Candidates beginning to sprout up

A shoe has dropped in the upcoming race for Maine governor. State Treasurer Terry Hayes is officially in, immediately making the contest much more interesting.

A former Democratic legislator (2006-2014), she shed her party affiliation soon after she left office and ran for treasurer the same year. A coalition of minority Republicans and enough of her former Democratic colleagues was sufficient to put her in office. She mounted a successful bid for a second term in 2016.

Rarely is a constitutional officer – attorney general, secretary of state or treasurer – elected by other than the majority party. Hayes proved her appeal to both sides of the aisle in order to win her post. Not only that, she bested the incumbent treasurer, Democrat Neria Douglas, to do it in her first term and well-known former legislator Adam Goode of Bangor in her second.

Hailing from Buckfield, Hayes is low key, plainspoken and sensible. She was elected assistant minority leader of the House in her third legislative term but fell short on a run for speaker in her fourth. Just now, low-key and sensible could strike a lot of voters as just right.

When to get in is the first big question for a would-be, statewide candidate. Early is good for well-known candidates, their stature causing potential opponents to think twice. An early start is also important for the lesser known, who need time to develop name recognition and a donor base.

But there are risks to early entry, especially when a big name is hemming and hawing. A candidate could go through the agony of the decision, the persuading of the family and the testing of the waters only to be kicked to the curb by a headliner.

That headliner for Republicans is U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, whose long and distinguished career is well known to all of us. Well, all of us except Gov. Paul LePage, who recently said in a radio interview: “I don’t know her well enough to know whether she can do the job as CEO … .”

Note to governor: She can do the job. The question will be how many of us want her to do it. Though she has long enjoyed support across the political spectrum, in this time of heightened political sensitivity, she is not without her detractors. Some think she has not been conservative enough and some think she has not been liberal enough; not to mention those who think she has not been centrist enough.

Be that as it may, Collins will take up a lot of the oxygen in the room if she enters the race. That is why other Republicans who fancy a stay in the Blaine House have not yet stepped forward. If she is in, they may find discretion to be the better part of valor and look for another gig.

Recently, the senator seems to be giving the possibility serious consideration. She has said that if she runs, it would be based on a desire to “heal the state and bring people back together.” Washington is a miserable, nasty place. Who could blame her for wanting to come home?

On the other hand, this would not be her first attempt at the Blaine House. She finished third in the race when she ran in 1994. She won her primary in a crowded field of eight but with just 21 percent of the vote. In the general election, she received 23 percent of the vote in a 5-way race. Winner Angus King and 2nd-place finisher Joe Brennan each were 10 points ahead of her.

That was then. Collins fared much better in her U.S. Senate races. She has served with distinction and is on the short list of Maine’s best-known and most powerful politicians.

Democrats have no such clear frontrunner. Theirs will probably be a crowded primary. It is likely that the Justin Alfonds and Mark Eves of the world think we know who they are and identify them with signature policy initiatives, but the fact is, we don’t. Very few legislators have a policy identity outside the walls of the Maine State House. To most of us, it’s all just noise.

Most legislators serve on a committee, which gives them expertise and exposure in a particular policy area. Leadership occupies its time with the internal workings of the legislature. Leaders may be at the peak of the legislative hierarchy, but they are not associated with much beyond partisan ideology.

Hence, their leadership status does not often serve them well in statewide elections. Gov. John Baldacci’s legislative careers in Maine and Washington were almost a liability, yielding few notable accomplishments. The Baldacci name, representing the first family of Bangor, likely had more to do with his election as governor.

Libby Mitchell, Maine’s first woman speaker of the house and the only woman ever in the U.S. to preside over both the House and the Senate in her state, had a disastrous run for governor in 2010.

With the election still over 18 months away, the time is approaching when candidates will have to make their moves. Then the real fun begins.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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