Second of two stories on the Republican candidates for Maine’s 2nd District seat in the U.S. House.

Mainers are used to seeing Kevin Raye as the buttoned-down Republican state Senate president.

But his former church pastor sees him differently. To her, he’s a family-oriented man who never forgot where he came from or missed church while he was in town.

“When they have a yard sale, he’s there. When they have special services, he’s there. When they need set-up and were doing the (refurbishing) of the church, he was there,” said Margaret O’Mally of Calais, pastor of North Perry United Methodist Church for six years until last June. “When they get together to help someone in the community, he’s there.”

Raye was born in Eastport, graduated from Bates College in Lewiston and now lives in Perry. He and his wife, Karen, moved from Washington, D.C., back to Washington County after his 17-year tenure on U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s staff ended.

“I said to my wife, ‘I want to go all the way home,’ ” Raye said. “If some of us didn’t work for the community, grow businesses, serve in the Legislature and do those kinds of things to be leaders, what’s going to happen?”

Raye quit Snowe’s staff to run against Mike Michaud in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2002. Michaud beat Raye by about 4 percentage points to win his first term.

Now, he’s running against Blaine Richardson of Belfast for the Republican nomination and the chance to run against Michaud again. Only this time he thinks he’s more experienced and better positioned to win.

State Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, has worked alongside Raye for four terms and has been Senate assistant majority leader since Raye became president in 2010.

Ask him about his time serving with Raye and he’ll hearken back to 2008. Republican state legislative candidates had been thumped. After the election, they were outnumbered 95–55 by Democrats in the House and 20–15 in the Senate.

“It was really a terrible time to be a Republican leader,” he said. “Republicans got whacked and all of a sudden, Kevin and I were in leadership and we had to find a way to move forward with our vision and find a way to communicate our beliefs to the people of Maine.”

Fast-forward to 2010: That November, Raye was seen smiling at Paul LePage’s side at a news conference in Waterville after finding out LePage narrowly won the governorship. Republicans also took control in both chambers of the state Legislature, with a 77–73 advantage in the House and 20–14 in the Senate. Later, Raye was unanimously elected senate president.

“People expected polarization,” Raye said. “We took the approach of reaching out to the minority with respect.”

That approach, Raye said, led to bipartisan agreement on state budgets and regulatory reform bill L.D. 1, which aimed to cut down on government red tape. It was the first bill of the 125th Legislature in 2011 and it was approved with just three no votes in the House and none in the Senate.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said he didn’t agree with many of Maine Republican policy positions, including what he called a trumped-up state “fiscal crisis,” but the assistant minority leader said Raye led the Senate effectively.

“I think he respects the Maine state Legislature and the processes that have been created because they work well for Maine people,” Alfond said. “And (he) really created a very well-run Senate chamber and treated Democrats fairly and with respect.”

Raye said it comes down to values.

“I take people as I find them,” he said.

Raye bills himself as a strong fiscal conservative and said Maine people are frightened at the rate of spending in Washington, with the national debt closing in on $16 trillion. He opposes the federal Affordable Care Act health reform bill pushed through by President Obama and congressional Democrats in favor of market-based solutions to lower health care costs.

“What’s missing in Washington is some good old-fashioned common sense,” he said. “Being an adult, you learn about setting priorities and that you can’t have everything. You live by a budget and Washington doesn’t do that.”

Raye paints Michaud as a back-bencher, noting he’s been listed by Roll Call as one of Congress’ 10 most obscure members. He also painted Michaud as a sure vote for President Obama and congressional Democrats. The Washington Post said Michaud has voted the party line 88 percent of the time this term, and 95 percent in the prior term.

“It’s a seat that was once occupied by Margaret Chase Smith, by Bill Cohen, by Olympia Snowe and by people who really stood out for Maine,” Raye said. “I think that Mainers deserve that voice to be the strongest voice they can have down there.”

Courtney, who is running against Patrick Calder in the GOP primary for the chance to face U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in the 1st Congressional District, is convinced Raye will be vocal.

“He will be such a strong leader,” Courtney said. “People won’t be able to ignore Kevin Raye.”

But Raye is not without critics, and they aren’t just Democrats. Pete Harring of Auburn, founder of the Maine tea party, said he’s voting for Richardson, the tea party-affiliated Navy veteran.

“(He’s) willing to say it how he sees it without trying to sugarcoat it,” Harring said. “Kevin Raye has the tendency to sugarcoat things.”

Harring criticized Raye for supporting bond issues such as L.D. 225, a bill that would have authorized a $20 million bond to support technology research and development.

The bill passed both the House and Senate, but not LePage. He vetoed it in late May and the House didn’t have the votes to override it on May 31. Raye was one of 29 senators who voted unsuccessfully to override LePage’s veto.

“Fiscal responsibility is a big hot button for people in the tea party,” Harring said. “So voting for those carte blanche, it’s not going to play well, at least in my opinion.”

Raye said he’s sympathetic to the tea party’s small-government bent, but defended the bond votes as good investments to develop Maine’s economy. And to defend his record, he ticks off a list of Republican legislative wins.

“We’ve passed the largest tax cut in the history of Maine. We have passed reforms to welfare. We have reined in an explosive and unsustainable MaineCare program and we’ve reduced state debt by $1.7 billion,” he said.

“If that’s not the record of a fiscal conservative,” Raye added, “I don’t know what is.”

Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said Raye would be the best candidate Michaud’s ever faced.

Michaud hasn’t been contested closely since beating Raye, winning by more than 300,000 votes over his Republican opponents in the next four elections combined.

“The other candidates weren’t very high-quality candidates,” Fried said. “They varied widely in their presentation skills. He’s got strong presentation skills. He has knowledge; he has experience.”

Raye said that experience doesn’t just come from his time in the Senate. In 2005, he bought Eastport-based Raye’s Mustard from a cousin. According to Raye, it’s the only stone-ground mustard mill in North America and has been in his family since 1900.

“I’ve now had seven years of running a small business, which gives me a whole new component of grounding in the district and experience people like,” he said.

And O’Mally, his former pastor, said she’s seen Raye’s leadership firsthand.

“We really liked having him as our senator here because he stood up for us,” she said. “He’s a kind person, but he’s firm. When he stands up for something he stands up for it.”

When he goes back to Perry, O’Mally said, those who don’t know he’s a senator can’t believe he is.

“He still retains part of being a child and yet he has a very firm grasp on responsibility,” she said. “He can play and have fun but something needs to be done, he puts his nose right to it and gets it done.”

Courtney said that translates to his governing style.

“He respects people with differing opinions and he has a good time doing it,” he said. “You can be in the middle of a serious conversation and all of a sudden, you can find something to laugh about.”

O’Mally said though she doesn’t know what going to Washington does to members of Congress, she doesn’t expect it would go to Raye’s head. But if he goes, she’ll miss him.

“I’m kind of in two minds about him going to Washington because that means he’s not going to be right here with us,” O’Mally said. “But I also know if he goes to Washington it’s going to be for all of Maine.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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