CHINA — Entering a competition with little experience in the game is nothing new for Fred Wiand.

As a mathematics student at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, he joined the soccer and football teams after never having played the sports. In 1982, he designed and built an energy-efficient home, spurred by an “aptitude for architecture” and a devotion to environmental stewardship that has defined his values to the present day.

Fred Wiand poses for a portrait Tuesday at his home in South China. Wiand has filed papers to run for president of the United States as a Democrat in the 2020 election. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Now Wiand, 78, has joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, with a political résumé that is limited to a four-year stint on the China Planning Board, at least one appointment as Town Meeting moderator and three failed campaigns for state representative in the 1990s. If elected, he would be the oldest president to lead the United States.

On Saturday, Wiand will embark on a national tour to meet the electorate in a decorated 2018 Jayco Alante 31P with his partner, Michele, and their eight year-old lab-mastiff mix, Baxter. He will kick off the journey at 1 p.m. Saturday at the China Lake boat launch on Causeway Road before heading to Salisbury, Massachusetts, and then down the East Coast.

In a crowded race with at least 17 declared Democratic candidates already vying for the nomination, Wiand is aware of his odds. But he has resolved to stick with it through the primaries.

“I’m not intimidated,” he said. “I think that’s an age thing. Do I have the confidence? Yes. Do I believe in myself? Yes.”

 

THE DECISION TO RUN: ISSUES

The China resident said he was inspired to run by a lack of leadership in Washington under the Trump administration. He filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission roughly four months after Trump’s inauguration, on May 22, 2017.

“I saw a bad example and said we had to have a good example,” said Wiand from the living room of his home on Wing Road. “I knew I didn’t have to be in politics to be a good president. It’s actually an advantage, because I’m not beholden to the same political and financial pressures as politicians.”

He said that a strong Cabinet, “experts in the fields,” would buoy him in office.

Wiand’s platform promises to restore “civility” in politics. He said that if elected, re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement would be a top priority early in his presidency and that his “focus is on global warming and climate change.” He supports the “majority” of the Green New Deal, including a carbon tax. During his time on the China Planning Board, some of his largest contributions included revising the town’s land use ordinances in order to enhance China Lake’s water quality and protect the shoreline from overdevelopment, according to annual reports from 1984 through 1987. For years he has alternated flying an American flag with a 1970s-era ecology flag at his 75-acre property. 

“Whatever we do (personally) in order to not waste energy is so minuscule compared to what we have to do as a country,” Wiand said. “We need the political will to lead and pass laws for this. We should slow down and stop the use of coal, oil and fossil fuels. Methane is one of the positive things, but there’s more we can be doing. Wind and solar sound expensive, but they provide jobs, and people from other sectors can be retrained. We’re killing ourselves environmentally. (The Trump) administration is cutting back on regulations that are needed for the health and safety of our people.”

Over the last week, he has been consumed by a new plan to address what has been deemed an immigration crisis at the southern border.

Fred Wiand poses for a portrait Tuesday in front of his campaign recreational vehicle at his home in South China. Wiand has filed papers to run for president of the United States as a Democrat in the 2020 election. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Wiand proposes working with Mexico’s president to establish a series of temporary camps along the most-traveled routes from Guatemala to American border states, with about eight in Mexico and eight in the United States. The camps, which would be temporary tent sites equipped with bathrooms and resources for food, water, clothing and healthcare, would each be positioned next to a site where a permanent village could be built on undeveloped land that the respective governments would purchase. Wiand suggested that the tent camps would serve as short-term shelter, “where people could get rest and food and not die.” Under this idea, migrants could help build permanent villages in each location, which theoretically would reduce the number of people flowing into the United States and help accommodate people who have been “trapped in marginal and inadequate conditions on our side of the border.”

“Villages would have housing, roads, stores,” Wiand said. “You can’t have housing without creating jobs. And if you build a village, people could farm or sharecrop.

“It’s inhumane to not help people running for their lives,” he added. “The overall value to people outweighs the costs.”

Wiand proposed that the United States’ portion of funding for the idea come from money diverted from Trump’s proposed border wall as well as progressive tax reform.

“We need to get back to a more realistic marginal tax bracket,” Wiand said. “The rich have the money, and they don’t realize how much they’re living off the poor. They resent welfare, but they can (afford) all the things they want.”

He said that he hopes revenue from a new tax system also could help finance health care for all Americans. His website outlines his stances on a number of other issues.

When questioned about the likelihood of him achieving these policy goals in a split nation, he defaulted to a message from his political hero, John F. Kennedy.

