Republican gubernatorial candidates, clockwise from top left, Garrett Mason, Ken Fredette, Shawn Moody and Mary Mayhew
Republican gubernatorial candidates, clockwise from top left, Garrett Mason, Ken Fredette, Shawn Moody and Mary Mayhew
" “I would build a wall down at Kittery at the bridge and I would put a cop on the bridge and I’d say, ‘Look, if we’re going to have drugs coming into the state we’re going to stop it.’”  — Ken Fredette "
In less than three weeks, Republicans will go to the polls and vote for the best candidate to carry on Gov. Paul LePage’s reactionary legacy. After eight years of LePage’s belligerent hard-right politics, it’s easy to forget that the combative former Waterville mayor was once considered a longshot to win the 2010 GOP primary. Critics insisted that his angry populist rhetoric was too extreme and his efforts to court the Tea Party would destroy him in the general election. In the lead-up to the June primary, many political observers believed that Maine Republicans would go for a more conventional GOP candidate like businessman Les Otten, Susan Collins staffer Steve Abbott or longtime moderate Senator Peter Mills. But in the end, LePage rode a molten hot wave of Tea Party rage and resentment to win the nomination with 37.9 percent of the vote — roughly the same percentage he would later win by in the general election. And Maine politics has never been the same.

“Donald Trump before Donald Trump,” as LePage likes to describe himself.

Aside from his politics, a large part of Le-Page’s appeal was his dramatic life story of rising from grinding poverty, abuse and homelessness on the streets of Lewiston to wealth and success. Republicans also liked that he was a hard-nosed businessman who spoke bluntly and wasn’t afraid, they said, to “tell it like it is” — even if that meant making things up or swearing at reporters. In short, Paul LePage was the real deal and not one of those entrenched “career politicians” vying for the Blaine House. It was all in his rallying cry, “Beat the elite!”

But because the governor is such a unique political figure, the four Republican candidates — businessman Shawn Moody, former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette — face a tough challenge in electrifying the same hard-core primary voters who turned out for LePage in 2010.

The Blue-Collar Businessman

If polls are to be believed, Shawn Moody is ahead. According to a May Survey USA poll of GOP primary voters, Moody is leading Mayhew 34-19, with Mason in third with 15 percent and Fredette last with just 10 percent. Moody likely benefits from the LePage bump as the governor is widely believed to be tacitly supporting the 58-year-old businessman. The governor’s wife, Ann LePage, endorsed Moody at the recent GOP state convention, and the governor’s daughter Lauren and his advisor Brent Littlefield are both working on the Moody campaign.

He’s got name recognition and, like LePage, the Gorham native has a compelling rags-to-riches story. Moody grew up in a trailer and at just 17 he started his own business, which has since grown into a chain of 11 Moody’s Collision Centers in southern and central Maine. Although he is a successful businessman, Moody describes himself as a “blue collar guy” and speaks with a thick Maine drawl as he makes his appeals to the beaten-down working man. “We’ve turned our backs on blue-collar Maine!” he often proclaims. Like LePage, Moody describes himself as an anti-elitist “outsider” and promises to run the state of Maine like his autobody shops.

“When you look at Governor LePage, he’s an outsider. He’s a businessman,” said Moody at a recent debate on WCSH. “... President Trump is an outsider, businessman. I’m an outsider. I’m a businessman. Our company has been named one of the best places to work in Maine. We will make Maine one of the best places to work in America.”

But while Moody promises to continue LePage’s efforts to shrink the safety net for the poor, cut taxes for the wealthy and round up undocumented immigrants, many base GOP voters are still skeptical of his conservative bona fides. After all, he previously ran against LePage as an independent in 2010 and only enrolled as a Republican in October. He has contributed to Democrats, has been squishy on taxes and once opposed charter schools and supported access to abortions. At debates, Moody often rambles and doesn’t give straight answers about his positons on red-meat conservative issues. And when he does deliver his right-wing talking points, they usually sound like they were cooked up in Brent Littlefield’s Washington, D.C. laboratory.

