BANGOR – A lot of political candidates preach passionately about providing the most basic human needs to those least able to help themselves.
Donning a red apron on a recent Saturday in the kitchen of the Grace United Methodist Church at 193 Union St., Jonathan Carter did more than just talk.
The 51-year-old Green Independent Party candidate for governor was helping Cleo Cottrell and others at the church prepare a free monthly lunch that feeds all those who show up – or at least all those who show up before the food runs out.
Cottrell, who made the half-hour trip up to Bangor from Verona Island, understands the basic law of supply and demand. For Bangor’s poorest residents, the demand always exceeds the supply.
“You know we could do this every day of the week and it wouldn’t be enough – we never have enough,” said Cottrell as she carried a steaming stock pot of soup from the kitchen to the dining room.
Carter, who has made humanity and social responsibility emblematic of his publicly funded campaign, finished slicing bread and began serving it to about 30 people in the first wave of arriving diners.
“Hi, I’m going to be living in your house,” Carter loudly announced to the crowd.
“Huh?” said one woman.
“Where’s that?” asked a man whose residence sometimes varies from month to month.
“It’s the Blaine House,” Carter explained. “It’s where the governor lives.”
“You will?” asked Norman Braley, who was seated at one of the long tables in the church basement. “I’ll vote for you. What’s your name again?”
“Jonathan Carter, … and I need all the votes I can get,” the candidate replied.
Carter wasn’t kidding. With something less than 9,000 registered members, the Green Independent Party is hardly a force to be reckoned with in Maine. To win the election, Carter must shave off some disaffected Republicans, a significant number of liberal Democrats and as many as half of the voters not enrolled in a political party. Although the Greens are small in numbers, they are an officially recognized state party and Carter has qualified for nearly $1 million in public funding under Maine’s Clean Election Act.
But the populist candidate remains in third place in campaign funding behind his opponents John Baldacci, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Peter Cianchette, both of whom are expected to raise more than $1.5 million each in their privately funded campaigns. A fourth candidate, John Michael, who’s staging a distant independent bid, has yet to even raise $9,000.
Carter quickly explains money is important, but it isn’t the only thing. He has tried in most of his ads and at all of the statewide debates to distinguish himself as the most intellectual and socially conscious of the four men running for office. When asked recently if he were given the opportunity to have lunch with any person living or dead, Carter chose Gandhi.
A persistent player in Maine politics since 1992, when he ran as a Green for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat against Rep. Olympia J. Snowe, and as the party’s candidate for governor in 1994, Carter lives east of Kingfield in Lexington Township in a 150-year-old renovated farmhouse that belies his affluent and comfortable upbringing.
Growing up in Connecticut, Carter later graduated from Deerfield Academy, an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts. Attending Williams College and the University of New Hampshire, he received a master’s degree in botany and forest pathology.
He later married and had two children.
Carter’s career path led from teaching in Maine schools and universities to leading the vanguard of activism in forest conservation. A strident opponent of clear cutting, he rarely missed an opportunity to take on Maine’s influential paper industry and its reliance on what Carter and his supporters describe as wasteful timber harvesting practices. He vehemently denies that he was ever a “tree-spiker” – a myth that is still perpetuated by some Maine woodsmen. But he did found the Forest Ecology Network, an organization that promotes forest conservation programs, and he also was influential in two referendums on forest practices in 1996 and 1997.
His decision to run for governor stems from his personal belief that the two-party system has failed to address the most basic concerns of Maine people. As governor, Carter would seek to lower property taxes by expanding the sales tax to many currently exempt goods and services. He favors a single-payer health care system that would provide basic medical coverage for all residents and increasing state contributions to research and development programs in Maine. Carter also supports the creation of a North Woods National Park, which he says would provide better-paying and more reliable employment for the people of northern and eastern Maine.
His policies, he said, provide the best hope of providing greater job opportunities for people like those who are fighting for survival in soup kitchens such as the one at the Grace United Methodist Church.
“These people remind me that we have an obligation to be there for every single citizen,” Carter said. “There are so many people out there who are less fortunate. And they need our help.”
More information on the candidate’s policies can be found on his Web site: http://www.cartergov.com.