State Treasurer Terry Hayes wants to change the way Augusta has been working — or not working.

Hayes is running for Maine governor as an independent, Clean Elections candidate. She served in the state Legislature as a Democrat from 2001-2014, before unenrolling from the party and being elected state treasurer as an independent.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Times Record, Hayes made the case for why Maine needs an independent governor to move Augusta away from toxic partisanship and toward a climate of collaboration.

Hayes’s campaign thus far has been focused on restoring a collaborative atmosphere, and it has been light on where she stands on policy issues. She had no qualms about talking about the positives and negatives of Gov. Paul LePage’s tenure. A positive in her book: His fiscal management of the state.

“He’s done, in many ways, a masterful job in terms of financial management of the state,” said Hayes. “I know when I become governor in January, I will inherit a state in a much better fiscal condition than he did, and at the top of my list is don’t mess that up.”

Hayes pointed to LePage’s attempt at tax reform as the path forward, adding that she supported his work in lowering the income tax and favors expanding the sales tax in the future.

“(Our current system) has too much pressure on the property tax. Our income tax is too high and our sales tax is too narrow,” said Hayes.

“The problem is that our tax system totally is out of whack,” she added. “We still have a tax system that’s designed for an economy of the 1970s and not 2020.”

However, there is daylight between Hayes and LePage on some issues. For example, Hayes said she would expand Medicaid, something LePage, who is currently battling a lawsuit over the issue, has fought tooth and nail to stop. And while the governor recently fought to withhold Clean Election funds, a program he has opposed since first being elected, Hayes herself is a Clean Elections candidate.

Where Hayes really wants to differentiate herself from the current administration is her approach to governing.

“There are things that man has done that I can wholeheartedly support,” she said. “There are other things — there’s times where he has opened his mouth and done things that embarrass me, that, I think, if a third grader would get detention for doing it the governor probably ought not be doing it.

“But I don’t hate him,” Hayes added. “I don’t think he’s the worst governor we’ve ever had.”

Whereas LePage’s two terms have been defined by his competitiveness with the Legislature, the news media and occasionally members of the public, Hayes advocates for a different approach.

“I’m telling you that’s not my style. When I’m Maine’s governor I won’t approach things from a combat perspective,” she said. “I don’t want to be at war with another branch of government.”

The key to fixing what’s wrong with Augusta is relationships, said Hayes. Everyone in Augusta is passionate about making Maine a better place, and once you accept that about your opponents and develop a bond based on that you can move forward to debates about policy.

“We used to do it as a passionate debate about the details and ultimately we do the simple math, it’s an additional question, whose perspective won out? And then once you win it’s implemented and everyone gets behind it because it’s the law of the land,” said Hayes. “We don’t do that anymore.

“On election night we should stop campaigning and transition to governing,” she added. “I think that piece has been missing. We’re just campaigning right on through and our goal is always the next election.”

Hayes said one of her first priorities if elected will be to meet with legislative leaders to begin building a relationship.

She also put distance between herself and the current administration on transparency. LePage’s administration has been criticized over the years for stonewalling FOAA requests and preventing department heads from meeting with lawmakers, something Hayes said would change under her watch.

“If the law says that it’s public information then it should be available, period,” said Hayes. “I don’t ration information.”

That standard applies to requests for data as well as efforts to speak with department heads, she said.

Ultimately, Hayes seems to be placing her hope in the possibility that Mainers want a more collaborative approach to governing.

Come November, she’ll find out if that’s really what Mainers want.

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