The Anti-Welfare Warrior

Without question, Mary Mayhew is the candidate that really fires up the base. The former DHHS commissioner has proudly run on her record of zealously attacking public assistance programs with a meat ax. During her seven-year tenure at the department, she oversaw the elimination of health care for 40,000 low-income Mainers, food and shelter assistance for 16,000 children, and food assistance to 40,000 Mainers. In her stump speeches, Mayhew likes to tell the story of her widowed grandmother, who solely supported seven children while working multiple jobs “without taking handouts,” to illustrate her ideological opposition to welfare programs.

“I’m running for governor because I am determined to have my grandmother’s story, all of your stories, not be a thing of the past but stories that inspire Mainers for years to come,” said Mayhew at a the WCSH debate. “I’m running for governor not only to protect the governor’s great legacy, but to aggressively move Maine forward. We need to get government out of the way and out of our pockets.”

Mayhew’s management of DHHS was also wildly controversial. During her tenure, she came under fire for illegally diverting millions of federal welfare dollars; losing Riverview Psychiatric Hospital’s federal certification after investigators uncovered evidence of abuse at the facility; rejecting federal funds for mental health treatment; cutting the public nursing program in half; commissioning a $1 million welfare study that was plagiarized and riddled with errors; mishandling the contracting of the MaineCare ride program; and blocking the release of public records to the press. Under her watch, hunger, child poverty and infant mortality skyrocketed while Maine’s health ranking plummeted. And earlier this year, DHHS’s handling of child abuse cases came under scrutiny after the tragic deaths of two children who were victims of abuse. As Senate President Mike Thibodeau told the former commissioner at a debate, “Mary: you have more unclaimed baggage than the Portland Jetport.”

In past elections, Mayhew’s record at DHHS would have probably vaporized her political career, but in the era of Trump and LePage, anything is possible. Mayhew has won straw polls at the GOP State Convention and the Knox County and Lincoln County caucuses. Twenty-eight state legislators and House Speaker Newt Gingrich have also thrown their support behind the former commissioner. Veteran conservative activists Trevor Bragdon and Sam Adolphsen are working on the Mayhew campaign. Adolphsen, who oversaw the $1 million plagiarized welfare study contract for Mayhew, is also working at the far-right Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based think tank that has used Maine as a laboratory for anti-welfare policies. Congressman Bruce Poliquin and FGA have been working with Congress to adopt the same policies at the federal level, citing Maine’s “success.”

Far-right anti-immigrant groups, like the white nationalist website Maine First Media, have also praised Mayhew for her pledge to end support for asylum seekers and to work with federal immigration agents to round up undocumented immigrants.

“Illegals won’t get sanctuary,” Mayhew told state Republican Convention delgates. “They’ll get a knock on the door from ICE agents…with a Maine State Trooper standing shoulder-to-shoulder!”

However, Mayhew’s opponents have pointed out that she was once a Democrat and worked for Democrats and on Democratic campaigns. She also led the charge to expand Medicaid to more people as a lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association in the early 2000s even though she ended up working to dismantle it when she joined the LePage administration.

The Genial Christian Conservative

At 32, Garrett Mason would be the youngest governor in Maine history if elected and he’s got a real chance at the Republican nomination. Friendly, affable and deeply religious, Mason grew up in a “faith-filled home” and attended Calvary Christian Academy in Turner and Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida. In addition to serving four terms in the Maine Senate, Mason has worked as the manager of the Lewiston Maineiacs hockey team, as a realtor and in his family’s excavation company. A staunch supporter of school choice, Mason sponsored the state’s charter school law in his first term and unsuccessfully tried to pass laws to create a school voucher program and allow public funds to go to private religious schools. This session he tried to pass a law to prohibit the state from doing business with entities that boycott the the state of Israel, which is a policy strongly supported by fundamentalist Christians. While Mason generally supports LePage’s policies, he says he will bring a more collaborative approach to government.

“You can stand by your solid, conservative principles, but you can also sit down with the other side and listen to them,” said Mason at a May 8 debate. “I think if you ask around the Legislature about how I do things, everybody knows that they can sit at my table any time. It doesn’t mean that I will agree with them, but their voice will be heard.”

