AUGUSTA, Maine — Flip the page to coverage of the 2014 gubernatorial race in any Maine newspaper, and you’ll see three names: Republican Paul LePage, Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler.
You’re unlikely to see the name Lee Schultheis.
The big three dominate the conversation, the money race and the polls. But Schultheis, a retired mutual fund consultant from Freeport, will also be on the ballot as an independent candidate.
He doesn’t expect to win. In fact, the adversarial focus on winning at all costs is part of the problem, according to Schultheis, who’s hoping to get his message of civility, thoughtfulness and electoral reform to voters through participation in debates.
Schultheis has self-financed his bid for governor to the tune of $20,000. The acronym in his website address, gbnr2014.com, is a nod to his assessment of his candidacy: “I’m running for Governor, But Not Really.”
“I’m really running in the sense that I’m running the campaign and I’m on the ballot,” he said in an interview Monday. “But the GNBR part is a nod to the fact that I’m a big believer in not having a spoiler effect. I’m recognizing the odds and the possibilities here and trying to be very candid with folks.”
Schultheis said he was inspired to do the work necessary to appear on the ballot after seeing longshot independent candidates Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott in gubernatorial debates in 2010. Combined, Moody and Scott received just over 6 percent of the votes that year.
He wondered how they were able to be on the same stage as Cutler, Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell and eventual winner, LePage.
“I’m sure they thought they’d do the best job of anybody and went about running the campaign as if they had a shot,” he said. “But at some level, I’d hope they understood they had a very unlikely shot.”
But the gears were turning. Schultheis said he figured if he collected the 4,000 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot, he’d be able to be a voice for moderate voters who are tired of team-based, winner-take-all politics. So he hired a team from Massachusetts to hit the cold streets this winter to collect the signatures he needed.
He said the parties and their elected officials and operatives are too quick to vilify the other side simply because they belong to an opposing party or to oversimplify highly complex policy questions in the pursuit of quick political points.
Instead, he said they should be having honest conversations, seeking common ground where it exists and moving ahead with compromise.
On his website, Schultheis writes, “Can we really wait too many more years to effectively address our looming problems, where two polar sides struggle to get it all their way and when they can’t, default to being obstructionist and immediately pointing the inevitable next election?”
The problem exists for voters too, he said, especially in the wake of two recent, high-profile statewide races featuring three or more candidates — the governor’s race in 2010 and the three-way race for U.S. Senate in 2012.
Voters are too quick to join a team, he said, then immediately try to cast another candidate as a spoiler. In the end, Schultheis said, honest assessment of each candidate and his or her ideas is the victim.
“Divorce yourself from your team,” he said. “Everybody says, ‘I’m on the liberal or conservative team,’ and they immediately go to the black-and-white adversarial thing. … Instead, just say, ‘I’m not on that team right now; I’m just listening to the issues. Closer to the election, I’ll join a team. But right now, I’m just listening.’”
Schultheis is an advocate for ranked-choice voting, which he and other advocates — including Cutler — say would eliminate the need for strategic voting and the presence of “winning” candidates who earned less than 50 percent of the vote.
He said he has already been invited to one debate, and he is working to make sure he’s present for more.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.