It was pouring rain Wednesday afternoon as Kevin Scott rushed into the McKernan Hospitality Center at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.
He peeled off an orange raincoat he was wearing over his suit and greeted the six students who had come to hear him speak. Scott apologized for being 20 minutes late, having just come from a radio interview, and asked what was on the students’ minds.
For the next hour, Scott mixed explanations of issues with humor, policy proposals, jabs at the media for not giving him “equal coverage” and personal appeals to each student. He asked them to tell their friends that he’s the only candidate for governor offering innovative, original ideas on how to retool state government and address Maine’s future prosperity.
Scott, 42, an Andover resident running as an independent, said he would bring a problem-solving, analytical approach; he’s someone from “outside the system” who would rely on the public, legislators and professionals for help because “I’m not afraid to acknowledge somebody else has the best answer.”
Scott said he’s spent just $18,000 on his campaign and relied on volunteers.
“You people are the people I want advice from; you’re original thinkers,” Scott said. “I’m a solution-action person. I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be the chief executive of a corporation that needs business sense.”
He supports the use of medicinal marijuana under certain circumstances; penalties other than jail time for nonviolent criminal offenders; a huge investment in creating a year-round, thriving agricultural economy; and a casino in western Maine.
Also, he’s a snowboarder.
“I am you guys — period. That is what makes the establishment nervous,” Scott said. “I’m going to work to expose what’s wrong.”
Polls suggest Scott will finish last in the field of five — recent surveys commissioned by MaineToday Media put him at between 0 and 1 percent — although Scott points out that he wasn’t even included in early polls and says he’s seeing ballooning support from people as he drives to all corners of the state.
The most recent poll conducted by Critical Insights put Democrat Libby Mitchell at 30 percent, Republican Paul LePage at 29 percent, independent Eliot Cutler at 9 percent and independent Shawn Moody at 5 percent.
But don’t count him out, say Andover residents who know him.
“He has as good a chance as anybody,” said Jan Bowman, who owns the Little Red Hen Diner in Andover, which is in a building that Scott owns.
Bowman said Scott allowed her restaurant to operate “rent-free” for a year after opening last year, so she could get on her feet. “He helped me a lot. We started with hardly nothing.
“Some people won’t come in here because they don’t like him; it’s small-town politics,” she continued. “I think he dug up a lot of stuff people didn’t like dug up.”
‘I KNEW I COULD DO BETTER’
Scott grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the town of Mexico, overlooking the paper mill.
His father, Elwin, is retired from the Oxford Paper Co. mill, where he worked in the yard grading the quality of logs. Elwin “Scottie” Scott is also a World War II veteran who served with the Marine Corps in the South Pacific. Scott’s mother, Verna, worked for 31 years as a certified nurses aide in the maternity ward of Rumford Community Hospital, on an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
Elwin and Verna Scott now own Main Street Antiques in Yarmouth.
They had six children, three boys and three girls. Kevin Scott’s siblings include Elwin Scott Jr., who owns Simard & Sons in Lewiston; Glen Scott, a fisherman; Victoria Oakes, a basket weaver; Kathleen Scott, owner of American Dream Realty in Scarborough; and Kelly Rickert, human resources and benefits manager at Shenandoah University in Virginia.
Kevin Scott remembers brook fishing and camping with his family. He worked as a paper boy, at fishing camps and in the meat room at Food City. Scott graduated in 1986 from Mexico High School, where he played football.
Growing up, he said, “You learn to appreciate respect and family. You learn what’s right from having working-class parents.”
He attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., majoring in government and politics. He worked odd jobs — waiting tables and bricklaying, for instance — to pay his own way through college.
Scott said he worked as a jobs recruiter in Boston, but left after his boss said “a nickel looks better in our pocket than theirs.” Scott said he wanted a transparent business that brought success to everyone involved, not just the recruiter.
“I knew I could do better and provide a better service,” he said.
He borrowed $30,000 and started his own recruiting business in 1998, in Lewiston, and caught a break when he found an engineering director in Utah to do business with. During the past 12 years, Scott’s Recruiting Resources International has grown into a well-known firm that matches engineers with high-tech companies across the country.
Scott said he met his wife, Susan Merrow, on the slopes of Sugarloaf, at the time he was starting his business. He and Merrow now own five properties, including their home in Andover, and have two mortgages.
Scott said his firm, which has no other employees, usually places five or six engineers per year and last year had net revenue of $500,000.
“I build relationships and really help people,” he said.
GOVERNING IN A SMALL TOWN
In 2004, Scott and Merrow moved from Maine’s largest city, Portland, to the western town of Andover, population 860. They purchased a former post office building and renovated it.
all accounts, they’ve had a big impact on the town and ruffled feathers by questioning spending levels and project proposals. For the past three years, Merrow has served on the Select Board and Scott on the board of the Andover Water District.
“We displaced people who had been in power for in excess of 12 years,” Scott said.
Scott said that when he was appointed to the water district board to fill a vacancy in 2008, “I asked pointed questions during meetings” and later discovered that the water district had not filed an annual audit in seven years.
Scott alleges one district official had been improperly cutting checks from the district’s account and officials had been paying themselves $2,000 a month, even as the district facility was poorly maintained and operated and customers were overcharged.
Ultimately, two district operators and two board trustees resigned as the financial revelations came to light, Scott said.
The Oxford County Sheriff’s Department opened an investigation, but no one has been charged. Sheriff Wayne Gallant couldn’t be reached for comment, but Scott said the investigation into the former officials couldn’t go anywhere because there were no financial records that could be used as evidence.
