A Biddeford native, former Google executive and senior adviser to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by Susan Collins.

Ross LaJeunesse, 49, has never held or run for political office, but said in an interview Wednesday that he’s running in large part because he still sees a lot of Mainers left behind and wants to be a voice for them.

U.S. Senate candidate Ross LaJeunesse Ross for Maine campaign

“A lot of the reasons I’m running have to do with my own experiences growing up, where my family, we struggled honestly,” he said, sharing a story about how his parents tried unsuccessfully to start a local hardware store. “When that happened, we were really on the brink of financial collapse. I remember the bank assessors coming to the house, deciding whether to foreclose on the mortgage. It’s the sort of thing, as a kid, you never forget.”

A Democrat, LaJeunesse would enter a primary race that includes Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, longtime progressive activist and lobbyist Betsy Sweet, and defense attorney Bre Kidman.

Independents Tiffany Bond and Danielle VanHelsing and Green Independents David Gibson and Lisa Savage are running as well.

The winner would challenge a four-term Republican incumbent who has not said definitively that she’s running for reelection but has been raising money with that intent.

LaJeunesse grew up on a farm in Arundel, where his grandparents emigrated from Quebec to work in mills. His father was a Vietnam veteran and UPS truck driver and his mother a homemaker and baby sitter to neighborhood children.

After their initial failed attempt, his parents eventually did open a hardware store and ran it for 21 years before retiring in 2008.

LaJeunesse graduated from Biddeford High School and went to Dartmouth College, then Harvard Law School. In between, he worked in the offices of Sens. George Mitchell of Maine and later Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

After law school, he moved to California, where his brother lived, and worked at a law firm. He transitioned back to the public sector, working as chief of staff to Susan Kennedy, California’s public utilities commissioner, and Steve Westly, the state’s controller. From there, he went to work for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, as deputy chief of staff and senior adviser.

LaJeunesse said he developed experience in several areas, including expanding high-speed internet to rural areas and combating gang violence.

He returned to the private sector to become head of international relations at Google. In 2010, he negotiated with the Chinese government and then executed Google’s landmark decision to stop censoring search results in China. LaJeunesse said he grew disenchanted with Google, however, for increasingly putting profits ahead of people and principles, and eventually left.

He moved back to Biddeford with his husband, Patrick Oathout, just a few miles from the home where he was raised.

LaJeunesse said he looks forward to campaigning all over the state and plans to talk a lot about the two Maines – the Maine that people see on vacation or in some coastal areas and the rest of Maine, which is struggling. He said his vision is pragmatic and he believes “everyone should get a fair shot at succeeding. That’s what I believe government should be about.”

“I know I’m getting in later than some others,” he said, acknowledging the advantages his competitors have. “I don’t mind being the underdog. But I believe in what I’m doing.”


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