AUGUSTA — Her grandmother’s living room door was always open, but on that cold early February afternoon in 1970 it was closed.
From behind it came the muffled voices of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, discussing what to do with the six children, effectively orphaned days earlier when a jack failed, crushing their father under the family car.
“We were trying to entertain the little ones, but we knew what was going on in there, that it was the end of the world as we knew it,” says Terry Hayes, who at 11 was the second oldest of the kids. “We were never asked. We never had a voice. We wanted to be on the other side of that damned door!”
For most of the 48 years since, Hayes has made sure to be on the side of the door where the decisions are made. She spent four years teaching civics and history to public school kids, two decades representing children’s interests in legal proceedings as a court-appointed guardian, 13 years on her local school board, and eight in the Legislature, where her erstwhile Democratic colleagues elected her to leadership and Republicans propelled her to two terms as Maine’s treasurer.
Now, at 60, she’s an independent candidate for the state’s highest office, campaigning on a promise to restore civility and bipartisanship to a State House where both are under siege. As governor, Hayes says she would expand both Medicaid and treatment programs for opioid users; boost teacher pay and investments in aging infrastructure at the state’s public universities and colleges; expand broadband internet access; repair neglected roads and bridges; and develop and implement a long-range, nonpartisan economic development plan for the state emphasizing workforce attraction and training.
“Tribalism and partisanship has really blossomed in Augusta, and we’re working in this environment where we see each other as enemies,” says Hayes, who in the only public poll to date, released in early August, was running a distant third of four candidates with 4 percent of the vote, far behind Democrat Janet Mills and Republican Shawn Moody and ahead of independent Alan Caron. “I want to do this as an independent, because if we elect another partisan now we lock that in. I want to hit the reset button, to get back to relationships mattering.”
“Maybe,” she adds, “we can turn things back.”
ORPHANED BY TWO TRAGEDIES
Terry Hayes was born Teresea Mary Roberts on May 5, 1958, at Maine Medical Center in Portland, the second of six children born over seven years to Charles Roberts and the former Natalie Ridyard, who lived in the city’s Stroudwater neighborhood.
Charles was a carpenter who worked for a homebuilder and had served in the Navy in the Korean War. Natalie was a night nurse at Maine Medical who had grown up in Bath and converted to Catholicism just before her wedding and mistakenly gave her daughter’s first name an extra “e” for life while filling out her birth certificate.
A year after the birth of their youngest child – early in the September when Terry was 8 – Natalie came home from work, crawled into bed and barely left it until Easter. “She was so depressed, literally depressed, for months and months,” Hayes recalls. “I’m sure she got up occasionally, but functionally we were taking care of ourselves and my dad, who was still trying to work.”
Natalie was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital and transferred to the Augusta Mental Health Institute, where she would remain for much of the next decade. Terry’s father, unable to take care of six kids aged 3 to 10, placed them all at the Saint Louis Home for Boys and Girls, the Scarborough orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity. Terry would spend the next two years there, returning home only on Saturdays when their father had the day off.
The children lived in dormitories and were separated by gender, even on the playground, which was especially hard on Paul, 4, and Janine, 3, who were inseparable. They “would sit on either side of the painted line on the (playground) pavement and hold hands,” Hayes says. “They misbehaved so badly – they wanted to go home – that the nuns eventually said, ‘They just can’t stay here.’ ” Her father found a day care and took his two youngest home. “I was pretty damn jealous,” she recalls. (Today Janine Roberts is the police chief in Westbrook.)
“Overall the nuns did a good job – we got to church every week, I can tell you that,” says Hayes’ eldest sister, Patty Bruce, who became a Maine Medical nurse. “But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
In the summer of 1969, Charles arranged for one of his parents’ friends to move from Vermont to their Stroudwater home and serve as a live-in nanny. The Roberts children were reunited and again living under their own roof.
Less than nine months later, on Jan. 30, 1970, Charles Roberts was repairing the family car outside his parents’ house in South Portland when the jack failed. The car fell, killing him. He was 33.
