people's lives and their families apart."

After a video of Jackson's anguished ode to the little guy went viral, Thomas Steinbeck, the son of author John Steinbeck, gave Jackson his blessing to quote his father's writings in his campaign, noting the similarities between Jackson's speech and the words of "Grapes of Wrath" protagonist Tom Joad.

"Troy Jackson's campaign is grounded in the very spirit of the words of John Steinbeck; a dyed-in-the-wool, Jeffersonian Democrat and a man who was steeped in the tradition of support for those who speak from the heart for the people who have no voice," said Steinbeck in a statement to the Portland Press Herald.

But according to rival state Senator Emily Cain of Orono, Jackson's uncompromising style may get the base excited, but it will yield few results in a divided Congress that is already stuck in chronic partisan gridlock. Cain says her many years of crafting bipartisan budgets on the state Legislature's Appropriations Committee have made her an effective lawmaker able to work across the aisle.

"It's easy to talk about standing up for the middle class and the poor at a press conference, but it's much harder to deliver results," the 34-year-old Cain told the convention audience. "Delivering results depends on building bridges across party lines and finding common ground. In today's political environment, being a fighter is simply not enough. We need leaders to bring people together and bring the voice of Maine people to the table and stay there until they get the job done."

Cain and Jackson do agree on a range of Democratic issues. They both support getting off of fossil fuels to fight climate change and they both support raising the minimum wage, providing public funding for contraception, creating a single-payer health care system, and raising taxes on the wealthy to bolster Social Security. On student debt, Cain supports strengthening student aid programs and allowing students to refinance their debts to get lower interest rates. Jackson says he would vote for a tax on stock and bond transactions to alleviate student debt, and supports Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan to allow students to borrow at the same low interest rates that banks are able to receive.

They diverge on social issues. While Cain has championed a woman's right to have an abortion, Jackson has supported adding restrictions on the procedure in the past, though he says he has evolved since then and will never vote to make it illegal. Cain was also a strong supporter of the failed 2009 marriage equality law, which Jackson voted against because he said his conservative Catholic district did not support it. He has since reversed his position and called it "the worst vote I've ever taken." Both candidates say they're supporters of the Second Amendment. Cain supports universal background checks on gun purchases, but Jackson has traditionally been less supportive of new gun regulations. Jackson supports marijuana decriminalization for recreational purposes, while Cain is against it.

The "Pragmatic, Pro-Growth Progressive"

But in many ways, the Cain-Jackson race represents an age-old schism between the more professional liberal wing of the party and blue-collar labor Democrats. With the exception of the Marijuana Policy Project, Jackson's endorsements are almost exclusively from unions, including the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, machinists, painters, the Maine State Nurses Association, shipbuilders and other organized labor groups. Cain has been endorsed by several socially liberal groups like Emily's List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization of Women, Equality Maine and Planned Parenthood, as well as Move and the League of Conservation Voters.

Cain grew up in a middle-class family that traveled a lot due to her father's work as a shoe salesmen, and she spent her high school years in New Jersey. She says she was first politically inspired when her friend's mother decided to run for the New Jersey General Assembly. "I don't remember the issues, and she was a Republican, so I'm not even sure if I was going to vote for her," recalls Cain. "But what I remember was that someone I knew, a strong woman, was running for office."

Cain says she first began considering a career in government while studying to become a music teacher at the University of Maine at Orono."The unbelievable impact that public policy and public officials have on the ability of American families to afford college and get that next level of education was what really fueled my interest in public policy," said Cain.

In 2004, at 24 years old and in her final year of graduate school at Harvard University, she was recruited to run for a seat in the Legislature. For the past decade, Cain has balanced work, as the Coordinator of Advancement at UMaine's Honors College, with serving in leadership roles in the Legislature, including House Minority Leader and chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Cain said she believes that expanding access to workforce training and higher education can spur economic development.

As House Minority Leader, following the 2010 victory of Gov. Paul Lepage and legislative Republicans, Cain helped craft a bipartisan budget in 2011 that she proudly says rejected the then-majority Republican proposals to cut 28,000 childless adults from Medicaid, general assistance for the poor, the Drugs for the Elderly program and funding for family planning. However, three years later, those same 28,000 adults lost Medicaid coverage when the governor vetoed Medicaid expansion.

Jackson, who voted against that budget, has blasted the compromise because it included cuts to state employee pensions and over $400 million in tax cuts skewed toward the wealthy. Cain says that while she hates the $400 million in tax cuts, she insists it was a compromise she had to make.

"I always want to move something forward," said Cain. "I'm not driven by making big speeches and getting nothing done. I want to be known as the person who stands up but also can deliver something to make people's lives better."
The Logger from Allagash

Jackson says that growing up in a logging family in the heavily Franco-American St. John River Valley in northern Aroostook County shaped his political worldview. His mother was 15 when Troy was born, and he said she was forced to drop out of school to raise him in a shack by the Allagash River without heat or running water. He said he first became involved in politics after observing Canadian timber companies hiring cheaper Canadian loggers to cut wood in Maine, while he and other local loggers were forced to travel long distances away from home to find work. At times getting choked up during his convention speech, Jackson recalled his young son begging him not to leave when he'd go to work in the woods for several days a week.

