After declaring his intention to run for a U.S. Senate seat shortly after sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park, Democrat Benjamin Pollard took an even more unusual step for an aspiring politician.
He jetted off to India for a month to see the Dalai Lama.
Pollard said Thursday that he needed to work on “my own inner peace and equilibrium” before taking on the stress of the campaign trail. Now, he said, a successful journey has provided him with “the positive energy to connect with voters.”
Pollard, a construction company owner in Portland, is one of two Democrats vying for the opportunity to challenge U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who is seeking a second term. He faces former teacher Zak Ringelstein in the June 12 primary.
To prepare for the contest, Pollard went to Bodh Gaya, a town in one of the poorest parts of India, a place surrounded by fields where they grow cauliflower and eggplant. Its air, he said, was almost toxic with all the fumes from burning plastic and propane-powered engines.
The key attraction of the town is the Bodhi Tree, a fig tree growing at the Mahabodhi Temple, acclaimed as the site where Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as the Buddha about 2,300 years ago, is said to have attained enlightenment.
Last month, in a nearby stadium-sized field surrounded by a concrete wall, beneath a sea of canvas held up by bamboo poles, Pollard joined tens of thousands of pilgrims who sat on the ground for 11 days to hear from the Dalai Lama, a widely revered Tibetan holy man.
Each night, Pollard slept in a damp, cold, unheated concrete guest house with a single blanket. To get around he had to walk through crowds of beggars and peddlers trying to sell everything from prayer books to dust masks.
Despite the hardships, he found the experience rewarding.
The Dalai Lama, Pollard said, “is a very enlightened human being” who is “incredibly wise” and tolerant.
“His demeanor is so incredibly peaceful. And his energy is radiant,” Pollard said. He said he felt transformed.
“I feel I’m a much more peaceful person in my heart now,” Pollard said. “I feel much more balanced now and I feel happy and ready.”
If Pollard is right, he has a lot of unconventional politicking ahead.
At the age of 5 and full of curiosity, at his home in Blue Hill, he asked his mother who was in charge of everything. When he heard the answer, Pollard said he declared, “I’m going be president someday.”
Now 45, Pollard remains convinced he’s going to make it yet. He said he has always believed “I’m on this path to the presidency,” something that Donald Trump’s unconventional journey to the White House showed him is possible without pursuing the traditional route to the job.
First, though, he’d like to become Maine’s next senator.
He said he generally has “a lot of anxiety” about assuming such a public role. But, he said, he can succeed by making the race about ideas rather than raising money, something he plans to avoid by never asking for donations and accepting no more than $100 from anyone.
“I’m a dreamer and an idealist,” Pollard said, not the sort of glad-hander who often winds up running for office.
Pollard has an extensive agenda, one that he plans to lay out in detail, that doesn’t always square with Democratic orthodoxy.
A pacifist, Pollard said he is convinced the country needs a strong, confrontational military in order to keep the peace. He said the nation needs to press human rights issues overseas but also at home.
“First, we create peace here in America,” Pollard said, by fostering civil discussion that recognizes the reality behind the frustrations and fear of Trump voters. The country, he said, needs to tone down domestic strife.
He said he wants to trim the federal government, return more power to the states, end national education testing and standards, stop “the surveillance state,” protect the environment, promote vocational schooling and send legions of Americans overseas to help impoverished peoples learn to thrive.
“We have to look at the world as interconnected,” Pollard said, urging a big increase in international aid to alleviate poor conditions that breed turmoil and trouble.
He said the country has to take aim at its growing national debt so it can eliminate the $21 trillion shortfall, something he worries could pose a fiscal catastrophe down the road, particularly since China is owed much of the money. The richest Americans, he said, need to pay a lot more, perhaps voluntarily, because they’re on the same track that led to Marie Antoinette losing her head when the French revolted in 1789.
“The Trump election was a version of the French Revolution,” Pollard said, as the downtrodden rose up and turned out their political masters.
One other issue where Pollard diverges from his party’s norm is abortion. He said he believes life begins at conception and abortion ought to be against the law, except for cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.
Favoring choice on abortion, he said, “is one of the biggest mistakes the Democratic Party has made.”
Pollard advocated more education to convince people to abstain from sex unless they’re willing to raise a child together – as well as more effort to teach people how to use contraceptives properly.
Pollard, who is single, holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master’s degree in environmental studies from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is working on another master’s degree in international security from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
He hopes to convince the U.S. Navy to allow him to enlist in the Reserves as an intelligence officer. He is also working toward becoming a priest with the Episcopal Church, something Pollard said is compatible with the harmony espoused by the Dalai Lama and an emphasis on meditation, yoga and spiritual peace. Buddhism, he said, “enables me to be a better Christian.”
Pollard, who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat in 2012, said he anticipates “a very interesting” primary against Ringelstein, whom he described as representing the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.
King, he said, is more of a mainstream Democrat despite the “sort of a charade” independence the incumbent claims.
“I’m the independent-minded Democrat,” Pollard said, the one who can attract the votes of independents and disillusioned Republicans.
The Democrats aren’t alone in eyeing a primary for the chance to take on King. On the GOP side, state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn is squaring off against retired financial planner Max Linn. The winners will claim a spot on the Nov. 6 general election ballot against King.
U.S. Senate candidate Benjamin Pollard, a Democrat who hopes to unseat Maine’s junior senator, independent Angus King. First, though, he needs to win a June primary in which Democrats will pick their standard bearer for the Nov. 6 general election. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)