The eight Hancock County legislative races are good to go for the Nov. 8 election. Each of the two Senate and six House seats are contested by candidates from the two major political parties except for House District 12, in the eastern corner of the county, where the incumbent Republican is being challenged by a candidate not enrolled in a party.
Whoever wins the House elections, Hancock County will again have a delegation light on experience. None of our local representatives was termed out, but in three of the six House districts, the incumbents opted not to run for reelection.
It’s different in the Senate. Most Hancock County towns are in Senate District 7 and both candidates in that race have legislative experience. In the winter of 2022 when sitting senator Louie Luchini, Democrat of Ellsworth, resigned from the Senate to take a full-time job, one current and one former legislator vied to fill the vacancy.
Both are residents of Ellsworth. Democrat Nicole Grohoski was in her second term in the House; Republican Brian Langley had previously spent a term in the House and four in the Senate (2010-18). Grohoski won the race to serve the remainder of Luchini’s term in the 130th Legislature. There will be a rematch between Grohoski and Langley for a full term in this November’s election, with Grohoski now the titular incumbent.
The big change in Senate representation in Hancock County will be that Kimberley Rosen, longtime representative and senator from Bucksport, is termed out of the Senate and for the first time in 16 years her name will not appear on a ballot. Prior to Kimberley Rosen winning the seat, it was occupied by her spouse, Richard Rosen, for eight years. Richard also served six years in the Maine House. That’s an impressive 30 years of service in elected state office from the Rosens.
On the House side, Republican Sherm Hutchins of Penobscot, in his third term, is the senior member of the House delegation. Party colleague Billy Bob Faulkingham (Winter Harbor), in his second term, is next in seniority. Democrat Lynne Williams (Bar Harbor) is completing her first term. All three are running again and none would be termed out after the next session. (Hutchins’ terms were noncontiguous.)
Call it COVID, but legislators seem less inclined to stay around until they reach term limits. It may be that it is just not that much fun to work by Zoom, to never gather in the chamber, to never be able to dash to lunch with colleagues or staff. Unscheduled time in Augusta, of which there is an abundance, is hugely valuable, whether it is spent lobbying colleagues on a bill, gaining insight from more experienced legislators or getting a quick tutorial on process from a staffer. None of that happens on Zoom.
Unlike the current election cycle where a number of legislators are leaving service voluntarily, the Hancock County class of ’94 was in it for the long haul. Five legislators elected in 1994 went four straight terms. Not only does this add to the skills legislators acquire individually, but it also strengthens relationships within a county delegation.
A county delegation is a “thing,” with a leader and meetings. Some are very active; some never really get rolling, but when legislators from a given area combine forces to represent the interests of the district and engage in group problem-solving, they strengthen their impact by working as a group beyond their political affiliations.
Partisan politics did not play much of a role in the county delegations, except to the extent the group indulged in some good-natured ribbing. Lumped together in Hancock County, legislators generally knew each other’s territory and could share helpful information on local constituents and their issues.
Though turnover in local legislative seats affects the dynamics among legislators, changes in party control make the biggest difference. Senate District 7, though marginally reconfigured in each decade’s redistricting process, went from Republican to independent in 1994 and, except for the Langley years, has been held by an independent or Democrats ever since.
Here’s the political affiliation in Hancock County over the last three decades. Deer Isle/ Stonington area? Blue. Bar Harbor and Mount Desert? Blue. Ellsworth? Four years blue (Povich), four years red (Crosthwaite, Langley), four years blue (Luchini). The Blue Hill area went back and forth between Penobscot Republicans and Blue Hill Democrats. East of the Cheese House? That’s a mixed bag, with some towns swapping out their legislators’ party with every election and others sticking mainly with Republicans.
Part of what voters must consider this fall is the extent to which they want to foster partisan divides by voting for deeply ideological candidates. Hancock County has been all over the place about that, and maybe that’s a good place to be.
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.