Days later, the family came together for his funeral and, that afternoon, met behind closed doors at Terry’s grandparents’ home. “My mother was there, but she wasn’t well, and we weren’t going to go with her – that was clear,” Patty recalls. “I remember wondering what would happen to us, because it was clear no family could take in all six kids.”
At the meeting’s end they were divvied up to move in with aunts, uncles and grandparents, some to homes already crowded with cousins. They sometimes swapped households between school years, but the Roberts children never all lived together again.
“What happened to us affected all the other family members, so I have a real strong sense of family,” Hayes says. “They were our safety net, no matter how cross I might have gotten at them at different points of time when I was a teenager.”
WARNED OF MOSTLY MALE COLLEGES
Terry attended Portland and South Portland schools and then Catherine McAuley High School, the Catholic girls’ school in Portland. She excelled at school, was on the basketball team, and was, Patty recalls, competitive and a voracious learner. To pay the school’s tuition, she rode her bike to the McDonald’s by the Maine Mall to work in the kitchen each summer.
When she returned to school for her sophomore year, she was told an anonymous donor had paid her tuition, a pleasant surprise that was repeated the following year. She spent her savings instead to twice participate in Close Up Washington, then a 3-year-old program that brought high school students to the nation’s capital to witness their government in action in the hopes that they would become engaged citizens. The second time, in the summer of 1975, she spent three weeks there and interned in the office of U.S. Rep. David Emery, the freshman Republican representing Maine’s 1st District.
“We could sit in on committee hearings, experience it all firsthand, really breathe life into our understanding of the federal government,” Hayes says. “I was interested in government, but I didn’t aspire to be ‘X,’ fill in the blank. I was just fascinated by it all.”
She had excellent grades, knew she wanted to go to a small liberal arts college, got into several and wound up at Bowdoin. “I went to Bowdoin because it was close and because the nuns (at McAuley) told me I couldn’t,” Hayes recalls with a laugh. “Sister Donna said, ‘My goodness, dear, it’s a male-dominated Protestant college. What about Saint Anselm or Holy Cross?’ ” She moved to Brunswick in 1976, becoming the first McAuley student to enroll at the college, which was founded in 1794 to educate the Congregational political elite of what were then Massachusetts’ eastern territories.
As in high school, she excelled academically, but now regrets having been too cautious to have studied abroad her junior year. “I never doubted myself, because I was the first generation of my family to go to college – nothing was going to stop me from going to college,” she says. “But once I was there, I was really comfortable, and I wanted to stay in my comfort zone.” She also had wanted to become a lawyer – “you got paid to argue, and I thought that was pretty cool” – but was afraid she wouldn’t be able to pay for law school while carrying her $9,300 in college debt. “I had nobody who could help me figure out that part, so I went into teaching, and actually enjoyed it,” she says.
She graduated in 1980 with a degree in government and a minor in education and applied for an open position to teach civics and social studies at Williams Junior High School in Oakland.
“We wanted somebody who would excite people and get them involved in their role as citizens in a subject that can be inspiring or deadly for a kid in middle school,” says Duke Albanese, that school district’s assistant superintendent at the time. “She had the background we wanted, abundant energy and a really outgoing personality, so we gave her a shot.”
Hayes taught at Williams for two years, then followed her students to Messalonskee High School, where she would teach another two before becoming adult education director at Gardiner-based MSAD 11. “What made her stand apart was that she was really enthusiastic with kids,” says Albanese, who later served as state education commissioner under Gov. Angus King. “She was just a shot in the arm.”
‘DRINKING WATER FROM A FIRE HOSE’
In July 1984, while having drinks with her sisters at Amigos in Portland, she met Stephen Hayes, a man who initially claimed to be a male stripper – “I looked at him and thought, ‘Really?’ ” – but actually worked for Amity Furniture Stripping. She introduced him to her mother the next day, and they were engaged two days later. They married that December. She and Stephen, who became a licensed clinical social worker and has a Shamanic spiritual therapy practice, have been married 34 years and have three grown children.
