May 26, 2010

Profile: Cutler combines deep experience with 'keen strategic mind’

He learned public policy under Ed Muskie, fiscal restraint in the Carter administration and the law at Georgetown University.

By Matt Wickenheiser
Staff Writer

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Independent Eliot Cutler talks recently at Arabica Coffee on Free Street in Portland with customers Hannah Payeur of South Portland, left, and Cassandra Grantham of Portland.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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July 29, 1946
FAMILY: Wife, Dr. Melanie Stewart Cutler; three grown children
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree, Harvard College; law degree, Georgetown University
PUBLIC OFFICE EXPERIENCE: Legislative assistant to Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie; special assistant and counsel to the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution; Senate Committee on Public Works; associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget for Natural Resources, Energy and Science; principal White House official for energy policy; senior leadership roles in five presidential campaigns

This is the 12th
and last in a series profiling candidates for governor. Independent Eliot Cutler will chat with readers live at noon today

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She was “a very tough woman” with strong, liberal political views, Cutler said, and she fought with Muskie regularly.
Both mother and father helped shape his political personality.

“Whatever political skills I have come from him – the ability to achieve consensus, the collaborative approach to things – all of that comes from him,” said Cutler. "The independence – the fact that I’m an independent? That comes from her.”

Cutler went to Bangor public schools until he was a sophomore, then attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

It was there, under headmaster Frank Boyden, that he learned of the importance of a “shared enterprise,” the idea that the students all had an interest in the success of each other, of their school.

“We were all going to rise or fall together,” Cutler said. “When I talk about Maine and what I think we need to do and the importance of leadership, the importance of one Maine, the importance of everybody’s eyes on the same ball, everybody subscribing to a common strategy, everybody working together, it all comes from that experience.”

After Deerfield it was Harvard. Cutler had worked for Muskie during the summer between his junior and senior years, and he was given a job after graduation. He worked for Muskie for 6 years.

“He was an extraordinary person. He was hard as hell to work for – it wasn’t easy – he was a very demanding boss. But the entire time I worked for him, I learned from him,” Cutler said. “I really learned about public policy, disciplined public policy, from Muskie. The importance of relating principals and objectives – strategic objectives – to policy.”

He worked on the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, and learned about collaboration under Muskie. He got tougher working for the senator, Cutler said, and then “really tougher” in his position in the Carter administration as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“You sit there and say 'No, no, no,’” said Cutler. “You learn there’s life after 'No.’ ”

Cutler said he was part of the administration’s effort to stop pork barrel spending on dam and reclamation projects. If projects had to be built for safety reasons, they were built, he said. But new projects, pork barrel projects, were cut.

“I was the guy saying to members of Congress, 'We’re not going to do this,’” said Cutler. “If people in Maine don’t think that’s the kind of fiscal discipline we need today, they won’t vote for me.”

He left politics after working on his fifth presidential campaign, Walter Mondale’s in 1984. From 1980 to 1989, he and associates built the Washington, D.C., office for the Webster Sheffield law firm.

He and a colleague then left to build their own firm, Cutler & Stanfield, which largely represented counties, states and other entities trying to build big infrastructure projects such as highways, landfills and airports. One notable project was the Denver airport.

At that firm, Cutler was offering a combination of legal and political expertise. He was in court, and was also making deals between counties and cities. They grew the firm into the second-largest land use/environmental practice in the U.S., Cutler said.

Barry Conaty, a friend and former colleague, said Cutler has a “keen strategic mind,” and that he was adept at taking abstract issues and reducing them to concrete problems that could be solved with distinct steps.

In the late 1990s, he and his partner merged their firm into Akin Gump.

Cutler moved back to Maine, to the Cape Elizabeth land he had purchased in 1997. He still commuted to wherever he needed to go for Akin Gump, depending on the case. In 2006, they asked him to open the Beijing office, so he and his wife, Melanie, lived there for several years, visiting Maine a dozen times a year.

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