Hancock County legislative races are taking shape, and despite no one on the House side being term-limited, there are some interesting contests emerging. Redistricting has scrambled the roster of who has which towns, so incumbents will have some new towns in which to campaign.
The Hancock County House delegation is mid-life, legislatively speaking. Of the eight Hancock representatives, three are in their first term (Reps. Downes, Williams and Carmichael) and five are in their second (Reps. Faulkingham, Grohoski, Hutchins, McDonald and Pebworth). Hutchins gets an asterisk for serving a previous term (1988-90).
The resignation of Senator Louie Luchini triggered a special election in June for that Senate vacancy, but it also perturbed the waters on the House side. After much consideration, Rep. Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth decided to leave her House seat and enter the Senate race against former Senator Brian Langley. That’s House vacancy number one, the Ellsworth/Trenton seat.
Rep. Genevieve McDonald of Stonington also gave the Senate serious thought but ultimately stepped aside to support Grohoski. McDonald then announced her decision to leave the legislature altogether. That left vacancy number two.
Politics abhors a vacuum. Holly Eaton of Deer Isle was first into the breach. Like McDonald, Eaton knows her way around a lobster boat, a plus for anyone seeking to represent Maine’s top fishing port. She has served on the Deer Isle school board and is active with other local organizations.
What will make that a particularly interesting race, which redistricting has changed to House District 15, is that Swan’s Island lobsterman Jason Joyce has also filed to run. He is currently a selectman in his town and comes from a family that is bedrock Swan’s Island.
Vacancy number three: Democrat Sarah Pebworth of Blue Hill will not be running for a third term so she can pursue other life goals. Fellow Democrat Nina Milliken, also of Blue Hill, has filed for the seat.
Party candidates for the June primary must file their petitions by 5 p.m. on March 15. Winter Harbor representative Billy Bob Faulkingham has filed, but as of March 4, incumbents Downes, Hutchins, Williams and Carmichael have not. Williams says she has her signatures and will file this week.
With COVID-19 restrictions fading away, kind of, mostly, the April 20 adjournment date will mark the official start of campaign season. Legislators will pour out of the State House and into the streets and coffee shops of their hometowns, eager to mix it up with voters.
Governor Janet Mills is working to tee the election up for her party (and herself), having declared a monster give-back of surplus funds that will send $750 checks to about 800,000 Mainers.
Republicans were on their back foot for a moment; as the ones perennially advocating the return of surplus funds to the citizenry, it’s a Democratic governor with a sack full of money proposing to do just that. They were suddenly in need of a fly in that ointment. They found it in proposing that, instead of the checks, there should be a permanent decrease in the Maine income tax. The trouble with that is this may well be a one-time revenue bump, much of it to do with federal funds, and an income tax reduction – or elimination – is a recurring revenue loss.
Though Mills has gotten cross-threaded with her constituents on several issues, including tribal negotiations and the CMP pipeline, it is certainly not enough to shift Democrats to vote red instead. And Hancock County is, as Miles Davis would say, kind of blue.
Of the 38 Hancock County towns (including the city of Ellsworth), 22 have more registered Republicans than Democrats but the towns where Democrats lead tend to be more populous. The towns of Trenton and Winter Harbor edge into the Republican column by a single registered voter each.
Only five Hancock County communities have more than 2,000 registered voters. Ellsworth and Bucksport are majority Republican; Bar Harbor, Blue Hill and Hancock are majority Democrat. Well, only Bar Harbor Democrats have an actual majority of registered voters. For the other four towns, figure in Green Independents and unenrolled voters, as one should, and the lead party has a plurality.
Mount Desert Island is a Democratic stronghold, even in conservative Tremont where there are 157 more Democratic registered voters than Republicans. In Tremont, Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor, there are more unenrolled voters than Republicans. Mount Desert misses sharing that statistic by a single voter.
The other islands are mostly Democratic, Swan’s Island being the Republican exception. Eight towns have more unenrolled voters than Republicans. Ten towns have more unenrolled voters than Democrats. Orland, Sullivan and Winter Harbor have more unenrolled voters than either party. Aurora and Eastbrook have none.
Many thanks to the Ellsworth American and Islander special section, “Overview,” for a glorious roll in the data.