Yarmouth councilman takes a truly unconventional approach in bid for U.S. Senate

Posted June 20, 2012, at 9:28 p.m.
Last modified July 04, 2012, at 2:51 a.m.
Maine businessman Steve Woods, U.S. Senate candidate. Photographed at the U.S. Senate candidate bipartisan forum at the University of Maine in Orono April 25, 2012.
Maine businessman Steve Woods, U.S. Senate candidate. Photographed at the U.S. Senate candidate bipartisan forum at the University of Maine in Orono April 25, 2012. Buy Photo

YARMOUTH, Maine — Steve Woods knows he’s a long shot in the race for Olympia Snowe’s U.S. Senate seat, but is confident that if voters study him closely, they’ll realize he is the best person among the current candidates for the job.

For Woods, being unique and truly independent in the fullest sense of the word are what separates him from Democrat Cynthia Dill, Republican Charlie Summers and independent Angus King. If he is elected to Congress, he will have done so without super-PAC money, without support from a major party or political insiders, and even without building much of an organization of his own. In fact, he told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday that his campaign manager is his 12-year-old daughter, Cammy.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Woods says he is a serious candidate.

“The message that I would like to get out is that when you look at the problems challenging and facing the U.S. Senate and Congress as a whole, my business experience, my government experience and my experience in civic organizations sets me apart,” he said. “I take exception whenever I am called a politician. I’m running as a business leader. In order to change what needs to be changed in Washington, D.C., sending more politicians is not the answer. In fact, I believe it’s part of the problem.”

Adding to his streak of unconventional campaign practices, Woods last week endorsed King — and himself — in the election. In a letter to King he proposed that if either candidate trails the other by 10 percent or more on Oct. 30, the losing candidate would resign and endorse the other.

“Angus and I share a deep-rooted respect for Abe Lincoln, Margaret Chase Smith and other great political leaders with legacies of bold leadership, selfless civic duty and personal sacrifice,” said Woods in a June 13 press release. “By entering into this unprecedented ‘Maine First’ campaign agreement, I’m hoping that we’re able to change the tone and tenor of the upcoming campaign to a more respectful dialogue between us and Mainers, while reinforcing the need and opportunity for an ‘independent’ from Maine to join the U.S. Senate and help loosen the partisan gridlock.”

Woods, who is chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council and president and CEO of a six-company marketing firm called TideSmart Global with clients all over the United States, has lived in Maine for about 12 years. A former agent for professional baseball and basketball players, he also is part owner of the Maine Red Claws, an NBA D-League team. Most recently he has been involved as a partner and investor in the Forefront at Thompson’s Point in Portland, a major hotel, arena and commercial complex that Woods said recently won the permits from city government it needs to proceed.

“The reason I find those things interesting is that all you hear now on the national campaign trail in the U.S. Senate race is how the economy and jobs are the No. 1 priority,” said Woods. “None of the other candidates seeking the U.S. Senate seat have done anything to participate in job growth or economic growth here in Maine. I have created and sustained many jobs here in Maine and created thousands of jobs around the country. I have invested millions of dollars here in Maine.”

But jobs and economic development — nor health care, the deficit or any other issue most candidates talk about — are not the central issues Woods is focusing on in his campaign. He said his campaign is about stopping the erosion and ineffectiveness of the country’s democracy. He said the epiphany that it is at the root of most problems in local, state and national governments was what caused him to seek public office on the Yarmouth Planning Board four years ago.

“I urge every voter to consider electing a U.S. Senator as a way to dilute the partisan gridlock,” said Woods. “I recognize that there are huge issues that require immediate focus, but the No. 1 critical issue in America today is the decay of our democracy.”

King also has made breaking the partisan gridlock in Congress a central theme of his campaign, but Woods said his approach to the problem is different and that it goes a step further.

“It is a national embarrassment that we are sending soldiers to war and that many soldiers are making the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives. Very few people in America are engaged in what we’re doing,” he said. “Everyone in Congress is encumbered by special interests and special pressures. … If all that money, energy and time was directed on energy solutions, technology advancement, health care and the economy, we wouldn’t have a debt problem or a problem with health care.”

Woods said the way he differs from King in this regard is that he believes King is blaming Congress for the gridlock while Woods said the real problem is the overall system. But how can a single senator from Maine make such sweeping changes in a problem as fundamental as a malfunctioning government? Woods suggested that the U.S. Senate needs a bloc of perhaps five independents who can work together toward solutions instead of engaging in politics — and he thinks bringing the Maine spirit to Capitol Hill could be part of that group’s success.

“In effect, Angus is saying the people down in Washington are failing us, but I’m going to be a better person,” said Woods. “What I’m saying is that the thing that’s the problem down there is not specific to the individuals. They are merely instruments to our democracy and our democracy is failing.”

Woods said if elected he would caucus with the Democratic Party. He is a supporter of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a proponent of strong defense spending and someone who believes the federal budget can be balanced with a range of reforms that don’t cut safety-net services from the country’s most vulnerable people. He also said Congress should allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire.

Though Woods has started collecting campaign donations on his website, www.stevewoods2012.com, he said he is prepared to invest up to $1.3 million of his own money into the campaign if he needs to.

“My commitment is to spend no more than $1 on my campaign for every citizen of Maine,” he said. “If I can’t get my message out and if the public isn’t interested in that message, to spend more would be egregious.”

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