Maine voters this November will have five distinct options for governor, along with five declared write-in candidates. Issues and personalities separate the contestants. Today, the Sun Journal begins a series that will run daily for the next two weeks examining six of the gubernatorial candidates' positions on a variety of issues.
The series begins today with brief profiles, a look at each candidate's background and their campaigns. The subsequent articles will address specific issues.
Five of the candidates will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot: Republican Paul LePage, Democrat Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell and independents Eliot Cutler, Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott. The sixth, former Auburn mayor John Jenkins, is an independent write-in candidate. Although Jenkins is one of five write-ins, he will be the only one profiled in this series because of his connection to the communities we cover.
Inspirational. Dangerous. Forthright. Liar.
The words describing LePage couldn't be more contradictory, the people speaking them more polarized.
So goes LePage's candidacy for the Blaine House. The run came seemingly from nowhere when LePage, considered by many the most conservative of seven GOP candidates, stunned many by winning the June 8 primary.
He's been assisted by a Dickensian story: One of 18 children. Son of an abusive father, LePage fled to the streets of Lewiston. Successful businessman. Mayor of Waterville. Republican candidate for governor.
To supporters, LePage's up-by-the-bootstraps narrative dovetails with his message of limited government, reduced spending, reduced regulation and pledges to cut so-called entitlement programs.
The platform resonates with the tea party, but LePage said he doesn't represent the controversial movement.
"I didn't seek them; they're supporting me," he said during a Sept. 5 forum.
Opponents say LePage won't cut government; he'll dismantle it.
They've also assailed LePage's temperament, judgment and honesty. He's given them plenty of fodder. He stormed out of a press conference last month after giving conflicting answers about his wife's tax violations in Maine and Florida. He told a group of fishermen that he would tell President Obama "to go to hell."
There have been other episodes, but LePage's core supporters claim the candidate's lack of polish reflects a refreshing candor.
Dan Demeritt, LePage's newly appointed press secretary, said the candidate "readily admits" he needs "to work on his word choice," but said LePage is a "fighter" who will stand up for working families in Maine.
Speaking from his Waterville campaign headquarters last month, LePage was eager to discuss issues.
True to form, he offered thoughts on topics not on the menu, including his desire to bring back the state's death penalty — abolished in 1887 — and to reopen the case of convicted murderer Dennis Dechaine, who is serving a life sentence for killing 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in 1988 in Bowdoinham.
"We shouldn't be afraid to admit mistakes," he said. "I make them every day."
Sept. 20 was not a good day for Mitchell.
A poll released the day before showed the gubernatorial hopeful trailing LePage. Again. And by a lot — 13 points.
Mitchell, sitting down for a recent interview in Falmouth, said she wasn't discouraged.
But as the interview drew to a close, the state Senate president indicated that she was frustrated by the forces working against her: a weak economy and an electorate angry with Democrats' efforts to turn it around.
She spurned claims that she was a "career politician," the term her opponents have used to describe her.
"You wouldn't put your neck out there if you didn't think it would make a difference," she said. "And I think I can make a difference."
Mitchell's campaign is running on her 24-year record in the Legislature, an uphill strategy during a year of raging anti-establishment and anti-incumbency sentiment.
In any other year, Mitchell's political career might be considered an advantage. The native South Carolinian, an attorney by profession, is the first woman to head both chambers of the Legislature, where she has served since 1974, with two breaks in between.
Two of her rivals, Paul LePage and Eliot Cutler, say that's too long, adding that Mitchell and Democratic policies have Maine facing a projected $800 million budget shortfall, a state pension crisis, crumbling infrastructure and a high tax burden.
Mitchell, however, is proud of her work in the Legislature, highlighting the state's use of Pine Tree Zones to provide tax incentives for business and cuts to company income tax.
As for the state's economic condition, Mitchell said, "It's very frustrating to have a national recession blamed on the Maine Legislature, the Maine governor."
Her campaign, in a written statement, took the sentiment further, saying, " ... The worldwide recession was caused by predatory lenders and good old-fashion Wall Street greed, not by anyone in Maine."
The license plate on his campaign van reads "Nxt Gov."
Those who haven't met Eliot Cutler might attribute such a bold pronouncement to an optimistic campaign worker. Those who have met Cutler know better.
Cutler, a Bangor native and Cape Elizabeth resident, isn't short on confidence or credentials.
Cutler left Bangor in the 1960s, graduating from Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, Harvard University and then Georgetown Law School. In the 1970s, he worked for U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie and President Jimmy Carter. He then worked in China before returning to the U.S. in 1999.
Despite ties to the Democratic Party, he's running as an independent and positions himself as socially liberal, fiscally conservative.
If ever there were a year, or a place, for such a candidate, 2010 Maine would seem to be it. But Cutler's bid to follow independents Angus King and James Longley to the Blaine House is an uphill one.
Cutler is polling between 10 and 15 percent, well behind Mitchell and LePage. He claims Democrats are pressuring him to abandon the race because he's siphoning support from Mitchell.
"I'm in the race, I'm staying in the race, and I'm going to win it," Cutler said.
Cutler has gone on the offensive. He's called LePage a "crude bully" and ripped Mitchell's streamlined government plan as a gimmick.
He's proposed replacing the Bureau of Environmental Protection with a three-judge appellate to help business, lengthening the school year and creating a performance-based budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Critics have focused more on Cutler's past than his plans.
He sat on the board at Thornburg Mortgage, which filed for bankruptcy in 2009. He also worked for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which critics say outsourced U.S. manufacturing jobs to China.
Cutler was a lobbyist and attorney for the firm, where, he says, he helped open markets for American companies to sell services and products in China.
