August 14, 2010

DAN BILLINGS: Independent candidates muddy waters, but it’s a 2-person race

Quest for governor pits familiar names against relative unknowns

The election for governor is less than three months away. How much do you know about the candidates?

The two party candidates are known commodities.

Libby Mitchell was first elected to the Legislature in 1974. She has served 24 years and is the only woman to be both House Speaker and Senate President. She twice ran unsuccessful campaigns for major office. This year, she triumphed over a strong field of Democrats in the primary.

Along with her long record, Mitchell is running on a traditional liberal platform. There is no doubt where a Governor Mitchell would come down on the issues.

Paul LePage is well known in Central Maine as the pugnacious mayor of Waterville — a Republican in a heavily Democratic city. For nearly 15 years, he has managed Marden’s, the successful surplus and salvage store with 14 Maine locations.

LePage burnished his political credentials with a stunning, landslide victory over a strong primary field. LePage’s Horatio Alger-like life is impressive: He overcame poverty and homelessness to a successful business career and a record of accomplishment in local government.

Like Mitchell, LePage offers a clear vision for Maine with a conservative message and strong principles.

In contrast, the three Independents are unknown entities.

Shawn Moody owns a successful auto-body business with five locations. But hardly anyone outside of his hometown of Gorham could have picked him out of a lineup before his TV ads featuring “Survivor” winner Bob Crowley debuted. Moody is also is a self-made man, though his rags-to-riches story can’t match that of LePage.

Moody has no record of public service, and his biggest contribution to the race has been his banner flown behind a plane throughout Southern Maine. Moody’s positions and ideology are muddled. He has habit of referring to himself in the third person. Only his personal wealth makes him a factor in the race.

Kevin Scott is the one Independent without riches to self-fund a campaign. He is self-employed as a recruiter of engineers for high-tech companies. Until Susan Cover’s excellent profile in this paper this week, Scott’s political activities in Andover had not been examined. It turns out Scott is a controversial character, who has three times unsuccessfully sought protection-from-harassment orders in court against political foes and once was the defendant in such a case. I know from personal experience that small-town politics can get heated, but court battles rarely result.

Scott is running as a conservative outsider, a role already filled by LePage.  It will be a miracle if Scott gets more than 5 percent of the vote.

Like most Mainers, I had never heard of Elliot Cutler before he announced his candidacy. Cutler was born in Bangor, but left Maine for prep school when he was a high school sophomore and never looked back. He worked for Ed Muskie and Jimmy Carter, and was part of five Democrat presidential campaigns.

Like many Washington staffers, he went through the revolving door to a long career as a D.C. lawyer — making enough to buy an Oceanside mansion in Cape Elizabeth that is assessed at more than $4 million and costs more than $70,000 a year in property taxes.

Despite being a lifelong Democrat and a major donor to Barack Obama in 2008, Cutler claims to be the moderate in the race, hoping to draw votes from both Mitchell and LePage. Because of his big-money, self-funded campaign and friends in the media, Cutler has been taken seriously since he announced, despite being an unknown with a brusque manner and no electoral track record.

Only recently has Cutler’s background begun to be explored. This week, news broke that Cutler was on the board of Thornburg Mortgage, which was the country’s second-largest residential mortgage lender before going bankrupt in one of the largest bankruptcies in recent history. During the bankruptcy, while employees lost their jobs, Cutler continued to be paid.

Still to be explored is Cutler’s work in China, where from 2006 to 2009 he headed the Beijing office of a law firm that has been called “China’s lobbyist.”

Though Maine has elected two Independent governors, it’s not going to happen this year. Both parties have nominated strong candidates, and none of this year’s Independents has the personal appeal of Angus King or Jim Longley.

More importantly, three Independent candidates in the race makes it impossible for one to gain momentum. While the Independents complicate the campaign, voters should not be distracted. It is a two-person race between LePage and Mitchell. 

 

Dan Billings is a Republican activist and commentator. He practices law in Waterville. He can be reached at dib9@aol.com.

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