AUGUSTA, Maine — Cooking and politicking were two of Gina Mason’s favorite things. One night this month, she was making dinner and sending messages from a laptop to woo people to her son’s gubernatorial campaign launch the next evening.
That’s when Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason’s mother and a first-term state representative fell into his arms, he said. She died there at age 57.
The 32-year-old from Lisbon Falls delayed his announcement. He considered not running. But the family threw themselves back into politics. His father, Rick, is running to replace Gina.
And Garrett’s gubernatorial campaign kickoff is reset for Thursday. He said earlier this month that he’ll try to win the 2018 Republican nomination to replace Gov. Paul LePage with a conservative record that “is not hitched to anyone.”
“My mother would want nothing more than for me to continue this campaign and win and that’s what we’re going to do,” Mason said.
He would be the youngest-ever elected Maine governor and will have to win a primary dominated so far by a war between LePage and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate considering a run. Mason will run using a public campaign funding system he has opposed.
The fourth-term senator is a darling of Maine’s evangelical right: His key legislative achievement came in 2011, when his bill allowing charter schools here passed and he also co-chaired Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s winning effort in Maine’s 2016 presidential caucuses.
Yet he has shown a penchant for collaboration at key times, notably when Senate Republicans allied with legislative Democrats against LePage in this year’s budget battle that forced Maine’s first government shutdown since 1991.
Mason said he’d “bring a little more collaboration to the Blaine House” and that while Republicans have accomplished “a lot” under LePage, he would “work with the Legislature to get a conservative agenda passed.”
He’ll run using Maine’s taxpayer-funded Clean Election program, which allows candidates in contested primaries to qualify for $1.2 million in public and seed money. He voted in May for a bill that would have stripped gubernatorial candidates from it and many Republicans oppose it.
But Mason said he’ll use it because of a “strong base” of supporters that he can organize to qualify for funding. He noted that Maine voters have backed the Clean Election program twice at the ballot box “and it provides the best chance for me to win.”
Among Mason’s chief policy goals are the reduction and elimination of Maine’s income tax — something LePage has targeted. He said while he’s still working on a specific plan, sales tax rates and municipal revenue sharing will be considered.
He said he’d stay in the race if Collins runs. LePage has tried to rally his base against a potential Collins run and Mason said while he has “great respect” for Collins, he has “a different vision of Maine” than what others are offering.
Mason is expected to kick off his campaign during a Thursday evening rally at Lewiston’s Ironhorse Court. He will join former LePage welfare chief Mary Mayhew of South China and Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport in the Republican field.