Lee Schultheis, ‘not really’ candidate for governor, drops out of race due to lack of debates

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Independent gubernatorial Lee Schultheis (right) speaks with a TV reporter near Portland’s Monument Square after announcing his candidacy in June. Photo courtesy Lee Schultheis

Lee Schultheis, a retired mutual fund consultant from Freeport, knew he never really had a shot at being elected governor. He said so himself, and even turned his lack of electability into a tongue-in-cheek campaign slogan: “I’m running for governor, but not really.”

But now, due to a lack of opportunity to reach his main objective of participating in debates, he’s taking himself off the ballot entirely.

“I guess it’s just another reminder of how the process is a bit of an uphill battle for independents within our primarily two-party system,” he said in a statement to the BDN.

Schultheis said he’d withdrawn his candidacy in a letter to the Secretary of State on Friday, the deadline for removal from the gubernatorial ballot.

Like many voters, Schultheis was dismayed by what he saw as an increasingly broken, partisan, vitriolic politics. He saw long-shot independent candidates Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott offered equal time on the debate stage in 2010, and figured he could get the same in this election cycle.

His goal was to use the debate platform offered to qualified gubernatorial candidates to spread his message of election reform, civility and clear-headed policy for the good of all Mainers.

He knew that as a relative unknown, running as an independent against three well-known candidates who would all have access to deep pools of campaign cash, he didn’t stand a chance. But that didn’t stop him from getting the 4,000 signatures necessary to be placed on the ballot.

But Schultheis had no way of knowing then that debates would become a matter of contention among the gubernatorial candidates: Independent Eliot Cutler wants as many as possible. Incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage will agree to as few as necessary. Democrat and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud will only show up if LePage does.

The effect of all that debate maneuvering by the three major candidates is that many debates have been cancelled, which Schultheis said makes his candidacy even more fruitless than he anticipated.

Here’s his statement:

“Although I have been invited to participate in 3 Gubernatorial debates, 2 of those have already been canceled due to the lack of commitment from the other candidates, and at this juncture the other one is highly doubtful to happen. In light of this, and since my main goal as a candidate was to try and help to improve the tone and bi-partisan nature of the debates and political discussion, I have submitted my official withdrawal notice from the race, effective today.

“September 5th is the deadline for formal withdrawal. Otherwise I would have appeared on the November ballot. With no chance to effectively influence the political discussion in the debate process, I was concerned my continuing to be on the ballot might only encourage some pointless protest votes, and the resulting “spoiler” effect in a contest likely to produce a less than majority winner. If we had a system more akin to Ranked Choice Voting, I would not have to make this kind of decision, but we all have to live with the system in place at the time.

“I guess it’s just another reminder of how the process is a bit of an uphill battle for independents within our primarily two-party system. I can’t say that I blame the other candidates or debate sponsors, as there is currently no required process for debate participation/inclusion. Unlike 2010, when all the candidates were relative unknowns, they certainly don’t need 15+ debates to introduce themselves (and their ideas) to the electorate (as I do). Perhaps that is something that should be addressed along with a change like Ranked Choice Voting, which would allow for greater participation of disparate voices without a pronounced “spoiler” effect.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House.