Even though he’s trying hard to get into the governor’s chair, Eliot Cutler doesn’t expect to spend much time there if he wins the election on Tuesday.

The Cape Elizabeth independent said he practices a style of leadership known in the business world as “management by walking around.” As governor, Cutler said, he’ll be on the move all the time, meeting with state workers in their offices as well as constantly traveling around the state to discuss issues with residents, business owners and municipal officials.

His objective, he said, will be to listen.

“More than anything else, I’m a sponge for information,” he said.

According to several people who have observed Cutler’s leadership style in business and government, Cutler would be a forceful executive who would make decisions after holding an informed and open discussion with a wide range of people.

Cutler’s executive experience includes supervising nearly 200 people as the associate director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Carter administration, and starting and managing three different law offices, the largest of which at its peak employed 40 to 50 people.

In addition, Cutler chaired the Board of Visitors at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, and served on the board of directors of Skanka, a global construction company with 53,000 employees based in Sweden.

Cutler knows what he wants to accomplish, but he also takes a collaborative approach when working with groups who oppose him, said Steve Clay, a Georgia attorney. Clay worked with Cutler when they both served on the mediation board that negotiated the Indian land claims agreement in Maine in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As governor, Cutler would focus on the issues, not personalities, Clay said,
“Eliot had a good ability to communicate with people – whether they are for him or against him,” Clay said.

Cutler is confident and decisive, said Bill Foster, who was dean of the Muskie School during the years that Cutler chaired the 22-member board of visitors, from 2004 to 2009. Foster said Cutler was essentially his boss.

He described Cutler as a cool-headed decision maker who never reveals his own opinions about an issue when discussing it with a group in order to allow an open and candid discussion.

“One of his binding characteristics is that he is fully informed,” Foster said. “The clarity of his decisions are based on an informed knowledge of an issue before him.”

As an independent, Cutler said, he would fill his Cabinet with the best people possible, and not be limited to people from one political party.

But Cutler’s independent status would also pose a challenge. Unlike his two leading opponents, Democrat Libby Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage, Cutler would not be able to rely on the automatic support of a political party for any of his initiatives, said Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, who served in the state Senate under Maine’s last independent governor, Angus King.

The governor submits the budget and has veto power. The office wields a lot of power even if facing legislative opposition, particularly when it comes to making budget cuts, Mills said.

But creating new programs would be more difficult for an independent governor than for one who enjoys the support of his or her party, he said.

Mills, who is supporting LePage, said Cutler’s strong communication skills well help. “He marshals his arguments and facts very well,” Mills said. “He absorbs facts and reads people fairly well. Those strengths might compensate for the absence of having a political party.”

As an independent, Cutler would have to build new coalition for every policy initiative, said King, who has publicly endorsed Cutler for governor.

While Cutler won’t have a ready-made set of supporters, he also won’t face a set of enemies, he said.

In the big picture, a governor’s leadership ability is more important that party politics, said King. He noted that Democrat Ken Curtis, who was Maine’s governor from 1967 to 1975, is considered the most successful governor in the past 50 years, even though Republicans controlled the Legislature for his entire term.

“To me, that demonstrates that this idea that you have to be partisan and have a partisan majority to get your agenda moving forward is just not true,” King said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]