Thursday, December 5, 2013
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Kevin Raye is congratulated by a supporter as he wins the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District. Raye got his start in politics through a letter he wrote to Olympia Snowe when he was 16.
Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston, left, listens in April 2011 as Rep. Mike Michaud discusses his view of the situation with the closed Katahdin Paper Mill in East Millinocket, his hometown.
It was 1980 and he won on his first try. He's undefeated in the 15 elections he's faced since, rising from legislator to state senator to the halls of Congress.
Kevin Raye was born in Eastport in 1961 and raised in Perry, where his mother taught elementary school. His father was an electrician and a New Deal Democrat, but all of his grandparents were Republicans active in politics in their town of 800.
Through them, Raye caught the political bug early. He remembers at age 6 being fascinated by his grandmother's role as a poll watcher, keeping track of who among the Perry party faithful had cast their ballot, and who needed friendly reminding. At 7 he missed school because he'd stayed up watching the televised presidential returns until it was clear Richard Nixon had defeated Hubert Humphrey. Then, at 16, he wrote a letter that would change his life.
In the summer of 1977, the papers reported that a little-known Auburn legislator named Olympia Snowe was considering running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Bill Cohen.
"So I wrote her this letter," Raye says with a laugh. "I said, 'I like politics and I'd like to work on a campaign someday for somebody, but I would need to know where you stand on the issues."' The letter apparently made an impression; Snowe wrote back a four-page, handwritten letter, carefully responding to the teenager's queries.
Some months later, to his surprise, Snowe called asking if she could meet him the next day.
"I invited her to come to the house the next morning, and asked if she'd like to meet some people from Eastport," Raye recalls. She said yes, and by the time she arrived the next morning, the 17-year-old had assembled a group of local Republican businesspeople and officials.
"It was my first scheduling gig," he says with a laugh. Not long thereafter, Raye was appointed Snowe's Washington County campaign chairman, even though he wasn't yet old enough to vote. Somehow he convinced several of his friends to spend their free time manning the phones and distributing literature about a candidate few people in the Eastport area had ever heard of.
Snowe won, and Raye would wind up working for her in one capacity or another -- campaign worker, Bangor-based staffer and district representative, and chief of staff -- for the next 23 years before seeking elected office himself. He wrote his Bates College thesis comparing the initial campaigns of Snowe and Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, and even deferred a semester to work on Snowe's 1980 campaign.
"Olympia has been an enormously important person in my life," he says. "The fact that she cared enough to read that letter from some snot-nosed kid changed my life, and that's not an overstatement."
STATE HOUSE LEADER
While Raye was in college, Michaud was building influence in Augusta, where he would eventually occupy Maine's second-highest elected office.
After Michaud was elected to represent the Katahdin region in the Legislature, he was taken under the wing of powerful House Speaker John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. Michaud shared a house with Martin in Augusta for many years and sometimes joined Martin on his annual trips on the Allagash River with future state Supreme Court Justice Elmer Violette. When Martin was otherwise occupied, Michaud would sometimes stand in for him at the House podium.
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Left: U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud gets a hug from his mother, Jean, on Election Day in 2010. Michaud is undefeated in the 16 elections he’s faced. Right: As Maine Senate president, Kevin Raye is generally credited with trying to foster bipartisan cooperation. Every Thursday, he had dinner with his Democratic peers.