For Phil Cleaves, a rural mail carrier from Dexter, the day finally arrived when he couldn’t stomach “the crap and corruption going on” any longer.

“I’d sat back and been a person on the sidelines long enough,” he said Wednesday.

So the 55-year-old who said he’s been watching everything in town “just close down” over the years, decided to run for Congress and try to do something about it.

Cleaves, a Democrat who said he doesn’t believe in party labels or the party line, is the first person to declare his readiness to challenge two-term Republican Bruce Poliquin for the 2nd District seat.

Poliquin, elected in 2014, won each of his two races by twice fending off Democrat Emily Cain in two of the most costly contests in the nation. If he winds up facing another well-funded challenger, it probably won’t be Cleaves.

Poliquin had $599,000 in his campaign coffers at the end of March, Federal Election Commission filings show. Cleaves doesn’t have anything yet.


“I don’t have the money Mr. Poliquin does,” he said, but he plans to run a vigorous, grassroots campaign with the basic premise that something has to be done to kick-start rural Maine.

Cleaves said the region needs to “get back up and running again” because “there’s nothing going on. There’s nothing happening.”

He said his frustration with Congress is that he’s “tired of the party-line stuff” and the way members on both sides of the aisle refuse to engage in the give-and-take that democracy demands.

Poliquin, he said, “could be doing better.”

Cleaves has a campaign website that lays out some of his agenda, which includes support for “Medicare for All,” solar and wind energy, infrastructure improvements, and “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

One avenue he thinks may bring new businesses to rural Maine would be the legalization of hemp, a plant he argues could be used for biofuels, carpeting and makeup, among other things.

Cleaves grew up in Dexter but lived in Southern Maine most his adult life before moving back to his hometown in 2010. He has four children with an ex-wife. He went to work at Dexter Shoe Co. right out of high school in 1979.

“I’ve been through the wringer,” he said. “I wasn’t born with or even come close to having a silver spoon in my mouth. One of those plastic sporks? Yes. Silver? No.”

The Democrats will pick their standard bearer to take on Poliquin next year.

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