State of Maine: Strong candidates will make special Senate election a no-lose situation for voters 



The deed is done. We now have candidates for the state Senate District 7 special election on June 14. The nominating process was a full-on demonstration of the quirks and foibles of Maine electoral politics. 

To be a voter at the Democratic caucus, you must be a resident of a town in the subject district and that town must have held a caucus the previous year. You must be a registered Democrat and – to some confusion – a member of the Hancock County Democratic Committee, meaning right town, right party but not a committee member? No vote for you. 

Facing some 120 online caucus registrants, mostly of the senior persuasion, a sympathetic but determined cadre of party officials rebuffed pleas for reconsideration of voting status, begging members not to call as they attempted to get the caucus underway. Cries of “You’re on mute” filled the air. 

There were two nominees, down from the five who had considered running. To their credit, the candidates themselves did the job of whittling down the numbers in an amicable way. They weighed their own chances and challenges, and each other’s, and agreed that Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) would be the one to go for it. Potential candidates Genevieve McDonald and Gary Friedmann stepped aside and gave their full support to Grohoski. 

In her second term serving Ellsworth and Trenton in the Maine House of Representatives, Grohoski won the nomination in a landslide. Jo Cooper, her big-hearted, locally rooted opponent, was clearly handicapped by the sense of which candidate was most likely to succeed against presumed Republican nominee Brian Langley. Cooper has much to offer, but this wasn’t her time. 

Rep. Grohoski’s gaze is toward environmental issues, climate change and outdoor recreation. She is also one of the most knowledgeable legislators on utilities and broadband, a resource for her colleagues on committee and in caucus.  

The Republican caucus was an in-person affair with a comparable number of participants. Registration as a Republican and residence in a district town were required, but committee membership, errr, maybe? Or not? Participants seemed uncertain. 

Republicans also considered two candidates and, as predicted, nominated Brian Langley, who served a term in the House and four in the Senate (2010-18) and who has led a life committed to education and cooking. He taught culinary arts for decades at Hancock County Technical Center and runs his own restaurant on the Union River. He leads the Bridge Academy, a program he helped design to give high school students the opportunity to take college courses at much-reduced tuition costs, giving them a head start on a college education when they graduated high school. 

The other Republican contender, John Linnehan, is a perpetual candidate who has run for a variety of offices, including state Senate and Ellsworth City Council, with a resounding lack of success. He fared no better at the caucus. 

The candidate successful in the June special election is likely to run for a full term next November. Brian Langley put it this way: “I kind of have to.” Meaning, said he, that for all the work it will take to compete in the special election, it would make little sense to serve only the few months until the November 2022 election, a period when there is no anticipated session time in Augusta. 

In fact, on June 14, the same day as this special election, candidates must compete in a primary if they intend to run in November. However, the 2021 redistricting means the make-up of the district in which they are running for the special election is different from the district in which they will run for the November general election. Oy. 

In many ways, Grohoski and Langley are cut from the same cloth. Their policy preferences may vary but each has a deep respect for the work of legislating, a commitment to service and an obsession with researching the issues. Both are approachable, open to varying points of view and scrupulous about follow-up. 

When it comes to campaigning, it is not their nature, either one of them, to engage in a take-no-prisoners campaign. The parties are another story, but any attempt to drag their candidates into a slugfest will be at their peril. These are two candidates who, left to their own devices, would run civil, information-based campaigns. Leave them to it. Let the voters make a choice based on ideology and performance. 

As the Democrats concluded their caucus last Saturday, an obviously relieved official said: “What matters now is we keep this Senate seat blue!” Sorry, but that is distinctly not what matters now. Not to many voters, anyway. What matters now is that we elect a candidate who will work in the best interest of our district without undue partisanship. We are fortunate to have two good options. 

 

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. 

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

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.

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