“Terry is an optimist at heart, and she isn’t afraid to take a risk or try something new and she actually helped me with that,” says Stephen, who with her encouragement got his undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work. “We met, and everything just clicked.”
Over the next two decades, the Hayeses raised their family in a converted one-room schoolhouse in Buckfield and Terry remained in education, serving on the MSAD 39 school board for 13 years and as the Maine Real Estate Commission’s education director for seven. At MREC, she became an expert at teaching adult experts how to teach, became sought after to do such training across the country, and founded a consultancy – Real Estate Brokerage Education – to do that full time in 1994.
Shortly after marrying, she and Stephen also became guardians ad litem, volunteer court-appointed guardians who look after children’s best interests in custody battles and other legal matters. “Children don’t always want what’s best for themselves, but people have to listen – they need to be heard,” she says.
Until 2004, Hayes wasn’t actively engaged in politics, but she says she was an enthusiastic supporter of Texas billionaire Ross Perot’s 1992 and 1996 presidential runs, which emphasized balancing the budget and ending the outsourcing of U.S. jobs. “He was compelling to me, because he wasn’t arguing from a philosophical perspective – he was using data,” she says. “It wasn’t fear-based. It wasn’t this emotional argument. It was dispassionate – ‘Let’s look at how we can do this better.’ ”
She supported and donated to Susan Collins’ unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial campaign but says she never registered as a Republican. “My recollection was that I tended to favor the Democratic candidates,” she says. “But I was impressed with her, thought she was smart and thought it was time to have a lady do the job, so I wrote her a check.”
Hayes says she never considered politics herself until 2003, when her state representative, Democrat Rosita Gagne, approached her at a softball game and urged her to think about running for the seat the following year. “I said, ‘Rosita, I don’t think that I’m a Democrat,’ ” Hayes says. “But I went home and researched it and talked to Steve, and he said, ‘Give it a shot.’ ”
She registered as a Democrat in 2004 and lost the District 94 race by 191 votes to Bruce Hanley of Paris. In a rematch two years later she won by 15 votes, a victory she ascribes to careful attention to process. “I learned how to target, built my own database of the four towns and voting history, and worked with some volunteers to knock on the right doors,” she recalls. Vote counting was a skill that would serve her well in Augusta.
She’s said she learned more in the first six months in the Legislature than at any other six-month period in her life. “It was fascinating and like drinking water from a fire hose,” she says. “It’s like you’re in graduate school, but there’s no syllabus and you’re not sure when the next test is.”
Her colleagues respected her and in 2010 elected her assistant minority leader – the “whip” who keeps track of the expected vote count on a given measure. “She’s a very hard worker and very smart, and she did a very good job as whip,” says Seth Berry, a Bowdoinham Democrat who joined the Legislature the same year as Hayes and preceded her as whip. “Then she ran for speaker.”
RUPTURE WITH THE DEMOCRATS
Hayes’ rupture with her party began brewing in 2012, the year she set up a leadership political action committee and used it to raise $25,000 to help her colleagues retake control of the Legislature. She later described it as “fundraising on steroids” and that she didn’t enjoy it one bit, especially after party leaders rejected a $1,500 contribution she’d raised from Students First, the school reform PAC created by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee that seeks to end teacher tenure and expand charter schools, both unpopular positions with many Democrats. The state’s teachers union, the Maine Education Association, had objected to the contribution, she later said. “I don’t think that decision was the MEA’s to make,” she told the Bangor Daily News, “and we didn’t turn down anyone else’s money.”
She ran for House speaker a few weeks later and lost to Mark Eves of North Berwick. “I have to own that: I was very disappointed,” she says. “I still thought this was a meritocracy – damn fool! It was burned into (me) growing up: Work hard, be nice, and things will work out in the end. And it does, but not always in the way you anticipate.”
