Winter amusements are few and far between during the time of COVID-19, so the resignation of Sen. Louie Luchini of Hancock County is welcome only because it gives us something new to think about. For so many other reasons, it is not good news.
An Ellsworth native, Luchini was a highly competitive runner in high school and college (Stanford) and became a professional distance runner after that, qualifying for the Olympic trials twice. More recently he has been a cross-country coach at his alma mater, Ellsworth High School, and was named to the Maine Running Hall of Fame.
In a news interview, Luchini credits running for teaching him to “put the egos aside and do what’s best for the team.” That ethic carried over into his 13 years as a state legislator, serving four terms in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 2018. If the man has an ego, he keeps it well hidden.
He is known as hard-working and congenial, going about his legislative duties without sharing his colleagues’ compulsion to rush to the microphones. Now, midway through his second Senate term, he has announced his resignation.
Serving in the Legislature is an economic challenge. There is no way for a legislator to hold down a 9-to-5 job. Some legislators are self-employed, able to manage their own hours or have family members who will pick up some slack, but it is brutal during the session. Others are retired or somehow able to manage without full-time work.
Luchini’s decision to run for the Senate was not an easy one. He had been juggling work commitments against time in Augusta for eight years in the House. Apparently, the offer of a job in the Small Business Administration was just too good to pass up.
His midterm resignation, effective on Jan. 18, means his Hancock County constituency is orphaned in the early days of the Second Regular Session of the Legislature. It is the “short year” of the 130th Legislature, with statutory adjournment on April 20. His seat should be filled as quickly as possible.
According to Title 21-A of Maine law, the governor must proclaim a vacancy and order the parties to meet to select nominees for a special election. Then party committees must hold a caucus within 15 days to select a candidate. As of early this week, no gubernatorial proclamation had been issued. This means Hancock County is largely unrepresented in Augusta, save for those portions served by Sen. Kimberley Rosen.
There is interest in the open seat. For the Democrats, Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) did not hesitate. She is in her second House term, a lobsterman and mother of twin girls, two reasons not to mess with her. In addition to being House chair of the Marine Resources Committee, she serves on the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which reviews the effectiveness and efficiency of state programs, a unique vantage point for getting a broader view than most legislators of the many activities in which the state is engaged.
On the Republican side, former state Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth has been persuaded to run. He has served a term in the House and four in the Senate but lost the general election for the Senate in 2020, having sat out a term due to Maine’s term limits law. He is the consummate nice guy, far more interested in policy and progress than in politics. This has not endeared him to some in his party, but it may work to his advantage in a Senate district that has been inching to the left.
Rep. Lynne Williams (D-Bar Harbor) gave the race some thought but decided she was happy in her current House seat. As for non-party candidates, an independent may get on the ballot by petition, just as they may for a regular election, following the statutory requirements for candidate qualifications and petition signatures (at least 200 for state Senate).
For anyone who has never served in the Legislature, it would be quite a challenge to be dropped into the waning weeks of a session, greeted by a Legislature that often abandons all semblance of process in a mad rush to the finish.
If the final contest is McDonald versus Langley, the parties would do well to stay out of it. These are candidates quite capable of articulating their views on what Maine needs to move forward. Heated partisan rhetoric could well be a turnoff for voters who like a candidate but are sick of politics.
Once the party nominees are selected at caucuses, a ballot election will be held in the district. It “must be publicized and conducted like its regular counterpart, as nearly as practicable.” There is not a moment to waste. We need a voice.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.