"He told me that he was going to stay awake, holding my hand all night, so that when morning came, I'd still be there for him ... as if by strength of his will alone could keep me at home," said Jackson. "As if all of the strength that he had in that little hand could counter generations of corporate greed that was keeping generations of children in the St. John Valley from their parents. It was during those long Sunday nights that would turn into Monday mornings, that I stopped accepting things for the way that they were, and started thinking about the way that they should be."

In 1998, Jackson and a group of loggers formed a week-long blockade of a forest road border crossing to protest the number of Canadian loggers given special work visas to work in Maine. Two years later, Jackson ran for the Legislature as a Republican, an affiliation he took at age 20 to vote for George Bush, Sr. because he heard the former President was from Maine. Jackson lost his first election, but defeated the incumbent Democrat two years later when he ran as an independent. Jackson served on the Labor Committee for six years and then won a seat in the state Senate as a Democrat in 2008, where he now serves as Majority Leader. Jackson has submitted a number of bills to rein in use of bonded Canadian loggers in Maine, such as one to prohibit the state to allow Canadian harvesters on state land. The measure ran into stiff opposition from Governor Paul LePage, who called it "unconstitutional."

While Cain has touted her collaboration with Governor LePage on domestic violence issues, she has criticized Jackson for his combativeness with the governor. Jackson has called the governor a "dictator" and suggested he should be impeached for exerting political pressure on the unemployment claims process. But the senator from Aroostook became most known for an incident last year when LePage told reporters that Jackson had a "black heart" and that he "claims to be for the people but he's the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline."

"People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let someone with a brain come down here and do some work," LePage added.

Jackson shrugged off the insult and took a philosophical view of the volatile episode. "He's management and I'm labor and I've known him my entire life," said Jackson. "He's no different to me than all of the other people like Jim Irving [of the J.D. Irving timber company] and others who come to town and hold your livelihood in their hands. They tried to make you feel like you had to do things for less money or not be safe, because if you didn't you're going to lose your job."

Money and Establishment Politics

There's no question that Cain is the well-heeled Democratic establishment's choice, and a well-funded war chest has put Cain far ahead in the polls, with a 60-to-25-percent lead over Jackson according to Public Policy Polling data released Wednesday. According to the latest campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission, Cain has so far raised $601,252 and has $144,823 in cash on hand, while Jackson has raised a total of $277,025 with only $19,438 cash on hand. Cain has so far launched two TV ads herself and Emily's List has also announced a "six-figure" independent expenditure in support of Cain. Meanwhile, the Jackson campaign said that it is currently scrambling to raise enough money for a 30-second TV ad spot.

Last week the Washington, D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters launched a $150,000 attack on Jackson, labeling his 64 percent lifetime score one of the 12 worst records in the nation, a designation that is usually reserved for very conservative politicians with scores under 10 percent. Cain, who has a 90 percent score, said she was proud for the support, but condemned the LCV ads against Jackson.

Jackson says the LCV ads cherry-picked his votes to distort his record, pointing out that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, with the same LCV score of 71 percent that Jackson received this year, has been endorsed by the organization. Jackson has called the LCV ads a coordinated attack by "establishment" Democratic donors like hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, the husband of 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who donated $25,000 to LCV in March. It's a charge that has opened a wound in the state Democratic Party. In a May 18 op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, Democratic operative Michael Cuzzi called Jackson's assertion a "politically titillating conspiracy theory" and "an unnecessary and politically amateurish misstep."

But for all intents and purposes, the LCV attacks have worked. According to the most recent polling data, Democratic primary voters say Jackson's environmental record is a major concern. One of the ads focused on a vote he took in 2008 against putting stronger emission standards on coal plants (there are no coal plants in Maine). Another was a 2011 vote to repeal a 2009 law requiring that pesticide applicators notify all of their neighbors before they apply pesticides, as opposed to the current law that requires applicators to only notify neighbors who request to be notified. Jackson, who represents potato country, argues that the 2009 law was overly cumbersome.

Jackson also criticized a $10,000 contribution to the Cain campaign from the New Democratic Coalition, a pro-business faction of the Democratic Party that has championed free trade deals like the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership and has received most of its funding from the finance, insurance and real estate industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Cain says she supports "fair trade" and is strongly opposed to free trade agreements like the TPP. She says she received the group's endorsement because she is a "pro-growth progressive" who supports increased public funding for research and development. The NAFTA free trade agreement has been blamed for the loss of 30,000 manufacturing jobs in Maine during the past 20 years.

If Jackson were to win the Democratic primary and go on to win the general election, he would be bucking the trend. Duke University Professor of Public Policy Nicholas Carnes estimates that incumbent Mike Michaud is one of only two percent of Congress who come from a working-class background in manual labor or the service industry. In his recent book "White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making," Carnes argues that as Congress has increasingly been dominated by millionaires and wealthy professionals, working-class issues have been pushed off the table. The social safety net has become weaker, business and financial regulations less strict, and tax policies have become more favorable to the rich.