Harpswell Selectman Kevin Johnson is running for a fourth consecutive three-year term. (J.W. Oliver photo)
Harpswell Selectman Kevin Johnson will attempt to secure a fourth consecutive three-year term in the town election on March 11.
He appears likely to succeed, as the only candidate for Select Board on the ballot. He currently chairs the board.
Johnson grew up on Bailey Island, where his ancestors settled in the early 1700s. He started school on Orr’s Island, then attended Harpswell Islands School on Great Island. He graduated from Brunswick High School in 1973.
Johnson joined the U.S. Army and served in the infantry and the military police from 1973-1976. He deployed to Thailand during the Vietnam War and spent much of his service at Ford Ord, on the California coast.
Soon after leaving the Army, he moved home to Harpswell and went to work for Malcolm “Laddie” Whidden Jr., a builder and fisherman who served as a selectman for 26 years. Johnson then started his own business, Kevin Johnson Builders.
He worked as a self-employed home builder for about 37 years, until he retired a couple years ago. Prior to his service on the Select Board, he was active in the community as a volunteer coach and league officer for youth baseball, hockey and soccer.
Of his decision to enter town politics nine years ago, Johnson said that he has attended town meeting since childhood and always followed town affairs. When he worked for Whidden, he witnessed the older man’s dedication to the role of selectman.
Often, when his employer was needed, Johnson would leave their worksite and head to the old town office in Harpswell Center. “I always knew where to find him,” he said. When Johnson decided to run decades later, he told Whidden first.
Johnson had long thought of running. “Sometimes I wondered why things were done the way they were done,” he said.
“It’s odd sticking your neck out for the first time,” he said. But voters welcomed the hometown candidate, who handily won a three-way race.
In recent years, Johnson’s peers on the three-member board have elected him chair.
Johnson has a full schedule of municipal meetings. He chairs the Affordable Housing Working Group and sits on the Comprehensive Plan Task Force. He serves as the Select Board’s liaison to the Fire and Rescue Planning Committee, Harbor and Waterfront Committee, and Marine Resources Committee.
Johnson comes from a fishing family and spends a lot of time on the water, which makes him a natural fit for the marine-focused committees. To keep up with fire and rescue, he has weekly conversations with the chiefs of the town’s three independent departments.
The town employs a full-time fire administrator, three regular part-time firefighters, and a number of per diem firefighters. The town strives to have two firefighters on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays to supplement the independent departments’ volunteer corps.
As the independent departments struggle to recruit and retain volunteers, the town’s commitment may grow.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to have a transition here in town with the fire departments,” Johnson said, but many questions remain. “Are we going to support them more financially?” Johnson said. “Are we going to need more per diem firefighters?”
Johnson plans to resume discussions of the departments’ needs with the Fire and Rescue Planning Committee this spring. One goal is to help the Cundy’s Harbor Volunteer Fire Department build a new station.
The process of updating Harpswell’s 18-year-old comprehensive plan is “chugging along,” Johnson said. He wants the new plan to have the support of the community and the voters, who will decide whether to approve it.
“You have to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard,” he said.
Johnson said he is running again because he enjoys the work. “I’m here about every day,” he said during an interview at the Town Office.
Johnson lives at Doughty Point, Great Island, with his wife of 41 years. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.
The couple spends summers on their 36-foot trawler, Screech, between Orr’s and Bailey islands. A previous owner named the boat for a Newfoundland rum. When not at work for the town, Johnson likes to travel and work on his house and boat.