“John Kennedy said something … when the Russians sent up Sputnik, first in space,” Wiand noted. “He said in the early 1960s, ‘We’re gonna have a man on the moon by the end of the decade.’ Did he know how to do that? No. But he had the vision, the plan, the idea and the resolve, and this is the way I (feel).”

 

EXPERT: ODDS SLIM

L. Sandy Maisel, a government professor at Colby College who specializes in American political parties and elections, said Wiand’s chances at even making it past a local caucus are slim.

“Anyone can say they’re running for president,” he said. “He’s not going to raise enough money. He’s not going to get enough press visibility. He’s not going to get enough delegates to support him. His initiative is admirable, but it will have no impact. I also think Congressman Tim Ryan, who announced (on Thursday), is not going to have an impact. You have to get a message to resonate with people. There are very smart politicians who have not been able to do it.”

Wiand would need 15 percent of voters to support him at a local Democratic caucus next year in order to get a delegates at the state convention, and 15 percent of the vote at the state convention to get delegates at the national convention.

Maisel said Wiand’s bid for president will not have a net negative effect, however.

“It could only do a bad thing if enough voters had different options to choose from.”

 

WHO IS FRED WIAND?

Friends of Wiand paint a picture of him as an earnest man trying to do good by his country. Born in 1940 outside Philadelphia, Wiand spent a 20-year career in the Air Force flying KC-135s, which ultimately brought him to Bangor. His father was a newspaper editor in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, then a public relations official for the Pennsylvania Railroad; his mother, a substitute teacher and homemaker. He had a sister who died about five years ago, and he has no biological children.

Fred Wiand poses Tuesday at his home in South China. Wiand has filed papers to run for president of the United States as a Democrat in the 2020 election. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“I’m the end of the line,” he said.

John Long, a hiking friend from Warwick, Rhone Island, described Wiand as a “rock-solid Mainer.”

“He has all the qualities that you expect in that regard … integrity, he’s very self-sufficient, and he’s quite knowledgeable about many, many things.”

After retiring from the military, Wiand worked as a paralegal, a customer service representative at L.L. Bean, a substitute teacher and a census taker. He also studied forestry at Unity College.

Long recalled the conversation when Wiand told him he wanted to run for president.

“My first thought about it was: I admire him taking a stand because he clearly doesn’t think the country is going in the right direction right now,” said Long. “I like that he’s willing to stand up and do something about it.”

Wiand himself acknowledged that getting his name alongside high-profile hopefuls such as Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker will be difficult.

“A lot of people say I don’t have name recognition and it’s not possible,” Wiand said. “I am the ultimate dark horse candidate, the little engine that could.”

“I think it’s going to be difficult because it’s one thing if you’re Susan Collins from Maine, but it’s another thing if you’re Fred from South China,” Long said. “It’s rough. That’s gonna be tough. … He certainly gets that.”

He’s not the first man from China to run, though. In 1976 and 1980, Benjamin Bubar, a prohibitionist leader from the Kennebec County town, ran as a candidate for the National Statesman’s Party, also known as the Prohibition Party.

Wiand has vowed to not accept contributions from “the rich or large corporations.” So far, his campaign is mostly self-financed, and data from the Federal Election Commission shows he has raised $7,506 — $105 through contributions and the rest through a loan. He has not received any party committee or presidential public funds.

Wiand said he will not pursue the presidential office beyond the national Democratic primary. He does not want to divide the party. In his bids for the Maine State House in the early 1990s, he ran twice as a Republican and once as an independent before his views evolved.

Wiand said he did not have an answer for why local or state-level advocacy would not accomplish his goals for a better future sufficiently. 

The Maine Democratic Party and Mike Emery, chairman of the Kennebec County Democratic Commitee, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wiand’s campaign or how often Mainers seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

 

ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL

On the days leading up to his tour of the nation, Wiand has been spending his time reading David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” and studying politicians’ gestures on Sunday morning talk shows and “Washington Week.” His campaign hats are packed in a box in his living room, dark green with “Fred Wiand 2020 46 T.H.” embroidered on the front, a cheeky nod at the presidential lineage he hopes to join, that also, he said, stands for “truth and honor.”  

Surrounded by an amalgamation of items from his past — two gold armchairs from his childhood home, a brass coffee table from a military trip to Saudi Arabia, four watercolors he painted during a trip to Mexico — Wiand, who said he’s “big on symbolism,” reflected on some of his first days in Maine. In Bangor, he used to hunt.

“I hardly caught a partridge,” he said, “but I loved being out there.”

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239
[email protected]
Twitter: @megrobbins

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