October 15, 2018
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Maine’s GOP governor’s race is more about style than substance

Christopher Cousins | BDN
Christopher Cousins | BDN
Candidates Ken Fredette (from left), Shawn Moody, Garrett Mason and Mary Mayhew face off at the GOP gubernatorial debate at Colby College in Waterville on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018.

In the wake of Gov. Paul LePage and President Donald Trump proving that congeniality and compromise aren’t always the way to win elections, the Republican campaign for governor has become as much about how the candidates would accomplish their goals as it is about what their goals are.

The four Republicans vying to replace LePage agree on virtually every policy: They want to repeal ranked-choice voting and Maine’s recreational marijuana law, slow or stop minimum wage increases and refuse federal matching funds for Medicaid expansion. They all want reforms to the citizen initiative process, deep cuts in Maine’s income tax, and — though there is some debate about past stances — they are all anti-abortion and against most gun control measures.

One thing they don’t agree on is the type of leader who can advance or defend those agendas. The gruff and combative style that made LePage one of the most controversial governors in America is something none of them has promised to continue, even as term limits are forcing LePage out of office amid fanfare and honorariums.

Here’s how each proposes to change the style of leadership in Maine’s executive branch.

Process warrior

Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who as leader of a staunchly pro-LePage House Republican caucus has done more than any other politician to advance LePage’s agenda for the past four years, argues that by forcing the process to extremes — such as the 2017 government shutdown or forcing adjournment this year before legislative work was done — he and the governor have changed the way politics functions in Maine.

“I’m talking about changing the model, ladies and gentleman,” Fredette said to the delegates at the Republican State Convention in Augusta on Saturday, where — unlike the other candidates — he took the stage quietly and delivered his speech off the cuff.

“I’m not just talking about having conservative Republican values,” he said. “It’s about doing the job.”

That should attract support from LePage voters, but it doesn’t appear to be working for Fredette.

He is in a distant last place in fundraising among active GOP candidates, according to recent filings and last in a recent poll conducted in ranked-choice voting style. The governor’s inner circle has snubbed him. LePage’s campaign team, including his daughter Lauren LePage, is working for businessman Shawn Moody’s campaign and his wife, Ann LePage, endorsed Moody on Saturday during the convention.

‘Guts and grit’

While Fredette frames himself as a process warrior who can use and manipulate arcane rules to achieve his goals, former Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of China vows a more fiery approach. Her delivery to the convention delegates Saturday was energetic and loud as she defended her leadership of the department through controversies ranging from losing accreditation at Riverview Psychiatric Center to cuts in a number of social service programs — including some aimed squarely at certain immigrants.

That history will be at the center of opponents’ attacks, especially if Mayhew, who is third in the money race and ranked second in the ranked-choice poll, advances to the general election.

Mayhew frames her leadership philosophy as “tough, compassionate love” and described herself as a person with “guts and grit” and “vision, attitude and a backbone.”

“This is not about compromise, collaboration and reaching across the aisle, which are words I keep hearing,” Mayhew said. “I’m ready to go to the mat to defend our side.”

She is also willing to come a little closer than the others in emulating LePage’s style, at one point suggesting that her candidacy is for working people, not “couch-sitting, video game-playing, welfare check-collecting 25-year-olds.”

The ‘dreamer’

Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls brought the most polished presentation to the convention, with a large contingent of sign-waving supporters and a slickly produced introduction video. His speech started with descriptions of innovative and famous Mainers of the past and the premise that “Mainers have stopped dreaming big, collectively at least.”

As a member of Republican leadership in the Senate, Mason is touting his knowledge of the legislative process and ability to work toward political compromise as his leadership attributes. He has said often on the campaign trail that “Maine needs a governor who is ready on Day One.”

Mason, who would be Maine’s youngest governor if elected, is attempting to appeal to voters with a message of hope and a vision of a better Maine, using lofty rhetoric in an attempt to solidify his support among young people and Christian conservatives.

“We can dream big again and we can bring those dreams to reality through the sheer force of a strong will,” Mason said. “We must become the Maine of big ideas and lofty goals. … I need you to have faith in yourselves and in all of us as a people.”

Mason ranked third in the ranked-choice poll, but garnered support from nearly 20 percent of those surveyed and was narrowly eliminated by Mayhew in the second round of counting. As a Maine Clean Election Fund candidate, he is well-funded compared to the others.

Common-sense outsider

Moody, who is on top in the fundraising race if you count the $300,000 he has loaned his campaign, is also the front-runner according to the weekend’s poll. He garnered in excess of 65 percent support in the poll after the third round of ranked-choice tabulation.

During a GOP gubernatorial forum broadcast Monday by WGAN, Moody found himself at the center of the other candidates’ attacks for his lack of experience in elected office and changing stances on issues such as ranked-choice voting and abortion. Mayhew even asked Moody what he will do if he’s elected “and someone is protesting at your business” and pushed back against him by saying people are “not interested in compromise and consensus.”

So far in the campaign, Moody — who ran as an independent in 2010 — has cast himself as an outsider fighting against a stable of political insiders.

“People are tired of the finger-pointing or blame game that goes on in Augusta. We are so different than these other three,” he said of his campaign versus the other opponents.

While he has a much different tone than LePage, Moody is setting himself up as an adversary for the Legislature on many levels — including saying to the convention on Saturday that in addition to proposing drug testing for welfare recipients, he’d also move to drug test lawmakers.

“Politicians rely on emotions drama and newspaper headlines to know what to do,” he said. “I use reality, facts and data to make a difference. … They say you can’t run the state like a business; we all know you can’t afford not to.”

Which way will work?

That the primary race is becoming intense is no surprise and it’s not limited to the Republican side. The difference is that the Democrats are in all-out anti-LePage mode while Republicans have to calculate how much to embrace his legacy and to what degree they strike their own path.

For Republican voters, the choice is more about personality than policy.

It’d be a hard choice for any of the GOP candidates. Asked which of the others they’d vote for if they weren’t a candidate themself, none could answer the question.

For a roundup of Maine political news, click here for the Daily Brief. Click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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