“My style and practice in the community is, we don’t look to prosecute; we look to fix it and move on and don’t let it happen again,” Scott said.
Scott’s account of the problems at the water district is backed up by Lucien Roberge, who has been superintendent for the past two years and is also in charge of the Bethel Water District.
Roberge said he was initially asked by the state’s drinking water program to “take a peek” and monitor the facility for a short time. He’s decided to stay on.
“When I first got there the water district had some problems to deal with. There was a room full of chemicals and $200 in a checking account; there really wasn’t any accounting going on there, no records,” Roberge said.
“Mechanically, I was shocked. I remembered seeing it when it was brand new and when I got there it was in bad shape. We cleaned it up and got it functioning, trying to model it after how I run things in Bethel,” he said.
Scott, who is now president of the district’s board, decided to become trained as a licensed water system operator and now assists Roberge in running the facility.
The Andover Water District, which has about 90 customers, is now running in the black, Scott said. “All the customers are being billed and we’ve paid down $130,000 in debt on a $254,000 USDA loan, saving district customers on interest,” Scott said.
John Foster, a water district customer who’s lived in Andover for about 40 years, said he’s had pleasant interactions with Scott, who’s come to his property to check water meter readings. “If you see him on the road he’ll stop and say hi,” Foster said.
Foster said Scott is seen by some as a “polarizing” figure in town politics, but that’s not his own view. He sees Scott as a very “passionate” person who has helped improve the town.
That passion led to other town changes: Scott and Merrow served on a town committee that reduced the transfer station’s budget by 35 percent.
Scott successfully advocated for the expansion of the town budget committee from three members appointed by the Select Board to seven members chosen at town meeting. Municipal operating expenses have subsequently dropped 20 percent, and the number of volunteers serving on town committees has increased from about 10 to 50.
Another contentious issue was a proposal for a consolidated, $2.2 million building in Mexico for Med-Care Ambulance Service, which serves Andover and 10 other local towns.
Scott led a group that objected to the “Taj Mahal” building proposal, saying it didn’t make sense for Andover because it would have cost taxpayers more for vital services that would have been farther away.
In 2009, the proposal was rejected at town meetings in Andover and Mexico, though Med-Care officials continue to research building options.
Scott Cole, the Oxford County administrator, said Scott contacted him during the Med-Care building debate to ask questions about the issue and learn about the implications of debt shared by multiple towns served by the quasi-municipal ambulance service.
Cole’s impression of Scott was that he asked very keen questions and seemed to be acting as a “watchdog” for Andover.
“Without citizen participation and oversight, corruption happens,” Scott said. “You have to be diligent. And we need integrity and responsibility in public spending. Everything I accomplished in that community was a group effort, the town meeting form of government.”
Donna Morse, who was Scott’s fifth-grade teacher at Meroby Elementary School in Mexico and has been Scott’s next-door neighbor since they moved to town, said she’s glad Scott and Merrow took an active role in town politics.
They’re also good neighbors, she said.
“My husband is an over-road trucker and in the winter when it’s snowing and I can’t get out, Kevin shows right up and plows me out,” Morse said. “They would do anything for me, within reason, if I asked. What I find is they’re not out for the good of themselves; they’re out for the good of everyone.”
Not all townspeople have seen it that way. Scott’s and Merrow’s outspokenness and questioning have upset some.
A group of residents tried unsuccessfully to recall Merrow from the Select Board in 2008 and 2009, saying she neglected her duties and showed behavior unbecoming a public official.
In July 2009, two women who had signed the recall petition said the effort was aimed mostly at Scott and “the ruckus he tends to cause,” according to a story in the Lewiston Sun Journal.
Scott has also in recent years filed three requests for protection from harassment orders with the District Court in Rumford against some townspeople, but the orders have been denied or dismissed.
Merrow said she and Scott “brought an energy that allowed citizens who had not been welcomed to participate back into the equation.”
“Kevin’s detractors are the people no longer benefiting from the mismanagement.
“Anyone who has questioned anything at the local level knows how difficult it can be to get traction when you question those who think they hold the power,” Merrow said. “This vantage point is what we need in Augusta now.”
Scott said Andover residents “just needed somebody to stand up for them.”
“The nay-sayers have all gone away. It’s a whole new town,” he said.
EMPOWERING ‘PEOPLE YOU KNOW’
Kathleen Caso of Calais, who has helped organize events for tea party followers in Washington County, said she listened to Scott speak at an event this summer. While Scott struck her as smart and knowledgeable, she also thought that “he would better serve people by running for local office, like the school board, than in the governor’s race.”
But for Scott, that was never a consideration. He first started thinking about running for governor when the economy started to deteriorate in 2008 and he saw “unacceptable behavior in the political process.”
He said he realized that Maine needed a radical change in leadership in order to right itself. That’s why he’s not running for the school board or as a state legislator.
“I am not in this to build a political career,” Scott said. “I am in this to solve problems. And the time is now.”
Regardless of what the polls say his chances are, Scott thinks voters should look at his background of hard work for evidence that he’d be equally tireless as Maine’s chief executive.
The other candidates think they’re “entitled” to run for governor either because of the backing of political parties or personal wealth, Scott said, saying they view themselves as part of an “exclusive group.”
That was his message Wednesday to the handful of students he met with at Southern Maine Community College.
“We need people to believe and it can happen,” he told the students. “You need to believe you can empower people you know.”