LISBON — It’s a bittersweet moment for Rick Mason, elected Tuesday to fill a State House seat left vacant in September following the death of his wife.
He called it “quite an emotional day” in which he was overwhelmed by the support he received.
Mason, a Republican, defeated Democrat Scott Gaiason 1,180 to 868 in a special election that drew heavy turnout in the town.
Gaiason said he felt disappointed that after working hard in the campaign he fell short. He said it is “difficult to fight against the sympathy vote” as well as an opponent from a highly political family with deep roots tied into the evangelical churches in the area.
Mason said Tuesday he decided the day after Gina Mason died two months ago that he should run for the office she left vacant.
He said they had talked in the past about the possibility that when she stepped down, he should step up. So it wasn’t a hard choice to get into the race, he said.
“It’s something I want to do with all my heart,” Mason said.
For Gaiason, who lost to Gina Mason a year ago, this fall offered an unexpected second chance.
Gaiason said that while he differed with Gina Mason on many issues, he admired her community spirit and shared her passion for building a better Lisbon.
But, Gaiason said, it is time for Lisbon to move away from letting one family represent it in Augusta year after year.
Watching voters streaming into the high school to cast their ballots, though, it didn’t look like they were ready to shift away from the Masons.
Many voters stopped to hug the candidate or offer him soft words of support. It wasn’t hard to see that Gina Mason’s sudden death, which shocked her hometown, was still fresh in many minds.
Most everyone was pleasant to Gaiason as well, but he couldn’t attract, and didn’t expect, the sort of small-town compassion that Mason received.
“Oh, what a difference a year can make,” said Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, who recalled the joy he felt last November when his mother won the State House seat.
He said he could never have imagined that a year later his mother would be gone – collapsing in his arms the day before he planned to announce a gubernatorial run – and that his father would be on the ballot to serve out the rest of her term.
Garrett Mason announced his candidacy for governor on Sept. 28.
Last year, Gina Mason earned the support of 58 percent of voters in the House District 56 while Gaiason garnered 42 percent.
Rick Mason said it’s been tough getting along without his wife, who’d been at his side since high school. He said that despite the help from his son and daughter, the nights get lonely and sad.
He said, though, that it’s important to keep pushing for the things that both he and Gina believed in.
“We just thrived on politics,” he said, and he feels a responsibility to go to the State House and press for lower taxes. Trying to run a small business in Maine, Mason said, is “pretty tough” because of both the tax and regulatory burden.
Gaiason said he got into the race because he thought it was time to stop complaining about what politicians were doing and actually put himself in a position to do something constructive.
He said that watching U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak with “clarity and honesty” impressed him and cemented the notion of running for office himself.
“I couldn’t think of any good reason to say no,” Gaiason said.
He said that campaigning has been a pleasure. It’s a treat to talk to his fellow citizens, he said, because what’s come to interest him most is “developing community,” coming together with others who realize that government is not an “us and them” proposition.
Looking around, Gaiason said, “This is us. All of us.”
Since Tuesday’s election merely selected who would serve out the remainder of Gina Mason’s two-year term, Lisbon will get another chance next November to vote for someone to fill the district seat.
Gaiason said it’s too early to say whether he’ll try again.