The legislative session is going on without us. Most of Hancock County has no Senate representation following the resignation of Sen. Louie Luchini. Our open state Senate seat will not be filled until June; the session is due to adjourn in April. An explanation was proffered last week.
According to Maine’s Secretary of State, the many steps required and deadlines imposed mean it is not possible to complete the special election prior to adjournment. Since that’s the case, it is more economical to combine it with the June primary election.
Unfortunately, there is a significant complication. The recent redistricting means that Senate District 7 has changed, so local voters will be voting for Sen. Louie Luchini’s replacement from one set of towns at the same time they will be selecting candidates for a new senator to be elected in November from a second set. Stand by for further discussion closer to the June election.
In the meantime, do not doze off by the fire. On Saturday, Feb. 12, party caucuses will be convened to select candidates for Sen. Luchini’s replacement. Check in with your Hancock County party committee, be it Democrat or Republican, for details on how to register.
A party nominating caucus serves the same purpose as a primary election when it comes to replacing a departing legislator, but a nominating caucus is a very different animal from a primary. Most significantly, those running do not have to announce their intentions ahead of time. As long as they meet the basic requirements for legislative service (21 years old, a U.S. citizen for the five years prior, a resident of Maine for at least one year and of that district for at least three months), they may simply offer themselves up at the caucus and be part of the balloting.
At this time, the Republican caucus looks like a cakewalk for former senator Brian Langley. He has agreed to run and is well known and well liked in equal measure around the district. No one else has publicly thrown a hat in. The Republican caucus will be in person on Saturday morning at the Ellsworth Elks Lodge. Registration opens at 10.
For Democrats, the story is more complicated. Five names have been raised (sitting representatives Nicole Grohoski, Genevieve McDonald and Lynne Williams and non-legislators Gary Friedmann of Bar Harbor and Jo Cooper of Lamoine). Rep. Williams is the only one who publicly took her name off the table. Rumors continue to fly about the other four. Are they in or out? Will there be any late-breaking candidacies? Their caucus is also Saturday morning at 10, by Zoom. Check the party website for registration.
What’s the point in running for a position that ends in less than five months? The session will be over, and though a special session is always possible, it is highly unlikely in a pre-election summer. The focus for legislators who want to retain their current seats will be on the hustings, whatever hustings are, and leadership will be reluctant to call them from the campaign trail to come back to Augusta and perchance annoy the voters.
The appeal may be that whoever assumes the four-month seat will have a leg up come November, should they choose to run for a full term. Even at that, the candidates who are not current legislators will get precious little publicity once the June election is over because there is precious little to do. For Reps. Grohoski and McDonald, that is not as big a factor, as they already have name recognition.
Hancock County’s Senate District 7 seat is just one of the vacancies that occurred in the 130th Legislature. Rep. Donna Doore (D-Augusta) passed away in January, as did Rep. John Tuttle (D-Sanford), a fixture in Augusta for decades. Rep. Chris Johansen (R-Monticello) resigned following the death of his spouse in November.
Rep. Kyle Bailey (D-Gorham) resigned a year into his first term to take on an “exciting professional opportunity.” Democrat James Doyle won a three-way race to replace him. Republican Justin Fecteau also cited a professional opportunity, one that would require him to move out of his district, when he resigned his Augusta seat in July. Democrat Raegan LaRochelle turned that seat blue, defeating Republican James Orr in November.
The margins in both chambers are such that it would take more than one seat to shift the balance of power. Democrats control the Senate by a solid 22-13. The House has a Democratic majority of 80-65, but that lead shrank in the 2020 election. There are three House independents.
The entire Legislature will be up for election come November. Serving in elected office has its challenges but oh, what an experience. Campaign season will soon begin. Now is the time to think about it.
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.