Maine’s gubernatorial race, a rather sleepy affair so far, just got a whole lot livelier with the recent announcement of a new write-in candidate: “Green” Bud Kelly.
Kelly is a contractor on a midcoast island whose services include house painting, dry walling, landscaping, carpentry and masonry. He has not, to my knowledge, run for political office before, but his Blaine House bid is already generating a lot of buzz. The short YouTube video announcing his candidacy has been viewed over 8,600 times, and the response (122 thumbs-up, one thumbs-down) translates to a favorability rating of nearly 100 percent.
“[Expletive] right chummy!!!” one commenter wrote. “[Expletive] right Geen Bud Kely” posted another, spelling-challenged supporter. “No [expletive] Bub!” wrote a third. “Give ‘em hell in Augusta! Make sure they don’t pass any laws that don’t let us have loud cans on our sleds and scooters! … BAAAAA BAAAA BAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.”
“He’s a proven job creator,” the narrator in the campaign video intones, and interviews with people who’ve lived in Maine’s midcoast back up this claim. ““Every [expletive] and his brother has worked for that guy at some point in their life,” said John Welliver, a native of Lincolnville and proprietor of L.F.K., the popular bar and restaurant in Portland’s Longfellow Square. “Everyone knows this guy, in whatever form he happens to take — you’ve worked for him one summer, covered in poison ivy; whether it was bangin’ nails or blueberry raking or concrete-pouring, that guy was always, always there.”
Kelly “will fight for affordable health care,” the narrator continues, showing footage of Kelly helpfully telling a young employee covered in bee stings to rub some jewelweed on himself and get back to work, followed by tape of Kelly self-medicating with cheap marijuana. And Kelly will defend “our treasured outdoor traditions,” the campaign promises, depicting the candidate shooting at wildlife and punching a deer in the face.
Kelly’s life and work have been documented by the husband-and-wife team of Atom and Hanji O’Chang, Rockland residents whose “Temp Tales” series of videos about manual labor in Maine have gone viral online. In one of these, “Smoke Show,” Kelly explains to his state representative that he could hire five more young workers if Maine lawmakers eased regulations that keep certain types of trucks off the road (in this case, monster mud trucks). And unlike cowardly candidates who refuse to say exactly how they would cut spending to balance the budget, Kelly gives his representative a specific suggestion: eliminate the salary of the state trooper who pulls him over for driving his souped-up truck on the road.
As you may be suspecting by now, Kelly isn’t quite as “real” as his challengers for the governorship. But though Kelly may be a series of animated drawings, Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign persona is similarly two-dimensional. When you calculate in the margin of error, independent Eliot Cutler’s lead over Kelly shrinks to the single-digits. And incumbent Republican Paul LePage’s behavior is only slightly less cartoonish than this actual cartoon’s.
Like Kelly, LePage is gruff but loveable, and he can also hang and party with the working class. When LePage stopped into the Portland Irish pub Brian Boru last year, Welliver bought him a special shot, called a Redheaded Slut, that the governor, against the advice of his handler, slammed like a pro.
Plus, Kelly and LePage speak the same profane language. Kelly’s co-creator and erstwhile campaign manager, Atom O’Chang, is actually Andy O’Brien, who served two terms as a Democratic legislator in the state House of Representatives. In late 2011, O’Brien made headlines by writing an open letter to LePage urging him to meet with Mainers struggling to find employment. LePage finally conceded, and after an argumentative 90-minute meeting with O’Brien and a couple job-seekers, the governor summed up the session by telling a reporter, “It’s all a big play and I think it’s [expletive]. Bull … [expletive].”
Earlier in “Smoke Show,” Kelly confronts a worker at the town dump who tells him he can’t dispose of some cans of old paint. “Toxic waste? What are you, freakin’ numb?” Kelly says. “For Christsake this junk’s been collectin’ in my basement for 15 years now. Do I look like a freakin’ mutant?” You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to hear the governor reacting the same way.
Thus far, Kelly’s campaign is limited to the video announcing his candidacy and “Green Bud Kelly for Guv’nah!” t-shirts and bumper stickers available at ochangcomics.com. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing Kelly could participate in the debates this election season. This ‘toon is the only one who tells it like it really is for Maine’s working poor.