Clean Elections Profile: Meet Maine Rep. Chris Rector
As a small publisher, ice cream purveyor, and former art gallery owner, Christopher Rector didn’t consider himself much of a political insider. But after working with a citizens group in his town of Thomaston on how to deal with a newly empty state prison located on the highway nearby, he got the bug to run for office in 2002. Rector describes his decision to run under Maine’s then two-year-old Clean Elections system as a “no-brainer.” He would be challenging Democrat Rep. James Skoglund, a six-term incumbent, who was not participating in the system. “I never would have run if I had to do fundraising and make those kinds of connections. That held no interest for me at all. I wanted an issues-based campaign.” When fall came, he pulled together a committee of friends in the community to help run his campaign and he set out on a door-knocking campaign to talk to his future constituents. After two months of door knocking, he had reached out to some 95 percent of households in his district. He qualified for and received a public grant of $4,877 and spent $5,254, which was slightly more than the $5,023 Skoglund spent. When election day came, Rector won the district by a vote of 56 to 44 percent. Since being sent by the voters to the state capitol of Augusta, Rector has prided himself in paying close attention to the needs of small businesses, protecting the environment, strengthening the health care and education systems, and making taxes fairer, among other issues. His proudest achievement is an ongoing negotiation to consolidate several schools and universities locally. Declining enrollment makes it tough for local schools to offer all the quality programs he would like to see, such as Advanced Placement classes. With lobster fishing being the town’s big business—25 percent of the nation’s cold water lobsters come through his district—there’s a strong incentive for local young people graduating from high school to go straight into the business. Because the nearest community college is an hour and a half a way, these young people are discouraged from continuing their studies. Rector is working with a group of local officials and concerned citizens to bring learning institutions together, to enhance the possibilities for young people. “I’ve found that my principal role is that I’m a convener. I can bring people to the table who wouldn’t come unless I brought them, such as the university and the community college, which tend to compete with each other,” says Rector. “I can do this because the legislature holds the purse strings which gives me a certain level of influence.” When Rector ran for re-election in 2004, this time he faced a Clean Elections challenger, Democrat Mary June Smith. The two received the same public funding--$4,488—and spent about the same amounts. This time Rector won 60 percent of the vote to Smith’s 40 percent. In 2006, Rector is running against Democrat Nancy Glover, who is using the Clean Elections system as well. Rector says he welcomes the challenges. “In the campaigning, the issues are the important thing. Clean Elections helps keep the spending down. Nobody can waste much money. Taxpayers get a value.” After being term-limited out of the Maine House of Representatives, Rector ran for and won a seat in the state Senate representing district 22. He currently serves on the Business, Research and Economic Development committee.