By Katie Curley Katzman
NEWBURYPORT — It's no secret Christy Mihos is a political outsider, and as he freely admits, he just doesn't fit in with the Beacon Hill bureaucracy.
After all, the Republican gubernatorial candidate shows up to meet-and-greets and political events in his own truck, by himself rather than with a campaign aide. He says it gives him time to practice his speeches, and the perk is that he can listen to whatever radio station he wants.
Now in his second run for governor, Mihos said the climate statewide is right for him.
Mihos, once the owner of the Christy's chain of convenience stores and former director of the embattled Massachusetts Turnpike Authority during the Big Dig, is running against Charlie Baker for the GOP's nomination for governor in the fall.
Mihos was in Newburyport last week for an event sponsored by the Newburyport Republican Committee, along with Baker running mate Sen. Richard Tisei. Beforehand, he took time to address some of the issues facing the state.
Faced with the challenge of getting at least 15 percent of the delegate votes at the April convention in Worcester to force a primary, Mihos said people are ready for something different.
"I'm an independent-thinking Republican," said Mihos, who lives on Cape Cod. "I'm for Main Street, not Wall Street."
Mihos, a longtime Republican, left the party and ran for governor as an Independent in 2006 because he said he believed the then-GOP candidate for governor, Kerry Murphy Healey of Beverly, and party leaders were planning on keeping him from getting 15 percent of the vote at the convention. By running as an Independent, Mihos secured a spot on the ballot in the final election.
In September 2008, with the recession looming, Mihos decided to sell his chain of convenience stores to the gas station chain Hess and has since set his sights on the governor's seat.
"The grass-roots organizations want someone who is going to stand up and fight the battle," Mihos said. "I don't fit in. I don't want to blame the Democrats; people are sick of the blame game. They want solutions."
Part of Mihos' solutions involve cutting the sales and liquor tax currently crippling border areas like the Greater Newburyport region. "The border communities are getting destroyed; when the sales tax went up, unemployment went up in the area," Mihos said.
To raise revenue, Mihos suggests cutting state government, state agencies and legalizing sports betting, which he said is currently a $400 billion business.
While he's against casinos, he believes sports betting could be a branch of the state Lottery and be a buy-in program. Those cities and towns that choose to have sports betting would then be able to keep any revenue collected for local aid.
"We could glean billions of dollars earmarked for local cities and towns," Mihos said. "And the more business you do, the more money comes back to you."
Mihos is also a proponent of green energy, but not at the cost of the state.
"I'm pro-green energy for the masses," Mihos said, noting his own experimental wind turbines outside a Christy's on Cape Cod resulted in a 30 percent decrease in energy consumption.
"I'm against Cape Wind because I don't think we should give private businesses public land so they can sell that juice back to the power grid," he said. "I'm all for the masses having the ability to help their own situation as long as it's not government subsidized."
As former vice chairman and later director of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, he said he blew the whistle on the Big Dig problems and corruption.
"You just don't take money from big business, big government or big media," Mihos said. "I fought, and I never stopped. Parsons Brinckerhoff (which worked on the Big Dig and is now designing the Whittier Bridge replacement) knew there were systematic problems with leaks. Our grandchildren will still be paying for the Ted Williams Tunnel even though it was supposed to last 75 years."
Mihos said the thought the same firm will be charged with the Whittier Bridge project makes him "sick."
"I had hopes the attorney general would have brought charges, and if convicted, they would have been debarred of doing any projects in the country," Mihos said. "But Parsons paid the state $250 million, and the commonwealth is stuck holding the bag. They should be on a list where they can't work in the commonwealth unless they pay for the mistakes."
Part of the lesson learned from the Big Dig is never to take money from businesses or those he hopes to regulate while in office, Mihos said.
With one of the smallest war chests in the race, Mihos uses a large portion of his own money to run.
"I have a problem asking for money in a recession or depression," Mihos said. "I don't collect money from people we regulate; that sets me apart from Charlie Baker."
Coming off U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's win, Mihos hopes to generate support among GOP and unenrolled voters.
"There is a real movement going on," Mihos said. "People have had it with the two-party system."