May 11, 2010

McGowan hoping to fly in face of history

The pilot who fell just short against Olympia Snowe says he's now the seasoned choice.

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

HALLOWELL - Democrat Patrick McGowan is perhaps best remembered in Maine political circles for a second-place finish.

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Pat McGowan

Gordon Chibroski/


in a series profiling candidates for governor.

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In 1990, he came within 1 percentage point of defeating incumbent Republican Olympia Snowe in a race for the U.S. House of Representatives.

"I was 40 points down with two weeks to go," he said.

"We could feel it on the ground. There had been some issues in Washington, a lot of negativity toward incumbents."

He put in 100,000 miles on the road.

He flew his own plane so he could be in four or five places every day. He relied on friends and his large extended family -- he often says he has 45 first cousins in Maine -- to help.

"They said, 'Well, you know, he doesn't have a chance to win, we're just going to help him because we need to help the crazy guy who's out there running against Olympia Snowe,' " he said.

Twenty years later, he's aiming to place one notch higher in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor.

McGowan is hoping his background as a native Mainer, small-business owner, legislator and member of Gov. John Baldacci's Cabinet will be the right combination for Democratic voters on June 8.

After losing to Snowe in 1990 and again in 1992, McGowan was appointed by President Bill Clinton as regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in New England.

Most recently, he was commissioner of the Department of Conservation, a Cabinet-level position in the Baldacci administration.

The question is whether a strong showing against Snowe two decades ago -- and subsequent government service -- gives him an edge in the June Democratic primary.

He faces stiff primary competition from former Attorney General Steve Rowe and Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell.

And newcomer Rosa Scarcelli, a southern Maine business owner with central Maine roots, is trying to set herself apart from the pack as the new face of the Democratic Party.

To counter that, McGowan, who's been flying planes since he was a teenager, offers an airplane analogy.

"There's that moment when you look down the aisle of the airplane and you want to see that the man or the woman flying the airplane is seasoned and knows what they are doing," he said.

"Or do you want to have that person wave back and say, 'Hi, I'm the brand-new person flying the plane'?"


McGowan, 54, knows it isn't always clear skies when you're in the air.

Last fall, he was in a serious airplane accident in Auburn. His engine died at 3,000 feet and he knew he would fall short of the nearest airport.

So he landed the plane on a golf course, taking out a utility pole and electric service on the way down.

He and his passenger -- a man who was going to buy the plane -- suffered minor injuries.

McGowan -- whose dad encouraged him to take flying lessons at age 16 rather than buy a motorcycle -- said his experience as a pilot saved them from a much more dire outcome.

He believes his ability to lead in a crisis -- whoever is elected will inherit a significant budget deficit -- is the reason he should be the nominee.

"The rhetoric out there now is, let's just go in and slash," he said during a recent interview at his campaign headquarters in Hallowell, in reference to the recent legislative budget talks.

"You need to make sure the parks are open and clean, that the roads are plowed and sanded. You need to make sure that people receive their benefits and their medication when they are on MaineCare."

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