His opponents have attacked Mason because he is the only Republican candidate receiving public money from the Clean Elections program to run his campaign. But as Portland Press Herald columnist Greg Kesich observed back in April, the program has also been a great organizing tool. Mason very quickly was able to gather his individual $5 contributions from church-going folk and received several endorsements from pastors in the process. Maine’s fundamentalist Christian community may be small, but they are very influential in Republican politics and helped Chandler Woodcock secure the gubernatorial nomination in 2006 and propelled Texas Senator Ted Cruz to win the state caucuses in 2016.

“I grew up in a church … it’s part of who I am,” Mason told Kesich. “We have reached out to churches and we have been able to talk to them in ways that other candidates can’t.”

Long-Shot Kenny

Rep. Ken Fredette, an attorney representing the Newport area, is hoping Republican voters will reward him for being LePage’s loyal lieutenant in the governor’s to force Democrats to bend to his will. And his “Stay the Course” slogan implies that he will carry on the LePage legacy if elected. Fredette has touted his accomplishments as cutting income taxes, paying off a Medicaid debt to hospitals, cutting state employee pensions, blocking pro-solar bills, and shutting down state government for three days last June to prevent new taxes. Fredette hopes to attract rural voters with his story about being born in Aroostook County, growing up in Washington County and being the first one in his family to go to college. But his campaign has failed to catch fire and it’s unlikely he’ll ever take up residence in the Blaine House.

Guns, Cops, Work & Prayer

Where the Candidates Stand on the Issues

Making Business Owners Feel “Valued, Respected & Appreciated”

“What are you going to do to improve Maine’s economy and bring young people to the state?” is the everlasting debate question. For Republicans it’s an easy one to answer: cut income taxes and reduce regulations on business. Mayhew, Fredette, and Mason support completely eliminating the state income tax but have not explained where the lost revenue would be made up. Moody is in favor of reducing it “responsibly.”

“There’s no plan of where the revenue is going to come from,” said Moody at one debate. “Set a target of 5 percent. That’s why I’m a businessman. I’m a pragmatic realist.”

Gov. LePage first proposed eliminating the income tax in 2015, which would have created a $600 million deficit without massive cuts in programs and/or property and sales tax hikes. The Washington-based Institute on Economic Policy estimated that half of the economic benefit from the proposal would help people making over $175,000 per year. Those earning over $390,000 would get a tax cut of $21,000, while those earning less than $23,000 would get about $14.

Moody says the jobs are already here for young people as the state is currently experiencing a labor shortage. His plan to attract young workers is to put less emphasis on four-year college degrees and more focus on creating the “best career tech and vocational programs in the country” to train people for “blue-collar jobs.”

“We need to pay attention to that blue-collar side of Maine because the pendulum has swung too far the other way,” said Moody at the WCSH debate.

Mayhew blames taxes, “extreme environmental policies,” the minimum wage and welfare for Maine’s economic climate.

“My response is consistently, we don’t need government coming up with a grand business plan,” said Mayhew at the WCSH debate. “That’s why we’re in the problems that we’re in. Government trying to interfere in the private sector.”

Mayhew claims that business owners do not feel “valued, respected or appreciated” and they worry about “the next nail in the coffin … coming their way from Augusta.”

“Many employers say to me, I just need someone to show up on time drug-free and stay to the end of the day and come back the next,” said Mayhew at a debate at Colby College in February. “And for far too long our policies have discouraged work, have undermined our state’s strong work ethic.”

Mason says he will work to attract businesses from out of state and overseas to Maine. He touts the success of the Mass Challenge Program, a Boston-based business development program, which seeks out overseas start-up companies to support and incubate.

Fredette argues that economic issues will be solved on the local level rather than the state level.

“Augusta is not going to provide necessarily the answers,” said Fredette at a GOP forum in Milbridge. “I think that Augusta to some extent can provide the resources.”

Fredette says he supports a bond to alleviate student debt by helping students refinancing student loans and a subsidized loan program to help first-time home buyers as a way to attract young people to come to Maine. Mason touts the Legislature’s success in helping the University of Maine system freeze tuition rates for six years and attacks Moody for voting to raise tuition last year as a member of the University System Board of Trustees.

