BANGOR, Maine — As a pilot, outdoorsman and Maine’s conservation commissioner, Patrick McGowan argues he has visited virtually every part of this state.
McGowan now hopes that familiarity with the landscape and communities of Maine, combined with his political ideas, will help him rise above a field of gubernatorial hopefuls that now stands at 21, and counting.
One day after the Baldacci administration announced McGowan had stepped down as head of the Maine Department of Conservation, the 53-year-old Democrat and former legislator declared his candidacy for governor at events in Fort Kent, Bangor and Portland.
“Our state has a wonderful future ahead of it, but it needs a governor who knows the whole state. And I mean that, who knows the entire state of Maine — all 16 counties,” he said in a speech to a small crowd of supporters at a downtown Bangor restaurant.
Including McGowan, there are now 21 people who have filed the paperwork necessary to run for governor. The field includes seven Democrats, six Republicans, one Green Independent and seven unenrolled candidates.
Born in Bangor, McGowan grew up in Somerset County and later represented that area in the Legislature in the 1980s. In 1990, McGowan lost a hard-fought congressional campaign by 1 percentage point to then Rep. Olympia Snowe, the Republican incumbent. He also challenged Snowe for the 2nd District seat in 1992, losing that race by a larger margin.
McGowan said helping small businesses grow in a difficult economy will be one focus of his campaign. In addition to owning four central Maine businesses, McGowan previously served as the regional director of the Small Business Administration.
More recently, McGowan has played a prominent role in land conservation efforts as commissioner of the Department of Conservation. During his speech, McGowan pointed out that the amount of conservation land in Maine increased from 6 percent to 18 percent since 2003.
He also discussed the opportunities for growing the number of “green jobs” by strengthening the links between the state’s renewable energy and forest products industries.
“I’ve seen the race unfold,” McGowan said. “My neighbors and friends have said they would like to see a candidate who offers a vision for Maine that is different from what the other candidates have offered.”
The final slate of Democrats, Republicans and Greens will be determined during the June 8 primary. But even before then, McGowan and the eight other candidates who plan to participate in the state’s public election financing program each will have to raise $40,000 in small donations by April 1.
The other Democrats who have entered the race are: former Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe; Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell; former House Speaker John Richardson; Rosa Scarcelli, of Portland; former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion; Peter Truman and Eriq Manson, both of Old Orchard Beach.
The Republican field, thus far, consists of state Sen. Peter Mills, Les Otten, of Greenwood, Matt Jacobson, of Cumberland, Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, Bruce Poliquin, of Georgetown and Martin Vachon, of Maraiville.
Lynne Williams, of Bar Harbor is the only active Green Independent candidate.