Jonathan Fulford came to Maine to become a farmer. He wound up as a builder.
Now he’s constructing a political campaign that he hopes will grow into a groundswell so powerful that it can sweep him all the way to the U.S. Capitol.
Fulford, who lives in Monroe, is one of four Democrats vying for the chance to take on two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, the only congressional seat in New England held by the GOP.
“We’re the grass-roots candidate,” Fulford said. He aims to tap a populist surge across the sprawling district and figures that if ranked choice voting comes into play it ought to help put him over the top since he views his campaign as less geographically dependent as others.
Fulford, 57, hopes to win a June 12 primary where he’s competing with state Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston, nonprofit executive Lucas St. Clair and Islesboro bookstore owner Craig Olson.
Though Fulford hasn’t held political office, he did run unsuccessfully twice for a state Senate seat held by Senate President Michael Thibodeau. Despite having little experience in politics, he sees his background in construction as a good background for doing well in Congress.
“As a builder, I like basically making stuff,” Fulford said.
It’s a field that offers the chance to come up with creative, even elegant solutions to problems and then to work hard to turn those ideas into reality, he said.
For instance, Fulford said, faced with a broken health care system, he wants to see a fix that would ensure everyone has coverage.
As a small business owner, he said he couldn’t afford to provide medical coverage for his employees and considers it ridiculous the law mandates coverage by many companies.
“It’s bad for business. It’s bad for everybody involved,” Fulford said.
It makes more sense, he said, to have universal coverage that would require far less bureaucracy and would lower the cost for Mainers. He said he thinks a 9 percent payroll tax would pay for the needed care.
Fulford said, though, that making sure people can get good jobs is “the key to solving all of the problems” facing the district.
Mainers work hard, he said, but “we’re not paid well for the work that we do.”
One avenue to bring in more jobs, he said, is to put more money into improving the energy efficiency of rural buildings and homes, which would also have the benefit of lowering heating costs and reducing the strain on utilities.
Fulford said he also thinks Maine could “become the breadbasket of New England again” by stepping up its food production.
Fulford said the country generally leaves rural communities struggling while its wealth is tilted toward urban elites. “We need to reorganize our priorities,” he said.
He said that Maine is “a great place to raise a family” in part because “we look out for each other” while also maintaining a strong independent streak.
Looking to President Donald Trump to change a system that has benefited him so much is pointless, he said. “That will never happen,” Fulford said.
He said he thinks he can appeal to voters who are looking for someone ready to offer “bold, clear, positive solutions” that will boost Maine’s rural communities and small cities — places he understands.
At age 18, Fulford, who never went to college, moved to Maine from Pennsylvania shortly after he graduated from high school.
“I wanted to farm,” he said, and land in the town where he grew up was quickly becoming too costly for agriculture as developers turned it into subdivisions.
In South Paris, he farmed, working at orchards picking and pruning. At age 20, he moved to Monroe to farm with his brother.
When he had a child, though, he found that living on $6,000 a year didn’t really cut it. At the time, Fulford said, “if you could swing a hammer,” it was easy to get a job as a builder, so he did.
Before long he started a business with friends that ultimately became his career — one that his son ultimately adopted as well.
Fulford is married to Chris Yentes. He has one child from a previous marriage and she has three. They have five grandchildren, all of whom live in Waldo County.
Fulford said he’s enjoyed the campaign because it’s given him a chance to meet a lot of people, think through public policy and focus on the future.
“That’s fun,” he said.
The winner of the Democratic primary will take on Poliquin in the Nov. 6 general election, which also includes the Green Party’s Henry Bear and independent Tiffany Bond. Members of Congress serve two-year terms.
Democratic congressional hopeful Jonathan Fulford (Photo provided)