The four candidates are split in their support for expanding high-speed Internet into rural Maine. Mayhew says that the government needs to be “promoting investment” in expanding broadband, while Fredette says it’s “a place where government has a proper role to play” because there aren’t enough rural customers to pay for it. Moody says he’s more interested in emerging satellite wireless Internet technology than cables. Mason opposes investing in broadband and says the future will likely be in the Space X plan to “put broadband Internet in the sky.”

“I think the first thing we need to realize is that the Internet is not a public utility and we have to be careful not to make that a public utility,” said Mason at the WCSH debate. “And when you start to interject government into those things, you start going down the road of net neutrality. You start going into some very different places that could ruin the freedom of the Internet.”

Repeal Medicaid Expansion or Just Block Funding?

The four candidates are split over whether they have an obligation to provide the state’s share of funding for Medicaid expansion. Currently, the LePage administration is locked in a legal battle with health care advocates after he ignored a deadline to file the paperwork necessary to allow the expansion to begin in July. LePage argues that the Legislature hasn’t appropriated the money as his Republican allies have blocked efforts to appropriate the money, which is readily available in a projected $140 million state budget surplus.

A study commissioned by the Maine Health Access Foundation estimated that it would cost the state $30 million in the biennial budget to unlock $525 million a year in federal Medicaid money. The Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal & Program Review estimates that the state has enough money currently budgeted to fund the program until next May. Nevertheless, LePage insists the program will cost up to $100 million a year and wants the money up front, provided that a litany of funding demands are met first. Fredette is currently blocking a $3.8 million bill to fund the staff necessary to implement the law.

Fredette says he’s open to supporting Medicaid expansion as long as Democrats come up with a funding plan that he likes. But both Mason and Mayhew say the law should be repealed.

“We need to maintain our fiscal discipline and we truly need to help people get back to work,” said Mayhew at a CBS 13/Fox 23 debate in April. “We don’t need another program that discourages people from work. There are thousands of jobs here today in Maine and employers who cannot find employees.”

Shawn Moody says he doesn’t support Medicaid expansion, but has also chastised Republican legislators for forcing the Legislature to adjourn without funding it. “We’re going to have to work with the Legislature and find some mechanism to fund it, but what’s interesting to me is the Legislature went home,” said Moody.

Mason, who actually voted to extend the legislative session, defended House Republicans for forcing adjournment because he said it came at the urging of LePage. To which Moody retorted, “You’re saying that as a governor you’re going to get everybody to work together, build consensus and get things done. This is a classic example where nothing’s been done.”

Fredette bristled at that charge. “If you’re going to run for governor as the outsider, you have to understand how this place works because if you’re going to run as the outsider and want to go back to the old status quo ways then we’re going to move Maine backwards,” Fredette lectured Moody. “What we’re trying to do is change the process in Augusta so that we are forcing the Democrats to come to the table with funding mechanisms, not just saying we’re going to pass this for $3.82 million and not worry about the other $400 million another day.”

Mayhew, Mason and Fredette support deregulating the health insurance market, but acknowledge that there are limits on what the state can do because of the Affordable Care Act. Moody says he wants to create a special blue-ribbon commission to address health care costs, but Mason pointed out that the state has done that before.

“And when you put the government in charge of talking about health care, well the government is always going to say, ‘We need more government in health care,’” said Mason. “In fact, that’s exactly what they said in the last blue-ribbon commission. They said, ‘We need single-payer health care.”

More Guns & Cops in Schools

All of the candidates have declared their undying support for gun rights and the Second Amendment. Mayhew likes to talk about how she has a gun to protect herself.

“I have had multiple death threats and when I called the state police and reported the death threat I was told that threat was not crime,” Mayhew told the Colby College crowd. “So I certainly want a gun to protect myself and I don’t want the answer to be we’ve got to take guns away.”

She says she supports allowing teachers to carry guns in schools “with proper training” to protect students from potential shooters. Mason notes that he is one of the only members of the Legislature with an A+ rating from the NRA and supports allowing teachers to carry firearms in schools. He also sponsored a bill to allow people to have guns in their cars on school property when picking up a student.

“Some of the worst homicide rates by guns in the entire country are in those places and they have some of the strictest gun laws,” said Mason at the CBS 13/Fox 23 debate. “I think that it is absolutely ironic that we hang a gun-free zone sign like a merit badge on top of our schools and think that is going to stop our school shooting problem that we have in our country.”

