I just got taken for a ride by Shawn Moody.

I mean it.

One minute I was texting the Republican gubernatorial candidate to explore his views on fire extinguishers as society’s last line of defense against all the madness out there.

The next, he was sitting in my driveway in his pickup telling me to hop aboard.

Moody wanted to talk about growing up in nearby Gorham and show me what’s become of the local small business economy, especially the automotive garages.

I wanted to talk about politics, the attention he’s attracted as the heir apparent to Gov. Paul LePage and the national stir he created last week when he said in a radio interview that fire extinguishers make good self-defense tools.


So, for an hour, we did both.

Let’s start with the fire extinguishers.

At the tail end of a Monday morning appearance on WVOM radio in Bangor, most of which dealt with guns, Moody offered this unprompted observation:

“When you think about little common-sense things, practical things we could do right now, there are fire extinguishers, dry chemical fire extinguishers, in every commercial building, school, and almost within 100 feet of wherever you are, and a fire extinguisher can be a great deterrent if somebody gets out of control or if anything happens, a teacher, anybody could break that glass, set the alarm off, grab that dry chemical fire extinguisher and spray it towards somebody, and I’ll tell you right now that could put them to their knees.”

The media, this newspaper included, took the quote and ran with it. Even Moody’s fellow Republicans in Augusta took to tweeting such online memes as a woman using an extinguisher to put out a fire in her kitchen over the caption “Shawn Moody’s AR-15 defense system.”

Now, as he meandered the back roads of Buxton, Moody insisted we had him all wrong: He wasn’t talking about using a fire extinguisher against someone with a gun, as in a school shooter or a mall shooter or a movie-theater shooter or any of the other shooters that have the entire nation on edge.


Shawn Moody

“What I said was ‘if somebody gets out of control,’ ” Moody said. “That’s a big difference.”

Meaning, if a kid in school raises a ruckus or a person with mental illness acts up in a public place, you grab the nearest extinguisher and put out the disruption with a blast of CO2 to the face?

“Well, it’s all going to depend on the actual circumstances or situation,” Moody replied, calling the quote a “one-off” he tacked onto the end of the interview with radio host Ric Tyler.

“Obviously,” he added, “if I went back to that radio interview, I probably would have said, ‘Thanks a lot, Ric’ (and left it at that). I guess I didn’t realize that I was standing on a banana peel.”

It’s both Moody’s biggest asset and most glaring vulnerability as he gears up for the Republican primary this June: On the one hand, a homespun delivery that charms most Mainers he meets, but on the other, an actual message that is overly simplistic and not quite ready for prime time.

Moody said it all came into focus for him last fall, when members of Team LePage – the governor’s daughter, Lauren LePage, former chief of staff John McGough, political fundraiser Michael Hersey and adviser Brent Littlefield – sat him down to talk about the 2018 race.


“They looked right at me and said, ‘Shawn, your greatest strength is your authenticity. And we’re not going to change that. We’re going to take your message, we’re going to sharpen it and we’re going to get you in front of the people that need to hear it,’ ” he recalled.

That they have done. Although not always successfully.

Back in January, appearing on WAGM-TV in Presque Isle, Moody lurched far to the right with a claim that “illegals” are still “streaming across the border” from Mexico. (Actually, as of last spring, illegal border crossings were at a 17-year low.)

Moody told his largely conservative TV audience: “If it was me personally, I would’ve had our troops that were coming back from Iraq and those battle-torn countries, and I’d park them on (the border), right on our American soil. I think it would’ve made them feel proud to protect our own border.”

“Really?” I asked him. “My sense is that members of the Maine National Guard are war-weary, deployment-weary and want nothing more these days than to stay put with their families.”

To which Moody replied that putting a soldier on the Mexican border for three to six months, immediately after serving in a war zone, is akin to a deep-sea diver slowly decompressing on his way back to the surface: The diver avoids a painful case of the bends, while the soldier avoids the shock of coming home directly from the battlefield.


I countered, “I think one of the biggest stressors most deployed soldiers and their families face is long-term separation. And you want to prolong that?”

“You could be right,” Moody replied. “But when I said that (in Presque Isle), it was something I’ve said for a couple of years now.”

OK then.

Onward we rolled toward another topic Moody has been talking about for years – the inability of Maine’s small businesses to find young educated workers, coupled with the decrease in the number of high school kids who learn their trade by hanging around all those struggling or shuttered automotive shops scattered across rural Maine.

Noting that his chain of Moody’s Collision Services auto-body outlets is rooted in just such a teenage experience, Moody said he has a plan for blue-collar kids who consider post-secondary education neither a goal nor an option.

“We’ve got to get small businesses to the table and say, ‘You’ve got to invest in the future. These kids are our future,’ ” he said. “Rattle that bell. It’s a call. A call to action.”


I asked him to be more specific. He replied that under his plan, businesses would get a tax break for half of the wages they pay a young kid, who in turn would be paid a “student wage” of, say, $5 an hour.

“Sounds to me like that benefits the business a lot more than the kid,” I noted.

Argued Moody, “So, I would say to a young person, ‘Pay more attention to what you learn than what you earn when you’re young.’ ”

Perhaps. But with Maine’s minimum wage now at $10 per hour and rising, I still can’t see many kids – of any age – learning to rebuild a drive train for $5 an hour and not feeling like they’re getting the shaft.

What made this ride with Moody both so engaging and confounding was his ability to multitask: Drive his pickup over the snowy back roads and, at the same time, walk a political tightrope.

Between now and June, he must persuade LePage Land that he is – wink, wink – the governor’s designated successor.

At the same time, he must convince more moderate Republicans that – unlike the current occupant of the Blaine House – he’ll actually think before he shoots from the hip and ignites yet another a political inferno.

No wonder he’s fixated on fire extinguishers.

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