Towards the end of May, Founding Members were welcomed to an exclusive call with Nick Troiano, executive director of the Centrist Project, Eliot Cutler, former gubernatorial candidate from Maine, and Joel Searby, senior strategist of the Centrist Project.
On the call Cutler told us about the effort he is leading, called Maine Independents, to recruit and train down-ballot candidates. Through the Centrist Project’s partnership with Maine Independents, Nick explained, we announced our first candidate endorsement for Terry Hayes in Maine’s gubernatorial race.
There’s a strong history of independents in Maine - since the 1970s the state has had two independent governors, and one senator in Angus King. Maine has a “centrist history” because they’re Yankees who think for themselves, Cutler explained. In Cutler’s first gubernatorial race, he lost by just 9,000 votes to current Republican governor Paul LePage. Cutler ran again in 2014, and placed third to LePage and a Democrat. The lessons we’ve learned in Maine and nationally, Cutler noted, is that it’s “terribly important” to build this movement from the bottom-up. It is tremendously difficult to elect independents to high office (senators, governors, and presidents) when we don’t have a base of active local and state offices filled by independents.
That being said, it doesn’t take many independents to make a real difference in legislative bodies. Maine’s state legislature started the year with two independents, and picked up three more over the year of people who have left their political party and become independents. So far, Cutler and Maine Independents have conducted over 40 interviews and are in the process of recruiting candidates. Maine’s term limits provide frequent turnover and many open seats each election cycle.
In addition to the myriad of down-ballot races Centrist and Maine Independents are supporting, State Treasurer Terry Hayes recently announced her independent candidacy for governor in 2018. Hayes is an anomaly in the Maine government. Positions like state treasurer and attorney general are elected by the legislature, yet she, an independent, was able to recruit enough Democrats and Republicans so that she was elected over a Democratic candidate. Hayes has been an excellent governor - she “went to Bowdoin, [and is] smart as hell, hard-working, articulate, and persuasive,” Cutler told supporters. She’s a problem-solver, and in a state where the Attorney General and Governor are constantly fighting, “Terry has found a way to get along with both.”
Lastly, we heard from Joel Searby, senior strategist of the Centrist Project. Joel was the former CEO of one of the largest Republican consulting firms in the Southeast, and left the organization and Republican Party after the nomination of Donald Trump. He was “so concerned” at the state of the election that he ended up spearheading a group that worked to recruit an independent presidential candidate, and ran Evan McMullin’s independent campaign for president.
What Joel found in the Centrist Project was that it wasn’t a “group of people that were asking him to abandon [his] principles, but [instead] to bring them to table and address issues in the centrist way.” It’s not the “mushy middle” -- it’s a strong coalition of people with a diverse set of principles, centered around the core ideals of the Centrist Project. Joel is leading the candidate search for The Centrist Project and “is encouraged by the caliber of candidates we are in discussions with,” some of whom may announce their candidacies as soon as late this summer. Others are still contemplating their situations, and Joel hopes to help them think through that life-changing decision and give them the same resources they would have running as a candidate for one of the two major parties.
Joel noted the importance of the mutually beneficial relationship between the grassroots support and the ability to elect people at a high level. Though governorships and the Senate are far from the ground up, Joel sees it as what we’re doing is what is building on what is already out there. it’s important to get some high-profile wins with the U.S. Senate and governorships, starting with Terry Hayes.
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