The primary election is over but the November state Senate race in District 7 has already drawn attention thanks to the “prequel,” a special election to complete the term of former state Sen. Louie Luchini. The same party candidates who ran in the special election ran unopposed in the primaries for November’s general election.
In the special election, Democratic Rep. Nicole Grohoski won a decisive victory over Republican former state Rep. and Sen. Brian Langley with about 64 percent of the vote. Ben Meiklejohn ran as a Green Independent, finishing far behind with about 1 percent of the vote, only breaking into double digits in one community.
Grohoski and Langley are both from Ellsworth. Both are well liked, with strong reputations based on their records of service. The race might have been a toss-up, though the district’s political demographics favored Grohoski, but she outperformed Democratic Party percentages in many towns.
She won their hometown of Ellsworth comfortably, despite it being the district’s only town of any size with a Republican majority. She won about 10 towns with over 70 percent of the vote. (Data available for this analysis were not final.) Langley won most of the other towns with Republican majorities but smaller populations.
Having gone without representation in the state Senate since February, local voters will have to wait a little longer. The date for Grohoski’s swearing in for the current Legislature keeps shifting. Maybe July? But at this point it does not matter much. The Legislature has adjourned, unlikely to return before a new one is elected in November. Grohoski will be a candidate for a seat, as will Langley.
Legislators are often either process-driven or issue-driven. Grohoski tends to be the former. She has an interest and an expertise in environmental and energy issues but gives due diligence to any subject she takes on. She is a thorough researcher and carefully follows the progress of bills important to her constituents. Words often used to describe her include “intelligent,” “hard-working” and “thoughtful.” She is a lively speaker, earnest but with a ready smile.
Much of Grohoski’s four years of service happened during the time of COVID. She is looking forward to more in-person time ahead, but post-COVID she sees a value in a hybrid system that continues to allow people to testify remotely at hearings, helpful for those who live hours from Augusta or have work or child-care issues to manage.
She reminds voters that despite the media giving most play to the juiciest arguments, a substantial percentage of bills pass unanimously, indicating more agreement in Augusta than a casual observer might think. As for the barrage of postcards arriving at voters’ homes in the last two months, many are put out by the party or other supporters. A Clean Election candidate, she is not even permitted to see them prior to mailing. If it is a message authorized by the candidate herself, it will say so.
As she thinks about her impending Senate service in a district with four and a half times as many constituents as her House district, she welcomes “more voices and more diversity” but wonders about what level of connection she will be able to maintain. Her goal has always been to respond to every constituent contact. That will be harder now, but she is determined to try. If past performance is an indication, she is likely to succeed.
Langley lost the special election but is ready to run against Grohoski again for a full Senate term in November. Langley is issue-driven. He will meet his constituent responsibilities but for Langley, his passion is education.
When in office, he was a prime mover behind the Bridge Academy, giving students a way to start college courses at reduced cost while still in high school, making a college degree more of a reality for students. He is now the academy’s executive director. He is constantly searching for innovative programs that help students identify their abilities and preferences as they consider their path to adulthood.
He has connected with educators from around the country, exploring innovative programs and their impact on students. He is bent on determining how well programs serve students and has amassed an impressive inventory of information about successful programs. He is working with two schools in Washington County to develop “streamlined pathways” for students to reach life goals and facilitate more of the programs that work.
Langley serves on a variety of local and state committees, from lobster marketing to workforce to economic development. Of his possible future in the Senate, he describes it as one way to accomplish his ambition for better education in Maine. Says Langley: “One way or another this will happen. It’s just a matter of when and how.”
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.