Fredette also boasted of his A rating with the NRA and the Republicans’ success in repealing the state’s concealed gun permit law. He says local schools should be able to decide whether they want teachers to be armed. Moody says he doesn’t support arming teachers, but would like to put a school resource officer in every high school in Maine.

Fighting the Opiate Epidemic with More Police, the National Guard & the Power of Jesus Christ

With 418 Mainers dying from overdoses last year, the opiate epidemic has been a hot topic at the debates. At the forum in Milbridge last week, Mayhew blamed the crisis on policies that have “robbed people of their human dignity by trapping them in welfare, in poverty [and] governmental dependency.”

“And now they don’t have meaning in their lives,” said Mayhew. “It’s no wonder that we have created so many situations where individuals have become vulnerable to drug addiction.”

Mayhew said that forcing people to work will give them self-esteem, self-worth, keep them productive and away from drugs. But she complained that federal law does not allow states to impose work requirements for food stamp recipients in substance-abuse treatment.

“That’s when work requirements should apply the most,” said Mayhew. “We cannot lose sight of the importance of reestablishing the importance of work, so that we have individuals, young adolescents, young adults who have meaning in their lives.”

Mayhew said the track record of substance abuse treatment programs is “pathetic” and said she would focus on getting people with substance use disorders into 12-step programs and faith-based drug treatment. Mason also said that he would support funding for faith-based addiction programs like the Machias Christian Fellowship’s Arise program, which LePage is already funding out of his expense account. Mason said he would open an office of faith-based initiatives to coordinate services, similar to the one George W. Bush created in the early 2000s. Mason has also acknowledged that medication-assisted treatment should have a role in treating people with opiate addictions.

Moody said his efforts would focus on providing more funding for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, drug education and promoting peer-to-peer programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. He proudly boasts that his business donated a van to the D.A.R.E. program in 1994.

“I know it sounds dramatic, but when I was, like, 12 years old, I can remember seeing on TV the frying pan with an egg frying in there and saying that’s going to be your brain on drugs,” said Moody at the CBS 13/Fox 23 debate. “I think that’s the type of alarming that we need to educate our young children before they get involved and introduced to drugs.”

Moody said he would also try to rebuild the “tattered” mental health system, but has offered few details on how he would do it. Fredette says his priorities would be to impose harsher drug laws, hiring more drug enforcement agents and engaging the assistance of the Maine National Guard to provide surveillance and intelligence.

“I would build a wall down at Kittery at the bridge and I would put a cop on the bridge and I’d say, ‘Look, if we’re going to have drugs coming into the state we’re going to stop it,’” said Fredette, somewhat facetiously, at the WCSH debate.

Marijuana Legalization: To Repeal or Not to Repeal

The four candidates are also split on whether to continue allowing the legalization of adult-use marijuana. Mayhew said she would simply scrap the voter-approved law.

“We just talked about the opioid crisis,” said Mayhew on WCSH. “It is absolutely irrational that we are trying to focus on that crisis and then we turn around and legalize another drug. As commissioner I would get the reports from the emergency department of a 2-year-old ingesting gummy bears laced with marijuana. That law needs to be repealed.”

Moody is undecided on marijuana policy, but has complained that he can’t find a way to test whether his employees are impaired. “Until they come up with a way to clinically test it, to me it’s a huge liability to employers and actually to the state of Maine,” said Moody on WCSH. “I mean you would never think of taking the blood alcohol level test away from alcohol…. And here we are implementing another drug and no clinically proven way to test it.”

Mason said that the Legislature did its best to “fix a horrible law” when it recently passed a bill to allow the commercial sale of pot, but included a ban on marijuana social clubs, limited the number of plants an individual can possess and several other restrictions. Fredette said he voted against the marijuana legalization bill, but “it is the law and we have to deal with it.”

On Public Schools Brainwashing Children

At the Milbridge Republican forum last week, one woman expressed fear that children are not learning about “God and country” and told the candidates that “we need to indoctrinate our children to be Americans” and “reeducate all American kids to be proud to be Americans.” In response, Mason said his solution would be to allow parents to have more school choice.