Cutler claimed both parties are spreading falsehoods about his work. He said the establishment will do anything to maintain their "duopoly."
"Democrats and Republicans have a common interest," he said. "They want to make sure that the best alternative to one is the other."
But voters have another choice, he says.
"We have a strong message and we have the resources to carry it forward," he said.
To drive through Gorham these days is to drive to a place where Moody isn't just the leading independent candidate for governor, but the only candidate, so prevalent are the lawn signs supporting his bid for the Blaine House.
But Gorham, the polls show, isn't like the rest of the state.
That Moody has successfully canvassed his hometown shouldn't come as a surprise. His collision and auto body repair chain is headquartered there, and his charitable efforts and reputation as an employer appear to have afforded him good standing within the community.
Of course, Moody's challenge lies not in Gorham, but convincing the rest of the state that a small businessman who has never held, or aspired to, elected office can effectively govern Augusta.
Despite arguably leading the personality war — in debates he has come off as funny and affable — it's been a tough sell. Moody has made modest gains in the polls, but he remains the second most popular independent on the ballot.
And he's well behind front-runners Mitchell and LePage.
Despite the polls, Moody remains upbeat. He's used unique methods to increase his name recognition and promote his message. This summer he contracted an airplane to tow a campaign banner around the state.
He sometimes carries a portable radio to promote his governing philosophy. He likes to say it's tuned to WIFME (What's In it For Maine), not WIFM (What's In it For Me).
"As governor, if I see a proposal with WIFM written across it, I'm going to have a conversation with the person pushing it," he said. "This is about what's best for Maine."
Moody started his auto collision business at age 18. He now employs about 75 people, who own about a third of the company through Moody's employee ownership program.
Moody said he'd run Augusta like a business, creating a high-performance work environment for state employees through a program he called surplus sharing, which would reward workers for finding efficiencies.
"We want to change behavior to save," Moody said. "... The way you change behavior is through compensation."
Moody describes himself as apolitical, a lifelong independent who will work with either party to get things done.
"I've been independent my whole life," Moody said. "I don't know how to be partisan."
Scott talks loudly, often and confidently. The Andover resident is markedly energetic.
But is he governor material?
It's a question voters might have after the Sun Journal examined the driving records of the gubernatorial candidates. Scott had 35 violations and his driving privileges revoked 21 times over the past 10 years.
"It shows I'm a person," Scott told The Associated Press. "I've made some mistakes."
Voters may find Scott's driving record irrelevant. But his hard-charging style has clashed with some officials in Andover, where he is chairman of the Andover Water District Board of Trustees and active in town affairs.
According to a report in the Bangor Daily News, Andover Fire Chief Robert Dixon claimed Scott was "extremely confrontational," prompting some town officials to resign and others to seek protection from harassment orders against him.
Dixon didn't return a call for comment.
Scott said Dixon's accusations were false. He said no town official filed for a protection order. A citizen, he said, did request one, "but it never stuck."
Scott claimed he and his wife, Susan Merrow, were threatened and harassed after they pushed for a budget review involving allegations that a town official stole gasoline from the town.
"The story is that I exposed fraud and led a town to take back its elected positions," said Scott, adding that Andover had several new employees and new members on the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board.
"The newspaper makes it out like I'm some kind of crackpot, but I'm the hero here," Scott said.
Scott acknowledged that the situation in Andover "got ugly," but, he said, it showed "the state of Maine that I won't be intimidated."
Regarding state issues, Scott's chief proposal is a voluntary 32-hour workweek for state employees, a plan he said would save $20 million a year.
"State workers are clamoring for it," Scott said.
As for the state employees' union receptiveness to the plan, Scott said, "Don't worry about it. If it's an achievable idea, don't worry what the union is going to say."
Scott, who said he studied government at George Mason University, is the owner of a firm called Recruiting Resources International. It subcontracts engineers and designers to technology firms.
According to the latest polls, Scott's campaign is struggling to resonate with Mainers.
"Don't get me started!"
Jenkins said that repeatedly while outlining his platform.
It's an appropriate, if not ironic, phrase for a man who waited until Sept. 17 to join the governor's race.
Three years ago, a tide of write-in votes swept Jenkins into the Auburn mayor's office. His successful bid marked the city's first election of a write-in candidate for mayor.
Jenkins' Blaine House bid will be considerably more difficult, and he knows it. He has no money, just a local reputation, what he calls "the great equalizer of the Internet" and boundless enthusiasm.
So why bother?
Jenkins said running for the Blaine House wasn't his idea, but that of his supporters.
"The people have come to know that, in all of my campaigns, I never ran against another individual," he said. "I always ran for the people. This is my truth of the past, my truth of today and my truth of tomorrow."
Jenkins is confident his populist message will mobilize voters uninspired by the five candidates on the ballot.
"I've been counted out before," he said. "They don't know how big my dream is."
Jenkins aborted a 2002 campaign for the office after falling short on both nomination papers and campaign contributions. He was also unsuccessful in 2006.
His latest platform is a two-layered acronym dubbed MAINE. It stands for Maine An Integrated Network Economy. It also stands for Marine resources, Agriculture, Industry and innovation, New investment and Education.
Jenkins said his overall governing philosophy is to further involve the public in policymaking.
"We need homegrown solutions, not Augusta-based solutions," he said.
With no money and limited media exposure, Jenkins has struggled to spread his message. Like the other write-in candidates, he's been excluded from several high-profile debates.
Jenkins, a motivational speaker, said he isn't worried.
"I realize that when the people have been awakened to and mobilized with their real power," he wrote in a recent e-mail, "shock waves of fear ripple through the traditional political process, because the people, and not a party, is in charge of the outcome."