Opinion

Real news in GOP primary is stranger than fiction

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As a 17-year newsroom veteran, not counting my time writing a weekly column for the Bangor Daily News, I feel pretty confident in my ability to spot “fake” news.

But when I read a story this week in the BDN about the Republican candidates for governor and their campaign contributions, I was left checking the URL to make sure that it wasn’t satire.

I mean, if a poor kid can be convinced that “burning rubber” is a law-court approved form of free speech (wishes do come true, right?), anything is possible.

Written by BDN number cruncher Darren Fishell, the story looks at the political giving histories of the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for governor.

The primary is a mixed bag of the newly conservative, the almost-new conservatives who are really mean, a former moderate who now acts like the obstructionist in chief and a fresh face whose hypocrisy scores so far off the charts it almost has to be satire.

But alas, it’s not satire.

All the GOP candidates for governor are striving to be the next Gov. Paul LePage and are racing hard to the right in a contest to see who can come across as the meanest, most hardcore Republican.

But digging a little into their pasts calls into question their bona fides.

Take Shawn Moody, a successful small-business man, who scooped up a lot of the LePage political talent for his race. In 2010, he ran as an independent. He was decidedly not conservative; and he presented himself then as a common-sense antidote to LePage. Now, well, not so much.

Now he’s just one more conservative mumbling through without details in a forest of hardline conservatives.

Former Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew was a Democrat and a lobbyist. Until she saw the light — or maybe she saw the dark — and joined the LePage team as the head persecutor of the poor.

Sure, she supported Medicaid expansion in the past, but that’s when she was being paid to advocate for it. Now, times have changed. Honest, she’s reformed. A true believer, converted after being personally responsible for the dismantling of DHHS and leaving a trail of uninvestigated deaths, childhood poverty, gutted public health services and a failing child protective services agency.

If she weren’t a Republican — now — you can bet the conservative watchdogs would be all over her failures. Has anyone reminded them she used to be a Democrat?

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette was once considered a reasonable voice in the Legislature, but in the era of LePage, he’s the field marshal for the governor’s acolytes in the House, going so far as to shut state government down instead of compromising with — wait for it — other Republicans.

But my favorite revelation comes from state Sen. Garrett Mason. Mason is a conservative who appears to have effectively organized the Christian conservative branch of the GOP to make the ballot.

Mason serves as the majority leader in the state Senate, and he is truly conservative. Scary conservative.

Except for one little thing: He’s running as a Maine Clean Election candidate. As his Republican opponents will surely say, he’s an able-bodied politician on the “public dole” because he decided to run as a publicly financed candidate.

In the past, lawmakers of both parties participated in the system, which allows candidates to qualify for public financing by demonstrating broad support for their campaigns through the collection of $5 qualifying contributions.

Not Mason, though. He opposes public financing for candidates and the Maine Clean Election Act, except when he doesn’t.

“I have always been an opponent of the clean elections program,” Mason told Fishell.

He’s voted against it. He’s given money to fight its expansion. And he’s taking at least $400,000 — and maybe hundreds of thousands more — from it.

Mason is no campaign neophyte. His political action committee has raised $175,000 since 2011, Fishell found. But still, he saw an opportunity to run using someone else’s money.

“The fact is I do not have the personal money to finance my own campaign,” Mason said.

And that’s why public financing is a good system. It helps open up government service to people without deep Rolodexes, big checking accounts and ties to special interests. It makes it possible for good people to run by building a large network of grass-roots supporters.

Maybe the satirical writer for New Maine News will pick up the story. Probably not, though, cause nobody would believe it.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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