AUBURN — After his unsuccessful bid last year to unseat U.S. Sen. Angus King, former state Sen. Eric Brakey is launching what he calls the Free Maine Campaign to defend the liberty of Mainers.

Brakey, 30, said the new organization aims “to protect the freedoms and paychecks of Maine people” with a grass-roots effort to help Mainers “get active and involved” in public policy decisions that affect their lives.

The new effort by the libertarian-minded Republican has already achieved some notice for raising questions about possible efforts by some Democrats in Augusta to bolster laws related to gun safety. It has the capacity to reach thousands of Mainers online to mobilize them on pressing issues, he said.

Brakey said he’s not discouraged by falling short in his quest to deny King, an independent, from gaining a second term in the U.S. Senate. Brakey said he may well seek political office again in the future.

The landslide win by Democrats in Maine in November — when they captured the governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature and both of the state’s congressional seats — spurred Brakey to jump back into the fray because he is worried that after years of progress “we are now in deep danger of falling backward into the old days of nanny state government robbing more of our paychecks and telling us how to live.”

“It is a dangerous time any time you have single-party control of government,” Brakey said, adding that it doesn’t matter which party is in control.

The Free Maine Campaign is gearing up quickly to make its influence felt, Brakey said.

“The big fights in Augusta are starting now,” he said.

Brakey said there are a lot of issues that should get people engaged with their government, including many that don’t typically get much news coverage.

He said that by tapping into the “big network of people” across Maine that he’s developed since he served as the state coordinator for Ron Paul’s 2012 long-shot presidential campaign, he can communicate what’s going on to people who care.

Brakey won two terms as the state senator from Auburn before he gave up the office to challenge King. He said he had a hard time getting his message out because the media paid little attention to the race and he failed to raise enough money to run the campaign the way he wanted.

But in the end, 2018 proved a tough year even for well-funded, widely publicized Republicans.

One consequence of the Democratic blowout in Maine, Brakey said, is that there are “a lot of people who are devastated at the way the election turned out.”

Many are eager to jump in and make sure the next election turns out better, he said.

“I want to help them do that,” Brakey said.

Brakey said he’s not sure what the future holds for him. “What comes next, I don’t know,” he said.

Brakey is sometimes mentioned as a potential contender for higher office again, perhaps as a challenger of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, the Democrat from Lewiston who defeated two-term Republican Bruce Poliquin last year.

If Poliquin doesn’t try to reclaim his seat in 2020, Brakey might be willing to take on Golden.

He said, though, that he’s always liked Golden personally.

“Politics aside, as a person I have a lot of respect and admiration for him,” Brakey said.

But, he added, “We’ll see how much he makes me pull my hair out as a congressman.”

Though Brakey is a Republican, he has often crossed party lines to work on libertarian-minded issues that sometimes fail to match the GOP’s agenda. He said he’s determined to push for more freedom, not necessarily more success for his party.

“I’m not a partisan,” he said. “I believe in liberty.”

Brakey said the Free Maine Campaign is not meant to be a partisan vehicle. He said that on issues such as corporate welfare and privacy rights, he’s found more allies on the Democratic side of the aisle than among his GOP colleagues.

Many issues that he wants to focus on are largely nonpartisan, Brakey said.

For example, he said, efforts to limit Second Amendment rights motivate people across the political spectrum to stand up for guns, a result of Maine’s sporting tradition that is deeply rooted.

Other areas that cross partisan lines, he said, include criminal justice reform and easing laws that make it more difficult for people to use marijuana.

One of his concerns, Brakey said, is that Gov. Janet Mills “has been kind of an old school ‘war on drugs’ advocate” with little sympathy for those who believe in personal freedom.

He said Maine generally has a “take care of our own” spirit that doesn’t require government “butting into our business and telling us what to do.”

In some ways, he said, he’s trying to harness a large “leave me alone coalition” that is especially large in Maine.

Holding down taxes is another key plank in Brakey’s campaign. He said he’s hearing from many Mainers who are talking about moving away because they “can’t afford to be taxed any more.”

Brakey said too many Americans are willing to chuck their heritage and embrace the notion that “we are just property to our government,” the antithesis of what America is all about.

He said his concern is that the freedom won by earlier generations is “slipping out of our fingers” and the country as a whole is at risk of sliding backward.

Brakey said he plans to advocate for liberty and to fight those who try to constrict it “until the day I die.”

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Former state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, talks to reporters in the hallway Tuesday at the State House in Augusta. (Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan)

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