Michaud’s VA problem is real, but manageable

Maine gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, the top Democrat on a House committee with oversight over the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been in the awkward position of showing allegiance to the Obama administration during the agency’s unfolding scandal and reminding Maine voters of the work he’s done on behalf of veterans. After avoiding taking a strong stand on whether or not VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, himself a Vietnam vet, should step down in the wake of whistleblowers’ revealing unconscionable wait times in an Arizona facility, Michaud caved late Thursday night.

But it was only after a raft of Democratic senators turned on Shinseki and it was clear the scandal was pervasive enough to warrant a head to fall. And even in his call for dismissal (Shinseki said Friday morning he was stepping down), Michaud couldn’t help but offer praise.

“Under [Shinseki’s] leadership, the VA has made impressive strides in helping to secure record increases in funding to ensure our veterans receive high-quality services, addressing veterans’ homelessness and ensuring veterans with service-related illnesses –like Agent Orange exposure – get the treatment they need,” Michaud said in a release. “But despite these successes, the systemic failures in our VA system are inexcusable and must be fixed immediately so that this never happens again.”

Michaud’s opponents – Republican Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler – have both sought to make political hay of the scandal. Michaud has highlighted his work with vets a significant part of his political resume as he makes his bid for the Blaine House and there’s no doubt having a scandal under the Democratic president at the VA does him no favors and makes for easy for his opponents to take pot shots. It’s also particularly advantageous since both Cutler and LePage are waging campaigns based on their ability to get the job done in government and the VA’s morass provides a perfect example to highlight Democratic failings.

“It increasingly appears that they’ve been asleep on the job,” Cutler said.

LePage has also made sure to go out of his way to be supportive to veterans since assuming office. He used his weekly address to focus on the topic.

Ultimately though, it is unlikely this national issue will do Michaud too much local damage, as the vets in Maine are likely to see him as a champion for them, rather than complicit in the poor management of the system. And Togus has also not been reported for any of the abuses seen at other facilities across the country.

But in such a tight race, anything could be enough to tip the scales and often times in campaigns, it’s the unforeseen circumstances that can up-end candidates. Michaud’s halting response to the calls for Shinseki’s resignation could provide the edge to his opponents, but it also could turn into an issue LePage and Cutler end up overplaying, if Maine’s vets side with the congressman.

Rebekah Metzler

About Rebekah Metzler

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer with U.S. News and World Report, who hails from the state of Maine where she covered state politics for the Lewiston Sun Journal and MaineToday Media. She spent much of 2012 covering the presidential campaign and particularly enjoyed her time on the road in states like Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Ohio and Ohio. Metzler earned her master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and is a Bowdoin College grad.