Why a Congressman Wants to Take a $104,000 Pay Cut

FILE-In this Friday, May 31, 2013, file photo U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, appears at an event in Brewer, Maine. Michaud is forming an exploratory committee and is beginning fundraising for a possible challenge of Gov. Paul LePage in 2014, taking a jab at the blunt-spoken Republican incumbent on Thursday, June 13, 2013, by saying Maine needs a governor who "can restore civility in Augusta."
National Journal
Michael Catalini
See more stories about...
Michael Catalini
Aug. 20, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

Con­gress­men who leave the Cap­it­ol to cash in for high­er-pay­ing jobs are a bit of a Wash­ing­ton cliché. So when Rep. Mi­chael Michaud says he wants to leave of­fice to be­come Maine’s next gov­ernor — and take a $104,000 pay cut — he stands out.

In­deed, the Maine Demo­crat wants to leave be­hind his $174,000-a-year con­gres­sion­al salary in a seat he’s won by healthy mar­gins in the last four elec­tions for a chance to serve as the coun­try’s low­est-paid chief ex­ec­ut­ive, at $70,000 a year.

Why would any­one do that?

“Good ques­tion,” said Michaud, 58. “A lot of people are ask­ing me about that. Well, I nev­er got in­to pub­lic ser­vice to make money. I got in pub­lic ser­vice to help the people of Maine.”

That’s es­sen­tially what his fel­low Demo­crats say as well. The de­cision, they ar­gue, fits with his blue-col­lar back­ground and a le­gis­lat­ive ca­reer that began at the state House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives in 1980 and con­tin­ued in the state Sen­ate in 1994 be­fore he ever got to Wash­ing­ton.

For nearly three dec­ades, Michaud, who did not at­tend col­lege, punched a clock as a mill work­er at the Great North­ern Pa­per Com­pany in rur­al East Millinock­et, Maine. He began in the “pa­per room,” where pulp trans­formed in­to pa­per, then moved to the ship­ping de­part­ment. When he was in the Le­gis­lature, he com­muted from Au­gusta to work overnight shifts on the week­end. He’s the kind of law­maker who could cred­ibly con­vene a “beer sum­mit.”

“I don’t think there’s a com­pel­ling fin­an­cial reas­on to get in­to this race,” said Mike Cuzzi, a Maine Demo­crat­ic strategist whose wife is a former Michaud cam­paign man­ager. “Mike de­serves a lot of cred­it in my mind for hav­ing the cour­age and the where­with­al to get in­to this race, leav­ing the safety of that con­gres­sion­al seat as well as the salary that comes with it.”

Ul­ti­mately, Michaud ac­know­ledges the fin­an­cial risk in run­ning, but waves the salary ques­tion aside. Un­like many oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress, though, whose net worth is es­tim­ated in the mil­lions, Michaud does not have that kind of wealth.

Michaud’s net worth in 2010, ac­cord­ing to data ana­lyzed by The Wash­ing­ton Post, was $524,000, nearly $200,000 be­low the me­di­an and sig­ni­fic­antly be­low the $6.5 mil­lion av­er­age net worth of House mem­bers in 2011, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

Of course, the gov­ernor’s man­sion does have its perks.

For one, a gov­ernor has more power com­pared to a mem­ber of the minor­ity party in Con­gress, even con­sid­er­ing that Michaud is the rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said James Melch­er, an as­so­ci­ate polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Maine.

It also of­fers ex­ec­ut­ive ex­per­i­ence that, to­geth­er with Michaud’s Wash­ing­ton years, could bring luc­rat­ive of­fers should he de­cide to leave pub­lic life.

There’s also a fin­an­cial safety net for re­tir­ing law­makers. Mem­bers of Con­gress are ves­ted in their fed­er­al pen­sions after five years of ser­vice. Elec­ted in 2002, Michaud would qual­i­fy for a pen­sion, join­ing 527 re­tired mem­bers of Con­gress who were re­ceiv­ing fed­er­al pen­sions as of Oc­to­ber 2012. Av­er­age pen­sion rates vary from about $71,500 to $40,600 a year, de­pend­ing on a num­ber of factors, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice.

Then there’s the po­ten­tial that Michaud will be a polit­ic­al god­send for his party.

Maine Demo­crats have suffered a string of statewide de­feats, in­clud­ing los­ing three-way races for gov­ernor in 2010 and for Sen­ate in 2012. The pres­sure, then, was on to re­cruit a top-tier can­did­ate, and Michaud provided that.

“Mike gives them that blue-col­lar im­age, and the name is cer­tainly well known in the 2nd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict,” said Philip E. Har­ri­m­an, a former Re­pub­lic­an state sen­at­or who served with Michaud in the Le­gis­lature.

The race is shap­ing up to be a con­test pit­ting Michaud, who an­nounced last week, against vul­ner­able Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent Paul LePage and wealthy in­de­pend­ent Eli­ot Cut­ler, who fin­ished second to LePage in 2010, beat­ing Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Libby Mitchell by al­most 100,000 votes.

“If Mike did not run, there was a pretty good chance that the Demo­crats would prob­ably come in third again,” Har­ri­m­an said.

To Demo­crats, it’s an open ques­tion wheth­er Cut­ler’s voters will back him again in 2014. Polit­ic­al watch­ers in both parties also agree that Cut­ler’s can­did­acy cuts in­to Michaud’s mar­gin more than LePage’s. Demo­crats point out that LePage’s path to vic­tory re­quires Cut­ler and Michaud to “de­vour each oth­er,” as Cuzzi put it.

Har­ri­m­an al­lots a base of about 30 per­cent to LePage and Michaud, and 25 per­cent to Cut­ler. So, Har­ri­m­an cal­cu­lates, that leaves the three can­did­ates fight­ing for about 15 per­cent of the vote.

“Michaud’s op­por­tun­ity is to con­vince people that a vote for Cut­ler is a wasted vote,” he said.

Michaud is op­tim­ist­ic he can cut in­to Cut­ler’s sup­port, though he vows he will not run a neg­at­ive cam­paign.

“Yes, Eli­ot came in second, but the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate was plum­met­ing in the polls about three weeks out in the elec­tion and there was nervous­ness,” Michaud said. “It wasn’t that they really be­lieved in Eli­ot. About a third of Eli­ot’s sup­port­ers are there be­cause they don’t like the gov­ernor.”

What We're Following See More »
“CLINTON MUST BECOME THE NEXT PRESIDENT”
Bernie Sanders Seeks to Unite the Party
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."

“MUST NEVER BE PRESIDENT”
Elizabeth Warren Goes After Donald Trump
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.

FLOTUS OFFERS STRONG ENDORSEMENT OF CLINTON
Michelle Obama: “I Trust” Hillary Clinton
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.

SANDERS BACKER CONFRONTS STUBBORN SANDERS SUPPORTERS
Sarah Silverman to Bernie or Bust: “You’re Being Ridiculous”
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.

‘INEXCUSABLE REMARKS’
DNC Formally Apologizes to Bernie Sanders
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."

Source:
×