“They are the silent majority of those who want to fight for God and country,” said Mason. “When they have an option to go to a school that supports their values that they’re taught at home then that is something that can definitely help in the fight for what you’re talking about.”

Mayhew replied that “we are at war” and blamed the education system and what she described as the “welfare nonprofit industrial complex” for promoting government dependency. She noted that in 1960, 5 percent of all babies were born to single parents, but today 43 percent of babies are “born out of wedlock.” Her solution: cut welfare.

“If you are born to a single parent, you are more likely to live in poverty,” said Mayhew. “We’ve got an absolute breakdown of the family structure…. The fabric of families torn apart. But we have government policies promoting that by encouraging women to choose government over husbands. So it is all part of what we have been taking on successfully, but we need everyone to turn out to vote and to recognize what’s at stake because Maine is still seen as a leader for what we have done to disrupt that status quo and all of those who threaten what we hold dear.”

According to the US Census, while 40 percent of births in Maine were to unmarried mothers, 67 percent of Maine children live with a married couple and 10 percent live with an unmarried couple. As James Myall of the Maine Center for Economic Policy noted, the statistics suggest that even when mothers are unmarried, they don’t stay that way.

Mayhew added that she believes the Department of Education is a “glorfied think tank” with little accountability that needs to be “gutted,” drawing loud applause. Mason agreed.

“It is the last liberal fiefdom that has yet to be dismantled in Augusta and I can’t wait to do it!” he said.

Mason also complained that high school diplomas “don’t mean anything” because “two-thirds of our students are not fully capable in math.” He said he would like to bring back LePage’s policy of giving schools A-F grades, but the state needs to stop changing its learning standards to allow for a three-year baseline measurement. Mason also said that Democrats made the wrong decision when they blocked the nomination of right-wing blogger Susan Dench to the UMaine System Board of Trustees in 2012. Dench came under withering criticism for allegedly plagiarizing a Bangor Daily News blog post and for denouncing the “feminizing” of schools by “making them more sensitive, less competitive, more cooperative places.”

Fredette complained that teachers’ unions “control the schools and the teachers” and that they seldom endorse Republican candidates. Moody didn’t attend the Milbridge forum.

Child-Abuse Prevention

The candidates had wide-ranging responses to questions about what the state can do to prevent future cases of abuse and murder of children. Mayhew said the Department of Health and Human Services “is not perfect” and that there should be an investigation into what went wrong following the death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy as DHHS had received complaints that her parents were abusing her prior to her death. But Mayhew stopped short of acknowledging any responsibility for the tragedy.

“We have huge problems and government cannot fix those problems,” said Mayhew in the WCSH debate. “Government will never be a church. It will never be a parent. It will never be a grandparent.” She added that the department should focus on “larger challenges ... that are threatening not only the stability of our families — the dysfunctional environment that our children are being raised in.”

Moody said DHHS has suffered from an “abject failure of communication” and suggested that there should be mechanisms in place for caseworkers on the ground to provide feedback to the department heads. Fredette says DHHS needs to be broken up because it’s too big and lacks accountability. Mason said the first thing he would do is to “pick up the phone” because over 12,000 calls to the state’s child-abuse tip line went unanswered in 2016.

Reproductive Rights

If elected governor, Mayhew says she will enact tighter restrictions on abortion access, including mandatory waiting periods, requiring women to have an ultrasound before they have the procedure and requiring parental consent for minors. Mayhew said she is proud to have cut funding to Planned Parenthood.

“I believe in restrictions and I know that we cannot allow abortion to be used as family planning,” Mayhew says in one of her Facebook videos. “We’ve got to do more and if I could I’d be out there preaching about abstinence. We have got to restore the order of education, job, marriage and baby.”

Mason says he also supports all of those restrictions on abortion access and ending support for women’s health care clinics that provide abortions.

“I am deeply committed to protecting the sanctity of life and fighting for the rights of the unborn,” writes Mason on his website. “I have been a passionate advocate for pro-life causes and I have 100% rating from Maine pro-life groups.”

Fredette is also staunchly anti-abortion and has blasted Moody for previously being pro-choice. Moody is now running as a pro-life candidate and says he supports waiting periods and parental consent and opposes funding for Planned Parenthood.