LISBON — Some children dream of playing for the Boston Red Sox or becoming a teacher or maybe caring for puppies as a veterinarian.
But Sen. Garrett Mason remembers that he first yearned to become, of all things, a journalist.
And he had a particular type in mind, too: “the old beat reporters, the guys who were always trying to get the scoop.”
He “grew out of it,” Mason said, “but when I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to be.”
Now 32, Mason has a different job in mind. He’s one of four Republicans jostling for the top spot in a June 12 gubernatorial primary that will decide which of them holds the GOP line on the November election ballot.
If voters choose him to succeed Paul LePage, a two-term Republican who can’t seek reelection, Mason, a Realtor, would become the youngest person ever elected as governor, beating out — by six months — Albion Parris, who took office in 1822.
Mason, the majority leader of the state Senate who has been a champion of the religious right, isn’t following the campaign calculus of his three GOP competitors, relying instead on a grassroots, church-focused strategy and funding from the state’s Clean Elections program.
He’s never been afraid to follow his own path.
Though he called Lisbon High School “the heartbeat” of his hometown, Mason attended the Calvary Christian Academy in Turner instead. His 2003 graduating class had 13 students.
Mason said his parents, Gina and Rick Mason, “wanted to make sure Christ was not only the center of my life but also my education.”
Growing up, Mason did a variety of jobs: washing vehicles at family-owned car dealerships, helping out his father on excavation projects — he could operate a bulldozer at age 12 — and logging a year as a kindergarten teacher. He loved the classroom, he said, but “couldn’t stand the parents” who meddled too much.
While at Pensacola Christian College in Florida, where he earned a business degree, Mason discovered the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team had summer jobs in the sports management field, something he hadn’t realized existed. The idea grabbed him so he applied three years in a row before the team finally picked him, for his persistence as much as anything.
Working for the minor league team exposed him to all sorts of roles, he said. His favorite thing, though, was pulling the tarp over the field when it began to rain.
“There is something magical about being on a baseball diamond,” Mason said, despite his own lack of athletic prowess.
After he left the Sea Dogs, he wound up with the Lewiston MAINEiacs hockey team, first as its public relations director and ultimately as its director of administration, a job that had him traveling across North America and running a professional team by age 23.
“It was so cool,” Mason said, calling it “a dream that I never knew I had.”
He learned a lot as well, including the necessity of being agreeable even with the fiercest opponents and the need to exercise “a firm hand” at the same time. He discovered the value of creating allies and avoiding turning anyone into an enemy.
All of those skills, Mason said, have come in handy in politics.
Through it all, though, he didn’t really consider politics as something in his future, even though his family had a long history of involvement with the town of Lisbon and his uncle, Dale Crafts, was a state representative.
But when a new state law socked the hockey team, Mason said he felt like “the government just punched me in the gut.”
Talking with Crafts afterward, Mason said his uncle suggested he run for a state Senate seat. So he did.
Despite long odds, he said he worked constantly on the race, knocking on more than 10,000 doors and staying up into the wee hours to put up signs.
“Everything was about that campaign,” he said. “No one thought we could win.”
When he got to Augusta, Mason said he didn’t know what he ought to focus on so he picked a problem he’d seen firsthand when his sister was turned away from competing on a Lisbon High sports team because she didn’t attend that school. He pushed through a measure that ensured local students would get the same opportunities as others.
Soon, Mason became a champion of charter schools.
In the years since, he’s become an amiable fighter for conservative causes, determined to try to pare taxes and government, to free up Mainers to pursue their dreams with less interference from Augusta without stirring up the type of animosity that has characterized the eight years LePage has been at the helm.
Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, spotted a reporter talking with Mason at Chummy’s Mid-Town Diner in Lisbon one morning recently. He headed over, pointed to his Republican colleague, and said, “He’s a thoroughly decent guy.”
Mason said he thinks often of the children he’s met along the way, the kids “who don’t fit the mold,” and how the education system too often leaves them behind. He said he’s tried to fight for them.
“I’ve learned you can change the face of someone’s life in this building. That’s sobering,” Mason said.
Mason plans to marry Rebekah Lynch this summer at his home in Lisbon.
Competing in the gubernatorial primary with Mason are former state social services commissioner Mary Mayhew, entrepreneur Shawn Moody and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette. There are seven Democrats vying for their party’s backing as well.
The winners will face off in a November general election that will also include independent and minor party candidates. Governors serve four-year terms.