What’s good about the health care reform law passed by Congress earlier this year, asked the moderator.
One by one, the candidates for governor at a forum on elder issues this week rattled off their likes and dislikes, except for independent Kevin Scott, who said basically, he didn’t know.“I will not wholesale discredit a piece of legislation that I don’t have my hands very well around,” said Scott after a withering roast of the health care law by his Republican opponent Paul LePage. “I’m certain there are some serious deficiencies in that piece of legislation, but I can’t put my finger on them.”
A week earlier, at a forum hosted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Scott had more don’t-know moments and even in his own assessment, it was one of the worst appearances of his campaign.
“What I would do as governor of the state of Maine to leverage that resource, I don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “If you’re asking me about leveraging the Gulf of Maine as governor, I’m looking to champion other organizations, such as the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.”
After Scott’s response to the second question, during which he cited statistics from CNN to say Maine’s “vibrant and thriving” lobster industry is “doing extremely well,” an audience member interjected.
“I’m appalled to find that you’re way over there, and I’m way over here,” said the man. “We are on a different level … In the last eight years it has been out-and-out hell, some of the things that are the problems for lobstermen.”
Exchanges like these, on their face, may seem like glaring deficiencies for someone vying for the state’s top elected position. But to Kevin Scott, a businessman from the small western Maine town of Andover, they’re evidence that fundamentally, he knows more about leadership than any of the other candidates.
“I’m not saying I don’t have the answers,” said Scott during a recent interview. “I have the answer. The answer to the problem is that someone else has the solution. That’s an answer in and of itself. Betty over here knows exactly what to do. I’m the governor; follow Betty.”
Scott, 42, explained to a reporter over wraps at a Lebanese restaurant in Waterville recently that it’s not the governor’s job to know everything. Having changed from a dark business suit to jeans, a button-up shirt and cowboy boots, Scott said he finds the spectacle of gubernatorial candidates claiming they know exactly what to do in whatever situation absurd.
“Look at me!” he said, exasperated after several questions about whether he has a chance in this election. “I’m a genuine local guy. [The other candidates] have private agendas, and they’re going to push them. I will not do that.”
Scott, one of five candidates for governor, doesn’t appear to have much going for him in political terms. A recent poll has put his support at about 1 percent, and to date he has raised only about $20,000, some of it his own money, according to recent financial reports to the Maine Ethics Commission. That’s a fraction of the money being spent by all the other competitors. Shawn Moody, for example, whose support in a recent poll is around 4 percent, has already spent $384,000, albeit mostly his own money.
Ronald Schmidt, who chairs the University of Maine’s political science department, said one of Scott’s biggest problems is that he is such an unknown.
“Maine voters have shown that they’re willing to vote for independents,” he said. “Shawn Moody and Eliot Cutler are both sucking up most of the attention that is going to independents.”
Douglas Hodgkin, a Bates College professor emeritus in political science who is a Republican, agreed.
“It’s extremely important that the voters at least know your name and a little bit about you,” said Hodgkins
Scott said his aspirations to become a political leader stem from his days studying government and politics at George Mason University in the Washington, D.C., area. Scott is the owner of a firm called Recruiting Resources International, which hires engineers and designers and subcontracts them out to high-tech manufacturing firms such as Boeing. Scott’s first experience in politics was shortly after he and his wife, Susan Merrow, moved to Andover in 2004.
According to Scott, some town officials asked him and his wife to join some committees because there was a dearth of volunteers. Before long, Scott and Merrow went from occasional volunteers to forces in local politics. Since 2004, according to Scott, several town employees and numerous elected officials were replaced. Merrow is now Andover’s first selectman and Scott chairs the Andover Water District board of trustees.
Scott, whose confrontations with town officials have sometimes borne heated exchanges, arguments and in some cases protection-from-harassment orders, has clearly made both friends and enemies.
Richard Merrill of Andover said Scott and Merrow’s biggest accomplishments, especially in the beginning, were making townspeople aware of what Merrill called “things being done that shouldn’t have been done.”
“When they started going to all the selectmen’s meetings, they were probably the only two people there,” said Merrill, who supports Scott’s bid for governor. “Before long there were 40 or 50 people at every meeting. They brought awareness to the rest of the people to make the changes.”
Lucien Roberge, the superintendent of the Bethel and Andover water districts, said there’s no question that Scott has caused animosity at times, but only by pursuing ideas that some people opposed. However, Roberge said he has seen Scott’s leadership in action.
When Scott took over as chairman of the Andover Water District’s board of trustees, the organization was in financial disarray and had a mounting maintenance backlog. On the day Scott called Roberge in for advice, there was about $400 in the checking account.
“He looked at the books and figured out how to collect some outstanding money,” said Roberge, who is also a Scott supporter. “He sold water district land and reduced the debt, and we were able to get a lot of things fixed. Some people may not like the way he does things, but he gets the job done.”
While Scott clearly has supporters in Andover, he also has some virulent enemies. Andover Fire Chief Robert Dixon called Scott “extremely confrontational” and said he would use “any means possible to get his way.” Numerous town officials and employees have resigned in the past two years, many of them as a result of Scott’s “constant harassment,” which prompted a few people to file protection from harassment orders against him.
“It’s like he sees things his way and there’s no other option,” said Dixon. “If he thinks you have the wrong answer, he just stops the conversation, period. He’s caused a huge division in this town.”
In response, Scott said his dealings in Andover — both the good and the bad — reflect on him positively. “Do you want a governor who’s going to sit back and be intimidated or someone who’s going to stand up to people?” he asked.
Despite billing himself as someone who won’t bring agendas to Augusta, Scott has centered his campaign around a few proposals, including a voluntary 32-hour work week for state employees who want it, which he estimates will save at least $20 million per year. At a forum earlier this week, he suggested the creation of an elder abuser registry modeled after Maine’s sex offender registry, and he promises to be more accessible than any governor in memory, including a plan to visit municipal boards and committees regularly.
His marquee proposal is a revolving loan fund to help farmers invest in technology and requiring that schools and prisons serve more local foods. The built-in market of students and prisoners would ensure that farmers have ample reason to invest in new technology, said Scott.
“The best thing about it is that we can stop feeding bad food to our children,” said Scott.
At the top of Scott’s ambition, though, is bringing drastic change to the political atmosphere in Augusta by promoting as many independents as possible in the 2012 elections.
“There are 344,000 unenrolled voters in Maine, and I will help elect between 40 and 60 unenrolled legislators in the next election cycle,” he said. “If we have 40 free-thinking independents, the leadership of the political parties won’t be able to intimidate party members. That’s the thing I want most, and that’s where we’re going.”