Editor’s note: This is the second of two profiles of the Republican candidates competing in the June 12 primary for the 2nd Congressional District seat. The winner will face Democrat incumbent Mike Michaud in the November election.

Mainers are used to seeing Kevin Raye as the buttoned-down Republican State Senate president.

But his former church pastor sees him differently. To her, he’s a family-oriented man who never forgot where he came from or missed church while he was in town.

“When they have a yard sale, he’s there. When they have special services, he’s there. When they need set-up and were doing the (refurbishing) of the church, he was there,” said Margaret O’Mally of Calais, who was pastor of North Perry United Methodist Church for six years until last June. “When they get together to help someone in the community, he’s there.”

Raye, 51, is just as reverent talking about his community.

He was born in Eastport, graduated from Bates College in Lewiston and now lives in Perry. He and his wife, Karen, moved from Washington D.C. back to Washington County after Raye’s 17-year tenure on U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s staff ended.

“I said to my wife, ‘I want to go all the way home,'” Raye said. “If some of us didn’t work for the community, grow businesses, serve in the legislature and do those kinds of things to be leaders, what’s going to happen?”

Raye quit Snowe’s staff to run to represent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District against Mike Michaud, who beat Raye by about 4 percent to win his first term in Washington.

Now, he wants to run against Michaud again, vying for the Republican nomination against Blaine Richardson, of Belfast.

Only this time he thinks he’s more experienced and better positioned to win.

A respectful leader

State Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, has been at Raye’s side for four terms, working as the senate’s assistant majority leader since Raye has been president.

Ask him about his time serving with Raye and he’ll hearken back to 2008. Republicans running for the Legislature had been thumped. After the election, they were outnumbered 95-55 by Democrats in the House and 20-15 in the Senate.

“It was really a terrible time to be a Republican leader,” he said. “Republicans got whacked and all of a sudden, Kevin and I were in leadership and we had to find a way to move forward with our vision and find a way to communicate our beliefs to the people of Maine.”

Fast-forward to 2010: That November, Raye was seen smiling at Paul LePage’s side at a press conference in Waterville after the state found out LePage narrowly won the governorship. Republicans also stormed to control in both chambers of the state Legislature, with a 77-73 advantage in the House and 20-14 in the Senate. Later, he was unanimously elected senate president.

“People expected polarization,” Raye said. “We took the approach of reaching out to the minority with respect.”

That approach, Raye said, led to bipartisan state budgets and business-government regulatory reform in the form of L.D. 1, the first bill of the 125th Legislature passed in 2011 with three no votes in the House and none in the Senate.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, says he didn’t agree with many of Maine Republicans’ positions on policy, including what he called a trumped-up “fiscal crisis,” but the assistant minority leader said Raye led the Senate effectively.

“I think he respects the Maine State Legislature and the processes that have been created because they work well for Maine people,” Alfond said. “And (he) really created a very well-run Senate chamber and treated Democrats fairly and with respect.”

Raye said it comes down to his values. “I take people as I find them,” he said.

Hard to ignore

Raye bills himself a strong fiscal conservative and says Maine people are frightened at the rate of spending in Washington, with the national debt closing in on $16 trillion. He opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, knows as Obamacare, in favor of market-based solutions to offering people cheaper health care.

“What’s missing in Washington is some good old-fashioned common sense,” he said. “Being an adult, you learn about setting priorities and that you can’t have everything. You live by a budget and Washington doesn’t do that.”

He paints Michaud as a back-bencher, noting he’s been listed by Roll Call as one of Congress’ 10 most obscure members. He also said Michaud’s a sure vote for President Barack Obama and national Democrats.

“It’s a seat that was once occupied by Margaret Chase Smith, by Bill Cohen, by Olympia Snowe and by people who really stood out for Maine,” Raye said. “I think that Mainers deserve that voice to be the strongest voice they can have down there.”

Courtney, who is running against U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for the 1st District Congressional seat, is convinced Raye will be vocal.

“He will be such a strong leader,” Courtney said. “People won’t be able to ignore Kevin Raye.”

But Raye’s not without his critics, and they aren’t just Democrats. Pete Harring of Auburn, the founder of the Maine tea party, said he’s voting for Richardson, the tea party-affiliated Navy veteran.

“(He’s) willing to say it how he sees it without trying to sugarcoat it,” Harring said. “Kevin Raye has the tendency to sugarcoat things.”

Raye said he’s sympathetic to the tea party’s small-government bent. To defend his record, he ticks off a list of Republican legislative wins.

“We’ve passed the largest tax cut in the history of Maine. We have passed reforms to welfare. We have reined in an explosive and unsustainable MaineCare program and we’ve reduced state debt by $1.7 billion,” he said.

“If that’s not the record of a fiscal conservative,” Raye added, “I don’t know what is.”

‘He has experience’

Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said Raye would be the best candidate Michaud’s ever faced.

Michaud hasn’t been contested closely since beating Raye, winning more than 300,000 more votes than his Republican opponents in his next four elections combined.

“The other candidates weren’t very high-quality candidates,” Fried said. “They varied widely in their presentation skills. He’s got strong presentation skills. He has knowledge; he has experience.”

Raye said that experience doesn’t just come from his time in the Senate. In 2005 he bought Eastport-based Raye’s Mustard from a cousin. According to Raye, it’s the only stone-ground mustard mill in North America and has been in his family since 1900.

“I’ve now had seven years of running a small business, which gives me a whole new component of grounding in the district and experience people like,” he said.

And O’Mally said she’s seen Raye’s leadership firsthand.

“We really liked having him as our senator here because he stood up for us,” she said. “He’s a kind person, but he’s firm. When he stands up for something he stands up for it.”

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632

[email protected]

Kevin Raye biography

PARTY: Republican

AGE: 51

RESIDENCE: Perry

FAMILY: wife, Karen

EDUCATION: Bates College ’83, bachelor’s degree in political science

OCCUPATION: Mustard mill owner, Eastport

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Senate president (2010-2012); Senate Republican leader (2008-2010); Maine state senator (2004-2012); chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (1994-2001); district director for U.S. Rep. Olympia Snowe (1983-1994).

Endorsements

House Speaker Bob Nutting

Majority Leader Phil Curtis

Most Republican legislators from the 2nd District

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald

Bangor Mayor Cary Weston

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte

On the issues

* Do you support President Obama’s health care law? No

* Do you support a balanced budget amendment? Yes

* Do you support a tax increase for the wealthy? I oppose higher taxes

* Would you vote to extend the nation’s debt limit? No

* Do you support legalizing gay marriage? No

* What should Congress be doing to create jobs and improve the economy? “I believe the best way to stimulate and grow our economy is to encourage job growth through policies that help small business succeed and encourage private investment. Small business is our largest source of private employment in Maine, accounting for 97 percent of our businesses. As president of the Senate, I sponsored L.D. 1 to reduce job-stifling regulations, and helped reduce the tax burden and incentivize investment in job creation. We need to do the same thing at the federal level.

 


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