Eliot Cutler, an independent who had run for governor in 2010 and was an early endorser of Hayes’ current campaign, believes the Schools First donation hurt her speaker run. “When the balloting happened for the leadership post, Democrats were told by members of the ‘club’ that she couldn’t be trusted as a party loyalist and as a Democrat,” he says. “And I think that had a searing effect on her and taught her a lesson about the kind of loyalty that’s required in the Democratic Party.”
Berry, who was then House majority leader, says Hayes and those close to her “were not happy campers” during the session. “Mark Eves won the (speaker’s race) on the first ballot, which with several candidates was pretty impressive,” he recalls. “My job was to think about caucus unity, and that was tough, because there was a minority who were not happy with the outcome and maybe felt a little stunned.”
Hayes says her disillusionment wasn’t as much about the outcome of the speaker’s race but rather from the way legislative Democrats behaved in 2013 and 2014, when they had majorities in both chambers. “Gov. LePage sees the world in an us-versus-them frame: ‘If you’re not with me, you’re against me,'” she says. “We bought that framework hook, line and sinker, and went right into the ditch every time he went there. That’s why I worked my butt off (fundraising), so we could do that? It wasn’t the right response, and it wasn’t what was best for Maine.”
Those final two years in the Legislature, she chaired a nonpartisan caucus to bring legislators together to make data-informed decisions about moving the economy forward.
“I think in many ways it was the most effective and focused version of a nonpartisan caucus that I’ve seen,” says independent Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth, who attended the sessions as state senator. “She prepared for those meetings very thoroughly, and I was really impressed.”
But she also came to be regarded as a maverick by many of her Democratic colleagues, particularly after co-sponsoring a “right to work” bill introduced by Republican firebrand Lawrence Lockman of Amherst. She says she unfairly gained a reputation as being anti-labor, noting that the version she endorsed sought to overturn provisions passed in 2007 that allowed public sector unions to deduct union fees from nonmembers without their permission. “It’s an example of something we should have said no to and didn’t,” she says, explaining that unions should win their members’ voluntary support by demonstrating their value to workers. “To me it’s cheating.”
In the spring of 2014 she joined Cutler’s second unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, managing his effort in five counties from a Lewiston office. “I already knew I was going to unenroll, but I waited until after the election, because I knew it helped Eliot for me to be a Democrat,” she says. “I believed he was the best candidate at the time, and I was willing to say so publicly.”
NOT ONE TO TAKE THE BAIT
Shortly after LePage’s re-election, Hayes approached Republican legislative leaders with an offer. If she ran for treasurer – a position elected by legislators – would they throw their support behind her rather than run their own candidate? If they did, she told them, she could bring along enough Democratic defectors to defeat incumbent Neria Douglass, a Democrat. They agreed, and she won, surprising many but not herself. “I’m a vote counter,” she explains. She was re-elected in similar fashion in 2016.
As treasurer, Hayes says she has tried to avoid public squabbles with LePage, even when he provokes them, such as his 2017 effort to overturn the bids her office had awarded to complete road and bridge work funded by $110 million in voter-approved bonds. “If the governor is being petulant and saying things that a third-grader would get detention for, amplifying those things is not what’s best for Maine,” she says. “This is the state’s business reputation, and we’re probably going to the bond market every year. I think about how I can minimize the impact, because I can’t stop it altogether.”
Even so, LePage on Aug. 6 called upon her to resign while she runs for office so her “personal political ambitions” don’t come at “the expense of the Maine people.”
In 2016 and 2017, Hayes, Woodbury and Cutler stayed in communication with one another about their respective intentions regarding the forthcoming governor’s race, all three acknowledged. Hayes announced her run as a taxpayer-financed clean elections candidate in April 2017 and was the first candidate to take out papers.
“She’s principled and tough but an extremely collaborative person,” Cutler says. “That kind of behavior isn’t always rewarded in the Legislature, but it’s my view, and I think hers, that it can be rewarding for the state in the chief executive’s position.”