Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories profiling Democratic and Republican candidates for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in advance of the June 10 primary. A story on Democrats Emily Cain and Troy Jackson ran in Monday’s Kennebec Journal and online at kjonline.com.
BREWER — After looking at Kevin Raye’s political resume, you may wonder how he’s not already the congressman from Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Bruce Poliquin thinks that’s a reason Raye shouldn’t be.
The Republicans running to replace U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat running for governor, have run a rancorous race so far for the party nomination.
All along, Raye, 53, a former Maine Senate president and mustard mill owner from Perry who lost to Michaud in 2002 and 2012, has challenged Poliquin’s recent move to the district from a $3 million coastal estate in Georgetown to a modest family home in Oakland.
But Poliquin, 60, an ex-state treasurer and former investment manager who grew up in Waterville, has fired back with a refrain familiar to observers of his short, but dense political history in Maine, deriding Raye as one of a club of “career politicians” who put re-election before the country’s good.
In an interview in early May, Poliquin summed up the difference between the two simply: “He’s a professional politician; I’m a professional businessperson,” he said.
That refrain is familiar to observers of Poliquin’s short political history in Maine: He attacked longtime politicians in primary losses for statewide office in 2010 and 2012.
But Raye, who worked in Washington for former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe for nearly two decades before launching his own electoral career, fired back in a recent interview after a press conference in Brewer to combat accusations in a Poliquin ad.
“I think his definition of a career politician must be that you run for office and win,” Raye said.
The two are trying to sell voters on different leadership styles: Raye touts a record of passing reforms with Democrats’ help and input, while Poliquin says the district needs a conservative fighter if government is to rein in wasteful spending.
JOUSTING FOR CREDIT
Campaign-long, Raye and Poliquin have jousted for credit for reforms made by Republicans in 2011 and 2012 after the party took legislative majorities from Democrats and Gov. Paul LePage took the Blaine House.
As state treasurer from 2011 to 2013, Poliquin served essentially as LePage’s fiscal ambassador, traveling the state to advocate for pension reform and reduction of perceived wasteful spending, while Raye, the Senate president, worked to get things passed.
One key item in a state budget passed in 2011 brought drastic pension cuts for state workers that were projected to eliminate $1.7 billion in debt through 2028, much of it by temporarily freezing, then capping cost-of-living increases. The retirement age for new hires was also raised from 62 to 65.
In 2012, Republicans involved in the pension debate said while Poliquin wasn’t much involved with the legislative process, his knowledge of the issue and his zeal to bring it into public view with press conferences, meetings and op-eds helped move the idea forward.
Poliquin said Maine’s politicians let the debt accumulate for long periods of time for expediency’s sake, saying “if you don’t want to offend anybody … you’re not going to touch that issue.”
He said when he and other Republicans entered in 2011, it was “hemorrhaging our budget” and the reforms made “are the kind of change that Maine people want.”
But Raye finds it ironic that while Poliquin wants to take credit for the achievement, it’s the legislators who hammered out the agreement.
“It’s one thing to cheer from the sidelines, but it’s another to actually be in the room where you’re making the progress, where you’re hearing everybody out and you’re bringing people together to solve things,” Raye said.
PRACTICAL BRAND VS. FIREBRAND?
Raye is touting that practical brand of conservatism, saying he’s a conservative who wants lower taxes and less regulation, but he “believes government has a role.”
Poliquin has taken a harder line, saying for Republicans to win the district over Democratic hopefuls Troy Jackson or Emily Cain, the party needs “a very clear contrast” and “someone who’s going to stay on offense” to hold Democrats to account.
His campaign is largely focused around large fiscal issues, including reducing national debt and reforming Social Security and Medicare, which Poliquin says are unsustainable in their current states and won’t be there for future retirees if changes aren’t made.
Poliquin thinks that many politicians — Raye included — won’t have the gumption to fix things like that.
“A lot of people have been there too long, way too long,” he said. “And when you’re there too long, folks believe you don’t want to tackle the tough issues like our Social Security system and our Medicare system.”
It’s clear that Raye’s eye has been set on the 2nd District seat for a long time. When Michaud bowed out to run for governor, Raye said he “couldn’t not consider” another run and found lots of support.
He found it from one businessman, who he quoted as saying “sending Bruce Poliquin to Washington is like putting out a fire with kerosene.” Raye said people he has talked to are fed up with partisan bickering in Washington.
He believes he has the right skill set to combat it, saying he’ll try to advance conservative principles as far as possible without alienating Democrats.
“If you have a my-way-or-the-highway approach and you’re not ever going to arrive at a conclusion, how have you advanced your position?” Raye said. “You haven’t.”
Poliquin said he wants to go to Washington “for a short time” and try to fix things, especially fiscally. When pressed to say how long exactly “a short time” would be, he demurred, but said he wouldn’t be there past age 80.
He said he and his son have a comfortable life, and he doesn’t need to go to Washington. But Poliquin wants to in order to improve the financial situation for members of his 23-year-old son’s generation, he said.
“I have no other agenda,” Poliquin said.