A lesson in political suicide


After losing the 2010 election, then-state Sen. John Nutting took his political career out in his back pasture, and put a bullet through its head.

Figuratively speaking.

What Nutting fired off weren’t bullets, but words, ones that disparaged his victorious opponent and the people who voted for him. Not the sort of thing one does if one is holding out the prospect of ever running for office again.

But here it is nearly eight years later, and Nutting, a moderate Democrat from Leeds who had served several terms in both the state House and Senate, must have come to believe everybody has forgotten about his little hissy fit. So, he’s announced he’s a candidate for his old seat as a state representative.

Before I get to the details of Nutting’s transgression, here’s a little background.

He was first elected to the House in 1986, serving until 1992. In 1996, he won a Senate seat that he held until 2002 when he made an ill-considered bid for Congress in the state’s 2nd District. In spite of raising lots of money, he finished fourth in a six-person primary field with just 13 percent of the vote. Undeterred, he returned to the Senate, where he served until his disastrous 2010 campaign.

As a legislator, Nutting earned a reputation as a staunch environmentalist and an advocate for expanded health care. But he skewed to the conservative side on labor issues, particularly workers’ comp reform. While he claimed to be pro-choice on abortion, he sometimes voted with the pro-lifers in favor of restrictions. And he was no fan of bigger government budgets. During a congressional candidates’ debate, he said, “They spend so much money in Washington, it makes me nauseous.”

Plainspoken. Maybe too much so. And with a slight tendency toward weirdness.

He once launched a seemingly unprovoked attack on hospitals for using Medicare and Medicaid money to buy advertising, even though no hospital in Maine was doing that because it’s against federal law. He found no support among fellow Dems for his proposal to cut the governor’s staff budget by $1 million, possibly because the governor at the time was fellow Democrat John Baldacci. During 2009 legislative debate over a same-sex marriage bill, he mixed strong backing for such a law with disparaging comments about Baptists and Catholics, an unwise move for somebody whose district contained plenty of both.

There’s more, but you get the idea. Nutting wasn’t afraid to make enemies, even when doing so didn’t make much sense.

Which brings us to the 2010 election.

Nutting’s opponent was Republican Garrett Mason of Lisbon, a young evangelical Christian who wasn’t shy about exploiting Nutting’s numerous missteps. In what turned out to be a GOP year, Mason worked hard, while Nutting took his re-election for granted. Meanwhile, the Democrats opted to devote their resources to supporting candidates less apt to buck the party line. On election night, Mason grabbed a stunning 70 percent of the vote.

Nutting didn’t handle the loss well. To put it mildly.

In unscripted comments after the results were announced, he reportedly slammed Mason for being religious, for “working retail” and for “living with his parents.”

Not content with that little speech, he took out a newspaper ad attributing his defeat to “$53,000 worth of half-truths and lies about my legislative record.” He claimed Mason supporters at the polls told him, “It’s a sin to vote for you” and “You’re not religious, you’re just a Presbyterian.”

And for good measure, he accused those who backed Mason of stealing his lawn signs.

“Well,” a prominent Republican activist told me at the time, “we won’t have John Nutting to kick around anymore.”

Eight years seems to have been long enough for Nutting to forget how painful getting kicked can be. Mason, now the Senate majority leader, is leaving his seat to run for governor. GOP state Rep. Jeff Timberlake of Turner is seeking to replace Mason in the Senate. Nutting is running for Timberlake’s soon-to-be-vacant House seat.

He’ll have competition. At least three Republicans – Joshua Morris of North Turner, John Pape of Turner and Angelo Terreri of Turner – have announced their candidacies. The winner of that primary won’t have to do much digging to come up with some decent opposition research, most of it courtesy of Nutting’s private arsenal of insults.

Chances are good that his poor political career is about to take another shot to the head.

I didn’t steal your lawn signs, but you can still send disparaging comments to aldiamon@herniahill.net.