AUGUSTA – Bill Beardsley has worked for power companies, for Democrats and Republicans and, most recently, for a private university.

He’s a man of faith, and a fiscal and social conservative.

He’s tired of government regulation, and often talks about vernal pools – temporary wetlands protected by state law – as an example of the overreach of the state.

He has run a university that has helped to prepare thousands of Mainers for careers, and now he wants to create an environment so those graduates can find jobs.

At age 67, he wants to be governor, a position he sees as a natural extension of his experience as president of Husson University.

“Having transformed a Maine institution from poverty to prosperity with 3,000 Maine kids when I left, that’s a quality I’d like to bring to the state of Maine,” he said.

Beardsley left Husson in December after 23 years with the university. A major campus landmark bears his name – Beardsley Meeting House – and he points to his success at the university as proof that he’s ready to lead the state.

Beardsley got into the race late and isn’t as well-funded as some of the six other Republicans seeking the party’s nomination on June 8. But he said he got more signatures on his petitions than anyone other than his opponent Les Otten. And he believes he’ll have the money he needs to be competitive on television, and among the slice of primary voters it will take to win.

Born on July 4, 1942, in New Hampshire, Beardsley now lives in the home in Ellsworth where his mother was born.

His father was in the machine tool industry and later built dams in Canada and worked in the forest industry. His mother was a homemaker and an astronomer who would take her son out at night to see the planets and the stars.

“One of my experiences I remember vividly is being a kid waking up in the middle of the night and going down with (my mother) and being scared of this big old telescope,” he said.

Beardsley admired the singing of tenors, so he joined high school and college choral groups. Church was a big part of his life, and continues to be today.

“I grew up in a very religious home,” he said. “We always attended the Congregational Church.”

His wife, Elizabeth, whom he describes as the “local boat-builder’s daughter,” has a doctorate in education. They have been married for 40 years.

After jobs in education, state government and the Green Mountain Power Co. in Vermont, Beardsley moved to Maine in the mid-1970s to take a job as vice president of Bangor Hydro Electric Co. At age 40, he grew restless – and ran marathons as an outlet – then decided to move his family to Alaska.

His first job there was at Alaska Pacific University, where he founded the Center for Entrepreneurship Development. Not long after, he went to work for state government.

“I worked first for an environmental Republican administration and then a business-oriented Democratic administration,” he said.

During those years, 1982-85, he worked as a director of the Division of Energy and Power Development, in finance and economics, and for the Office of Forest Products.

When his children reached high school age, the family decided to move to Maine and settled in Ellsworth.

In 1986, Beardsley took a job at Husson in Bangor as an interim executive vice president, with the understanding that he wanted to be considered for the president’s job. At that time, the school was struggling financially.

“It hadn’t balanced its budget in 10 years,” he said. “It had technical defaults on its federal debt. Enrollment was down.”

At age 45, Beardsley took over.

While at Husson, he worked to keep tuition at a level that he felt Maine students could afford. He said the university was able to build a budget based on what it was bringing in – which didn’t include any state money – to keep costs under control.

Beardsley said a similar philosophy should be applied to the state budget, which by some estimates will have a $1 billion deficit greeting the next governor. “You start with what your taxpayer can afford, rather than all of your wants and needs,” he said. “It’s not saying the wants and needs aren’t wonderful, but I want to build the state.”

Beardsley talks a lot about energy – and what he sees as lost opportunities with nuclear power – and state regulations that have driven up costs.

In the early 1980s, when he was at Bangor Hydro, Maine’s electricity costs were about 10 percent above the national average, he said. Now they are 50 percent above it.

“We’ve mothballed a perfectly good nuclear power plant,” he said, referring to Maine Yankee in Wiscasset, which shut down in 1997. “You can raise questions about it, but it’s there. We sold our low-cost hydro to places like Florida Power & Light.”

On his first day in office, Beardsley said, he’s prepared to deal with the projected $1 billion budget gap. But, unlike some of his opponents, he’s not talking only about cutting spending.

“If you just try to do it through cuts and slashes, it’s going to be cruel, it’s going to be mean,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to pump the economy fairly fast. What you need to do is to send some really strong signals to industry that we’re taking industry seriously again.”

That includes reaching out to specific businesses – he mentioned paper mills – to determine what it would take for companies to expand operations in Maine.

When it comes to working with the state employees union, Beardsley said, he would make it clear that he supports their pay and benefits. But in return, he wants government workers to think of themselves as servants to the public.

“You’ve got to find a way to work with people so you don’t destroy their ability to make a living in the forest because you’re protecting some insane vernal pool or something,” he said.

Beardsley said he would “go to war” against interest groups that tie up projects in the court system to create uncertainty for future development.

He also worries about bureaucrats who write rules and regulations that go far beyond the intent of bills passed by the Legislature.

Beardsley wants to take three miles out of the state’s 3,000 miles of coastline and put it to work. “I want to put a (liquefied natural gas) plant on one, preserve one for a potential nuclear power plant, and I’d like to build a world-class container port,” he said.

As part of his campaign, Beardsley is using the image of a roadside vegetable stand that allows patrons to leave their money in a jar. He thinks that level of trust is important to a society that will thrive in the future.

When he’s not spending time with his grandchildren, Beardsley likes to sail, kayak and spend time in his wood lot.

He’s active in the First Congregational Church of Ellsworth and has the backing of conservative leaders in Maine such as Bob Emrich, a Baptist pastor, and state Rep. Henry Joy, a longtime board member of the Christian Civic League of Maine, now called the Maine Family Policy Council.

“For me, (religion is) very personal. I have a lot of personal values that define who I am,” Beardsley said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@centralmaine.com