GORHAM (AP) — Shawn Moody opened an auto body shop as a high school student and grew it into what he says is the largest independent collision repair company in New England. Moody's Collision Centers now has 75 employees at five locations and annual revenue of more than $10 million.
Moody hopes to parlay his business success into a seat behind the governor's desk.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of Maine's economy and in need of relief from regulatory and tax burdens, he said at his flagship shop in this town outside of Portland, where he grew up and started his business.
Building Maine's business base will create jobs, generate revenues for the state and result in a healthy business climate, he said. What businesses need, he said, is relief from the "bondage of bureaucracy."
"Small business is the backbone of Maine and the backbone of America," he said. "The backs get tired after a while."
With no political experience, the 50-year-old Moody is little known in Maine and a long shot in November's gubernatorial election. He is running against Democrat Libby Mitchell, Republican Paul LePage and independents Eliot Cutler and Kevin Scott to replace Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, who can't run again after serving two terms.
Moody is probably lesser-known than one his top supporters, Bob Crowley, the former bow-tied Gorham physics teacher who emerged as the $1 million winner of CBS' reality TV show "Survivor: Gabon" in 2008. Crowley appeared in Moody's first campaign TV ad and is stumping with him in northern and eastern Maine.
Still, Moody has the money to get his name out. A multimillionaire, he's pumped $500,000 into his campaign and is prepared to spend substantially more by the time the campaign is over.
"Anybody who's got that kind of money and is willing to put it out there, you can't completely ignore them no matter how unknown or a dark horse they are," said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine. "You can run a pretty reputable campaign in Maine for $500,000. Just that in itself means you have to pay a little attention to him."
Observers say Moody has a couple of things going for him, beyond his willingness to spend money on the campaign: He's a businessman who has created jobs and met payrolls, and he's a political outsider at a time when frustrated voters nationwide have been turning their backs on the establishment.
Moody's biography is similar to that of former Govs. James Longley and Angus King, who made their money in business before deciding they wanted to enter politics, said Bowdoin College political science professor Christian Potholm. Longley was elected to a single term in 1974, and King was elected in 1994 and again in 1998.
"Certainly for the last year and half all the polling data in terms of what people want in the next governor is someone with real business experience," Potholm said. "Both the Democrats and Republicans in the primary were scrambling to get on that lily pad of 'I've created jobs, I know jobs, I can run the state more like a business.'"
But it's not easy being an independent in a statewide race.
And it's even tougher when there are three independents.
To win the votes of independents, Moody must overcome Cutler, a Cape Elizabeth lawyer who has been advertising heavily and was once a legislative assistant to Sen. Edmund Muskie and worked in the Jimmy Carter administration.
Like Moody, Cutler has tried to tout his business experience, calling himself a "businessman, entrepreneur and lawyer." But Moody said voters should compare their resumes.
"Do you want a craftsman who has calluses on his hands, or do you want an environmental attorney?" he said.
Moody grew up in a home on a rural road, the youngest of three children raised by a single mother after his parents divorced before he was 2. He never attended college and speaks in a plain, folksy manner.
While still at Gorham High School, he opened an auto body shop in small garage down the street from his house. He built up his business and eventually bought Gorham Auto Parts, an eyesore of a junkyard that he transformed it into an auto recycling business. In 1999, he sold Gorham Auto Parts to LKQ Corp., which is now a publicly traded company based in Chicago, in what he says was a multimillion-dollar deal.
His company now has five body shops, in Gorham, Scarborough, Portland, Biddeford and Sanford, with plans to add a sixth in the Lewiston-Auburn area. He has 75 employees with an annual payroll of more than $4 million. About a third of the company is owned by the employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Program, or ESOP.
Moody has ideas for cutting health care costs in Maine (increase health insurance competition) and upping Maine's high school graduation rates (offer more vocational and work-study co-op programs for students who don't want to go to college), but business is his bailiwick.
He knows the value of a dollar, he said, and would do for government what he's done for his business. He drives a 2000 Chevy pickup with 154,000 miles on it and lives in a modest Cape Cod house where he his wife raised four children, who are between 16 and 22 years old. He always turns off the lights and air conditioning when he leaves a room.
Moody said he has the ability to create a "high-performance work environment through quality, productivity and efficiency, of which we're sorely lacking in the public sector."
"They don't need a professor, they don't need an attorney," he said. "They need a sharp business person with a long record of starting with nothing and going to the top."