September 26, 2010

Cutler brings wide-ranging resume to campaign

The independent, who's worked in D.C. and China, decries what he sees as antagonistic party politics.

By Matt Wickenheiser
Staff Writer

Tom Jorling remembers the meeting clearly: He and Eliot Cutler were at the table with President Carter, top Environmental Protection Agency officials and domestic policy and budget staff.

click image to enlarge

Eliot Cutler, independent candidate for governor, talks to Rori Crossman of Portland at a meet and greet at Empire Dine & Dance in Portland Thursday. Cutler s critics say he s out of touch, but backers say he's ready to take tough steps to address Maine issues.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Eliot Cutler, left, worked for Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine, right, for 6 1/2 years, during which he spent a lot of time keeping Muskie apprised of pending environmental issues.

Courtesy Eliot Cutler

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This is the third in a series of profiles of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates.

9/12: Libby Mitchell-D

9/19: Paul LePage-R

9/26: Eliot Cutler-I

10/3: Shawn Moody-I

10/10: Kevin Scott-I

For previous profiles and other governor’s race coverage, see our Governor's Race special section

Cutler and Jorling, an EPA staffer, had been working to set up the Superfund program and give the EPA authority over hazardous waste. But a few weeks earlier, Cutler's boss, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, had overruled him and stopped the effort.

At the start of the meeting, Cutler apologized for having called off a White House news conference to announce the new program -- which had delayed action at a time when the Love Canal chemical waste dump scandal was still in the news.

When Carter asked what had happened, Cutler said his boss had overruled him, and explained the issue.

Cutler's boss, incidentally, was sitting next to him.

Carter sided with Cutler, and the Superfund program moved ahead.

"He displayed a great deal of courage. He had that aggressive brashness, thank goodness," said Jorling. "Eliot made sure (Sen. Edmund) Muskie's legacy -- clean air, clean water -- was adequately funded. He did his job representing the budget, but he also made sure the agency resources were sufficient to implement the laws."

Those who know Cutler say he's earned a reputation for intelligence, boldness and political savvy throughout his life -- from his boyhood in Bangor to stints in the federal government to his later career as a high-powered lawyer.

And now Cutler, 64, is running for governor in Maine as an independent candidate.

"Eliot was a very aggressively bright young man who was a quick study and had very strongly held views on how things should be accomplished," said Leon Billings, Muskie's chief of staff. "He was a real asset because he was so damned bright, and he wasn't inclined to take no for an answer on some of the issues we were working on."

That aggressiveness remains evident today. On the campaign trail, Cutler comes off to some as experienced, knowledgeable and confident -- though others say he can seem impatient and pedantic.

Cutler was a lifelong registered Democrat, save for a short stint as a Republican when he switched to support Peter Mills in the 2006 gubernatorial primary.

Cutler knocks the polarization he says has been caused by the two-party system, and during debates, he delivers hard shots at the Republican and Democratic candidates.

His critics have hit back hard, as well, on a variety of points.

His tenure as a board member for a failed superprime mortgage company has been an issue. The company, Thornburg Mortgage Inc., was the second-largest independent mortgage company, after Nationwide. It specialized in "jumbo loans" -- generally more than $400,000 -- to "superprime" borrowers with strong credit. It was caught in the credit crunch, and its business collapsed. The firm went bankrupt last year, and it is liquidating its assets.

Some have criticized Cutler as out of touch -- living away from Maine for 25 years, buying a $4 million seaside home in Cape Elizabeth in 1999 and then living in China for several years.

And some point to his work in China, calling him "China's lobbyist," a tag he picked up from an English-language publication in that country.

"All this stuff is reflective of desperate attempts of character assassination, smearing, that is a practiced art in American politics," said Cutler. "It's been going on for decades, but it has sort of taken over the political dialogue to a degree that I think is very frustrating."

One of the underlying themes of Cutler's campaign is that those perceived weaknesses can also be seen as strengths

(Continued on page 2)

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