25 Year Old Soundly Defeated Experienced Incumbent Democrat
By Alice Dubenetsky
MIDDLEBURY – For those who are wondering how the state of Maine took a sharp turn from blue to red as a result of the 2010
election, Kathie Summers-Grice, President of Eaton River Strategies and Senator Garrett Mason (R-District 17) provided some clues last Friday night at the Addison County Republicans Fundraiser in Middlebury.
Summers-Grice and Mason were guest speakers at the event , which was held at the Middlebury VFW. A sizeable crowd turned out to hear the secret to Republican success from our neighbors Downeast and to dine on an old fashioned Dog Team Dinner (complete with sticky buns). Governor Jim Douglas was the master of ceremonies and a number of Vermont GOP leaders were in attendance, including Chair Pat McDonald.
Summers-Grice is a no-nonsense woman with a big message and a big win under her belt to prove it. She is well known in political and government circles as the former Regional Representative to U.S. Department of Labor during the Bush administration and has served on a number of congressional campaigns. When she took on the job of consulting Maine’s GOP, she observed that they did the same things, and made the same mistakes, year after year, resulting in endless defeat.
She took a big tent approach, and also, like a general going into battle, laid out a winning strategy. The first goal was to recruit the right candidates for the right districts, and then devise the right plan and work it through to success. One simple change she instituted was putting the candidates on television, something that the GOP hadn’t done before, even though the Democrats were routinely seen in televised ads.
According to Summers-Grice, this new way of doing business, from recruitment, having the right plan for the right district, straight through to televised advertising, cleared the path to victory. She also had six staffers who were warned that they would be required to work harder than they ever had, and when they thought they couldn’t do any more, they’d have to work harder still. The result was that for the first time in 50 years the House, Senate and Governor’s office all went solidly Republican.
One of the candidates Summers-Grice targeted was Garrett Mason, a native of Lewiston. After graduating from Pensacola Christian College in Florida, Mason returned to Maine to work for Boston Red Sox AA affiliate baseball team The Portland Sea Dogs. During his time with the team, he discovered an affinity for sports management. He later joined the Lewiston MAINEiacs, a member of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He eventually became the team’s Director of Administration, overseeing all of the day-to-day business of the club. It was there that he had his first run-in with the strong- arm tactics that Maine’s Democratic government was willing to employ in order to extract tax dollars from businesses to pay for their fiscal mismanagement.
The MAINEiacs were losing money fast, and in order to stop the slide, place them on solid footing once again, and save 120 jobs in the process the team’s management, including Mason, decided to lower ticket prices in the hopes that some of the money would then flow back in the form of merchandize sales. A mere month later the team received a letter from the Maine Revenue Service, asking them to commence collecting taxes on their tickets – a move that would put them right back where they started.
When Mason was decrying the new tax to a friend, his friend responded with a question of his own. “Why don’t you do something about that? Your state senator voted for the tax. Why don’t you take him out?” And with the help of Summers-Grice, that’s exactly what he did, taking on then Senator John Nutting in Distric 17 and defeating him soundly, 53% to 42%.
Mason ran on a platform of fixing Maine’s debt, repairing it’s health care system and creating a strong business environment, all sound GOP principals that obviously appealed to Maine’s voters in the 2010 election. Unfortunately, Nutting did not take his defeat with good grace, still casting aspersions on Mason even as he admitted defeat on election night.
The new Republican majority has been busy fulfilling campaign promises and instituting a number of reforms, including regulatory reform, health insurance reform, pension, welfare and tax policy reforms, including budget cuts. They are also changing the culture of state government with the goal of being more transparent and more bi-partisan.