Framing Charlie

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 3, 2012

"The senator wasn't cut out for crime. He was the kind of man who'd use vanity plates on a getaway car."

Andrew Vachss, from his novel Blossom

After the first of his three unsuccessful runs for Congress, Charlie Summers, now a Republican US Senate candidate, was asked by a reporter if his defeat had put an end to his political ambitions.

"It's an awful bug, once you get it," Summers replied.

Meth freaks and sex addicts can probably empathize.

Summers is desperate to stay in the political game, but not because it'll make him rich, famous, or respected. He's clinging to it because he has to feed his inner demon. He's not running because he wants to, but because he has to.

Summers was first infected in 1990, when he upset a better-known Democrat to win a state Senate seat in Scarborough. Initially, GOP leaders believed they had a hot commodity on their hands, somebody who could succeed then-Governor John "Jock" McKernan (with whom he shared a moderate philosophy and excellent hair). But Summers failed to impress in two terms in Augusta, sponsoring little in the way of meaningful legislation, vacillating on difficult issues, and earning the nickname "Jock Lite."

Still, his experience in the political sphere was an improvement over his real-world employment, which included running a bottle redemption center, working as a car-rental agent, managing a hotel, and selling real estate. His job prospects finally improved when Republican US Senator Olympia Snowe hired him for her office staff. Snowe was later instrumental in getting him a gig as New England chief of the Small Business Administration. A member of the US Navy Reserve, Summers also did a couple of active-duty stints in the Middle East. In 2010, when the GOP took control of the Legislature, he won the secretary of state's job.

Even so, Summers still claims a deep connection to the private sector. "I understand up close and personal what it's like to have to really worry about sweating a payroll," he told the Portland Press Herald in 2005. In his latest TV ad, he says, "I remember laying awake at night wondering how I was going to pay the bank back."

The government check he's collected for the past 16 years may have helped ease his mind.

As secretary of state, Summers has championed two causes with all the ferocity he learned as a public information officer in the Navy. He promised to ferret out fraudulent voters and help businesses deal with onerous regulations. The results have been, to put it as politely as possible, mixed. Or, more accurately, dismal failures.

In 2011, Summers was one of the leading advocates for a bill to eliminate voter registration on election day. Initially, he claimed the measure would help thwart the terrifying influx of nonresidents seeking to cast illegal ballots in Maine. In particular, it would block voting by out-of-state college students, who were being rounded up by Democrats, given drugs to turn them into zombies, and indoctrinated to vote for liberals. In 2011, Summers launched an investigation into 500 such individuals, alleged by the GOP to have cast bogus ballots.

He found one case of fraud.

Later that year, voters overwhelmingly repealed the ban on same-day registration, after opponents argued it was an attempt to fix a problem that didn't exist.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Olympia Snowe, Congress, Portland Press Herald,  More more >
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