Paul Akers, a Bellingham businessman and entrepreneur, is running for U.S. Senate in his first campaign for political office.
BELLINGHAM — Imagine you’ve invented a simple, useful product: A small round patch woodworkers could use to cover the heads of screws on finished cabinets.
Could you grow that into a company with hundreds of products and $10 million to $12 million in annual sales?
And once you did, would you parlay that into a run for the U.S. Senate, pumping more than $400,000 of your own money into the longshot cause?
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Meet Paul Akers, successful Bellingham businessman, inventor and entrepreneur aiming high in his first run for political office. He’s conservative, energetic and ebullient — part Ronald Reagan, part Ron Popeil.
“I’m a proven leader,” said Akers, 50, a Republican. “I know how to create jobs and eliminate waste. I’ve done it.” He says government needs to live within its means, like he and his company do.
The hefty total Akers has loaned to his campaign — roughly seven times the amount he has received in contributions — far exceeds what anyone else in the 15-person field has put into their own race. Akers characterizes that as a plus: “I’m not bought and paid for by anyone.”
His financial success comes from his company, FastCap, now selling products worldwide.
FastCap is surviving the economic downturn, Akers said, without laying off any of its 83 workers, by using “lean thinking” — cutting expenses and curtailing a $5 million expansion.
Amid the maze of warehouse and light-industrial buildings sprawled across Bellingham’s northeast corner, FastCap’s headquarters aren’t easy to find. But locating the company may be easier than identifying the path that would put Akers into the Senate.
Standing in his way in the Aug. 17 primary election are not just incumbent Democrat Patty Murray but Dino Rossi, favorite of the Republican establishment, and Clint Didier, the Pasco farmer whose fire-and-brimstone rhetoric has been charming tea-party enthusiasts, including Sarah Palin.
Even so, Akers is optimistic. “I’m gathering momentum from thoughtful people, and that’s going to win this election ultimately,” he predicted.
Earlier this month, on his home turf, Akers got a slightly higher approval than Didier in a straw poll at a tea-party event in Bellingham — the first time that’s happened. Both were rated higher than Rossi, who did not attend.
“I generally don’t perform well in the straw polls because Clint is masterful at pushing people’s buttons and getting them emotionally engaged. That’s not my M.O. as a leader,” Akers said. “But I believe people can identify the authentic article when they see it.”
He’s miffed that Rossi is skipping tea-party events, curtailing the public’s ability to judge the candidates side by side.
But for Rossi, the strategy may be working. Bellingham tea-party organizer Lynn Carpenter admires Akers, but said she’s supporting Rossi because “My main issue is I want someone who can beat Patty Murray.”
As proof that he can appeal across party lines, Akers points to supporters such as MaryNell Holden, a longtime Democratic voter in Mason County who’s volunteering on his campaign.
Holden said a TV commercial attracted her to Akers’ pitch for lean government and his can-do attitude. “He’s a genuine, caring, service-oriented human being,” she said. “His joy and his optimism are contagious.”
Akers’ views follow a conservative agenda: He opposes the recently passed federal health-care law and supports Arizona’s tough immigration law. He backs gun-owners’ rights, favors term limits, and opposes affirmative action and same-sex marriage.
He’s against federal bailouts, because he views failure as an effective teacher. As a Boy Scout, he once forgot his sleeping bag on an overnight trip. He slept cold — but never forgot his sleeping bag again.
If Akers’ name seems familiar, it may be because he began running radio ads in March — long before Rossi entered the race and when there was no well-known Republican running. And he’s logged more than 150 campaign flights in his own plane since February, all over the state.
Akers is a Southern California native whose grandparents emigrated from Greece — legally, he underlines in his campaign brochure.
He earned a degree in Christian education from evangelical Biola University, near Los Angeles, where he met fellow student Leanne Kolbe of Bellingham. The two were married in 1983.
As a newlywed and public-school teacher, Akers asked his late father to help the couple buy a first house, and he now regards his dad’s refusal as an important lesson to buy only what he could afford.
For $49,000, the Akers purchased a boarded-up, two-bedroom Los Angeles area “former drug house” that had been confiscated from the former owners. They saved until they could afford something better.
Summertime visits to Leanne’s parents in Bellingham gave Akers glimpses of “the most beautiful place in the world,” and the couple moved north in 1993, where they’ve raised a 17-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son.
Akers, who has worked as a developer and contractor, built the family home outside Bellingham, along with much of the furniture in it.
The invention that changed his life came in 1997, while he was working as a cabinet maker in his garage. Finishing a set of custom-made cabinets, he was frustrated trying to cover the screw heads with the little plugs then available, hard to use and prone to popping out.
Why doesn’t someone invent a peel-and-stick version, he wondered, and as he experimented with spray-on adhesive and a round punch, FastCap was born. These days, FastCap is a “product development company,” primarily selling products other inventors bring to Akers for production and marketing know-how.
Most items are used by woodworkers and contractors, but the company is branching out. Videos on the FastCap website show Akers demonstrating products as varied as super-flexible work gloves, a rake-and-hoe tool for gardeners, and a small wooden square called the “Butt Burner,” which holds a handy pack of matches on a bathroom wall.
One indication of his high-energy style is that Akers doesn’t have a chair in either his FastCap office or his Senate campaign office.
He labels his plan for reining in government, “10 — 3 — Lean.” It would start with 10 percent cuts in taxes and spending for each of three years, along with lean thinking to encourage creativity, rather than entrenchment, at all levels of government.
“The complete economic malaise that both sides — Democrats and Republicans — have put this country in is frightening,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org