State Treasurer Terry Hayes launched her independent bid for governor Monday with a plea for civility in public life and a welcoming attitude toward the new Mainers who are the key to the state’s future success.

“I have this vision for Maine that is so optimistic and inclusive – and the only way I can get this is to be in charge,” she said.

Hayes, one of 18 contenders for the top job in Augusta, said the man she hopes to succeed, Republican Paul LePage, deserves credit for getting Maine’s fiscal house in order but failed his state by talking so much about “our blemishes and our challenges” instead of strengths.

Too often, she said, “he’s embarrassed me” and every Mainer by making the state “the butt of late-night talk shows.”

Hayes faces a crowd of competitors, but doesn’t have to worry about winning a primary as the GOP and Democratic candidates must. Among those seeking to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Paul LePage are Attorney General Janet Mills, former House Speaker Mark Eves and former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

LePage, who’s rarely hesitated to escalate most any political feud, is barred by state law from seeking a third term. Voters will pick the next governor in November 2018.

Hayes said that while the major party hopefuls focus their attention on narrow groups that can swing the results of a primary, she’s got a chance to make her case to “a whole swath” of Mainers who matter in the general election, most of whom are independent-minded.

If she does it right, she said, they’ll know who she is by the time primaries are held next June and will come away convinced she is “a viable option” in the general election.

Since Lewiston’s James Longley took office as governor in 1975, the first independent to win Maine’s top office, the state has had six men hold the job, two Democrats, two Republicans and two affiliated with neither party.

Hayes, who launched her campaign as a Clean Election candidate, hopes to break the tie – and also become the state’s first woman governor.

She said putting a woman in the position isn’t that big a deal for her. But, she added, “I’m sorry that it’s taken this long.”

Hayes has served as treasurer since departing the House in 2014 after serving eight years as a Democrat representing part of Oxford County that included her home in Buckfield, where she lives with her husband Steve in a former one-room schoolhouse they converted almost three decades ago.

She said Democratic policy priorities aligned with her values, but she didn’t like the way party leaders would do hurtful things for the state to mollify allies. It would be far better, she said, to try to work together and compromise to come up with the best possible approach to the problems facing the state.

“How we do things matters,” Hayes said.

Hayes switched her affiliation to independent during her final year in the Legislature when she endorsed the gubernatorial run of independent Eliot Cutler, who came in a distant third in a three-way race that saw LePage defeat Democrat Mike Michaud, a congressman, to win re-election.

Shortly after the election that year, Republicans, independents and some renegade Democrats mustered a majority to replace Treasurer Neria Douglass with Hayes.

“I don’t want to be beholden to any one party,” Hayes said. She is also steering clear of “the toxic role of money” in campaigns by participating in the Clean Elections program.

Hayes said it’s an important program that Mainers have twice endorsed at the ballot box “in order to get money out of politics. I’m listening.”

So far, the only major party candidates who plan to rely on the state’s Clean Election fund are Republican Garrett Mason and Democrats Betsy Sweet and Patrick Eisenhart. Two Green Party hopefuls are also planning to participate in it.

A former lawmaker and educator, Hayes said it’s time to get past the partisan sniping that’s become commonplace in Augusta.

“We’ve had enough fighting,” she said, adding that Maine needs “a governor who will bring people together and solve problems.”

In addition to restoring civility in government, Hayes said she wants to embrace refugees and others willing to come to Maine and help build a better future.

“I do not see them as a threat. I see them as a necessity,” Hayes said, calling her position “entirely different” from the skeptical stance LePage has taken despite his warnings that Maine faces a demographic challenge as its largely white population ages.

Hayes said she would reach out to anyone who can help from anywhere in the country and across the globe.

“We need them,” she said. “There’s not enough of us to jettison anyone.”

Hayes said that while she has quibbles about some details of LePage’s budgets over the years, she is impressed that he has put the state in “a much better fiscal condition” than he found it in 2011.

“We are budgeting for the economy we have now,” she said, “not for the economy we wish we had.”

As a result, Hayes said, Maine can pay its bills without borrowing, something she’s determined to maintain. “Among my priorities is to make sure I don’t mess that up,” she said.

A native Mainer, Hayes is one of six children in a family that faced tough times after her mother wound up in the Augusta Mental Health Institute. Her father died in an accident several years later, leaving relatives to take in the children, who never lived together again.

She said the experience taught her that “family is everything.”

Working part-time at McDonald’s to pay tuition, she attended McAuley High School and worked to put herself through Bowdoin College, where she earned a degree in government in 1980.

After that, she taught in Oakland schools, managed adult education programs in Gardiner and Scarborough and more, including 13 years on a school board in Buckfield. She raised three children, all of whom are grown, and has four granddaughters.

A licensed pilot, Hayes said she plans to keep working as treasurer while campaigning for governor.

“This isn’t the first time that I have held two full-time jobs,” she said.

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State Treasurer Terry Hayes

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