A Tough Choice for Undecided Republicans
On June 12, Republicans and Democrats will head to the polls to select their parties’ official nominee for Governor. Although it’s less than two weeks away, many voters are still undecided. For once in my life, I am an undecided Republican – and the decision is a hard one.
The four remaining candidates in the Maine GOP primary are not exactly the names I expected to see in the final field. Early on in this contest there was speculation that Rick Bennett, the former senate president turned Maine GOP party chair, would enter the race. Similar speculation surrounded Josh Tardy, the former Republican House leader turned lobbyist.
Yes, we all knew that Mary and Shawn were going to run. Shawn Moody has run before, only last time it was not under the Republican banner. Mary Mayhew has worked in Augusta for a long time, and those who know her have been waiting for her to run just as those who know Janet Mills have been waiting for the same. Similarly, Garrett Mason has always broadcast his desired to be a young Governor of Maine. He even hired an intern from Florida who accidentally registered his gubernatorial website years in advance, so this has been in the works for a while.
While each of the four candidates have strengths, they each have flaws that are hard to overlook.
Shawn Moody is a breath of fresh air. He has the outsider authenticity of Paul LePage without the Governor’s signature brashness that can turn off voters and community members. Shawn is a likeable guy whose life story is an inspiration. He is family focused, has worked hard on the Boards in the University & Community College System (the first that we know of to hold such a joint appointment – a feat made more remarkable by the fact that he doesn’t hold a college degree), and he has business acumen beyond what most people realize. Overall, Shawn is a great guy.
However, Shawn Moody is a new Republican. That’s ok. It speaks to the strength of the Party and what it stands for that people like Mary Mayhew and Shawn moody have finally decided (just now, before running for Governor) to join us. We are a big tent and we are happy to have you. Personally, as an Alex P. Keaton Republican however, it gives me pause to question how committed you are to the Party and what it stands for. Are you ready to withstand the attacks? I’ve been a registered republican longer than Shawn Moody, Mary Mayhew and Donald Trump combined, and I was working on campaigns before I was even old enough to vote. It’s hard for me to get excited about letting someone who previously didn’t want to be associated with us become our standard bearer – because I’ve held these standards much longer than they have. There’s also the question as to how Shawn with withstand criticism. Being the Republican standard bearer is going to come with a great deal of ridicule and outrage from the left and their allies in the press. How will Shawn withstand it? Will he bend to special interests and care about whether he is liked in the press? So far, it is hard to judge.
Mary Mayhew, also a new Republican, is a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to fighting welfare fraud, waste and abuse, no one in the country knows more or has a more proven track record than Mary Mayhew. I’ve heard from friends in DC that the Trump Administration has been actively courting Commissioner Mayhew to take her experience to Washington, and I’m personally disappointed that she has not taken them up on the offer because I know what a great job she will do. However she must feel a different calling and I don’t blame her. Mary knows what it’s like to be unfairly treated by Democrats and their allies in the newspaper editing rooms. When I joined Governor LePage’s staff Commissioner Mayhew warned me that I needed to be ok with people saying hateful things about me that weren’t true and would likely end up being reprinted in the newspaper. She was right.
But for all Mary’s talents, her tenure at DHHS was also characterized by several management challenges and many, in retrospect, avoidable unforced errors. Not all of those were her fault as legislators from both parties deliberately prevented the Department from doing the right thing on many occasions – and undeniably, Mary grew into the role and delivered results. Yet voters have reason to question whether this Democrat political operative turned lobbyist turned Health Commissioner turned Republican candidate for Governor is well suited for the promotion. Personally, I was disappointed that Mary chose political timing (one year before the primary) to leave her job at DHHS and exited well before the biennial budget was completed. It created a great deal of stress and uncertainty at the Department and in the Governor’s office during the weeks that led to (and included) the brief government shutdown. Furthermore, Mary is untested outside of HHS and we don’t know how well she will do as a manager when she doesn’t have a “client” who has final decision rights (e.g. the hospitals or Governor LePage).
Garrett Mason stands out as the candidate who speaks most clearly about his Christian values. Iit is refreshing to hear a statewide politician discussing faith in Maine again. Garrett comes from a strong family. His late mother Gina was the rock of the family and her husband Rick Mason and their two children bear witness to her strength of faith and character. On the campaign trail, I’ve often observed that Garrett doesn’t deliver stump speeches, he delivers sermons, and he’s very good at it.
Yet Senator Mason’s actions in Augusta have not always matched his rhetoric. As Republican majority leader in the Maine Senate for Governor LePage’s second term, he allowed his caucus to become best known for saying “No’ to Governor LePage’s conservative, fiscally responsible proposals. He even mocked the Governor (from his own party) by wearing a hard hat down to the Governor’s office to deliver official correspondence. Within his caucus, Senator Mason often boasted that he would challenge Senate President Mike Thibodeau for leadership, but when push came to shove, he usually backed down. If being a paper tiger weren’t bad enough, there’s the issue of clean elections funding. Personally, I don’t blame candidates who believe in taxpayer funding for campaigns from accepting such funds. What I find objectionable is that Senator Mason was a leading critic of providing taxpayer funds to gubernatorial candidates. In his leadership post on the VLA committee, he proudly voted against it. Then, when it was time to run for Governor, he opportunistically set aside his values in the name of political expediency. That is not what we need from our state’s next Governor.
Perhaps Garrett would make a good Governor of Maine someday, but in the meantime it would be nicer for him to gain additional life and management experience so that we can have confidence in who he is and what he will do.
Finally, there is Ken Fredette. Ken has been Governor LePage’s strongest legislative ally during the Governor’s second term – and he’s grown immensely as a leader. He is a talented lawyer and well versed on energy policy. He has kept his caucus together under immense pressure at critical moments for the future of this state and for Governor LePage’s agenda. Ken was repeatedly mistreated and disrespected by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, but he has carried on as a happy warrior, and it has made an immense difference. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that them electorate has noticed, perhaps because he has been hard at work and has often had to leave the campaign trail to complete his National Guard training and duties. Either way, it seems that Ken has not taken off with primary voters and is unlikely to emerge as the nominee.
In some senses, the Maine Republican Party is lucky to have a field of candidates with diverse experiences, all of whom are interested in devoting their careers to public service and leading this state that we all love. However, as someone who is committed to seeing a Republican in the Governor’s office, I’m still waiting to see how each candidate will address my concerns. I know each of these fine people pretty well and I talk with each of them on a regular basis and they know my concerns and my advice. Yet I’m still left with questions and doubt, and I hope they can address them before I walk into the voting booth. It is a difficult decision this year and there is a lot at stake. We cannot afford to ever utter the three most dangerous words in the English language: “Governor Janet Mills.”
I’m praying for answers and for a clear path forward the transcends my own understanding. May God make straight our path.
Click here to listen to Aaron Chadbourne discuss the Maine candidates on WVOM.
(Fast forward to 12:50 to hear Aaron’s comments.)