Republicans in Maine Legislature shake up leadership after disappointing election

Nov. 11—Republicans in the Maine Legislature are shaking up their leadership after a disappointing showing on Election Day.

The 13 Republicans in the Senate chose Sen. Trey Stewart, of Presque Isle, as their minority leader in a single-ballot vote on Thursday. Stewart will replace Sen. Jeff Timberlake, a farmer and business owner from Turner.

"I am honored to be chosen by my colleagues to lead the Senate Republican Caucus. The 13 members of this team bring a diverse range of talents, expertise, passion and energy to the Senate and are eager to get to work for the people of Maine," Stewart said in a written statement. "We still have a job to do, and the Senate Republican Caucus stands ready to provide the commonsense and pro-economic solutions for Maine's people."

Republicans also elected Sen. Lisa Keim, of Dixfield, as assistant minority leader. She will replace Sen. Matthew Pouliot, of Augusta.

The five-way race to lead House Republicans was still underway Friday, with the party slated to choose new leadership on Monday.

The shake-up comes as Republicans underperformed up and down the ballot, losing the governor's race by a wide margin and failing to make any gains in the Senate. Although Republicans gained one seat in the House, Democrats expanded their majority, adding six seats. Democrats won at least 82 seats in the 151-seat House, up from 76 before the election.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, reelected their slate of leaders after successfully defending the party's nine-seat majority in one of the most vulnerable state legislative chambers in the country and despite national headwinds of being the party in control of the White House with an unpopular president and high inflation.

Sen. Troy Jackson, of Allagash, retained his post as Senate president. This will be the third term at the helm for Jackson, who survived a strong challenge for his Senate seat from Rep. Sue Bernard, of Caribou, in a race that drew over $1 million in spending — a record for a state legislative race.

"Throughout this campaign season, one thing remained constant: Maine people are worried not just about the future but about what is going to happen tomorrow — how they are going to make ends meet, provide for their families and afford to retire," Jackson said in a written statement. "And they've entrusted us to do everything we can to help. Whether it's the rising cost of energy, corporate greed or out-of-control prescription drug prices, Mainers are counting on us to do something about it."

Sens. Eloise Vitelli, of Arrowsic, and Matthea "Mattie" Daughtry, of Brunswick, were reelected as majority leader and assistant majority leader, respectively.

All eyes are now on the House of Representatives, where the parties will choose their leaders next week.

Republicans are expected to choose new leaders on Monday, a House Republican spokesman said.

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, said that as of Friday, five people were vying for the post of minority leader: Jack Ducharme, of Madison; Billy Bob Faulkingham, of Winter Harbor; Laurel Libby, of Auburn; Joshua Morris, of Turner; and Michael Lemelin, of Chelsea. Three were campaigning for assistant leader: Mark Blier, of Buxton; Amanda Collamore, of Pittsfield; and Shelly Rudnicki, of Fairfield.

Millett expects a competitive race and a weekend of intense campaigning by phone and email as Republicans look to bounce back from the disappointing election.

"We had hoped to be closer to the majority status," said Millett, a longtime Republican legislator who was reelected to his ninth term on Tuesday. "I think there's a lot of frustration that we didn't deliver as we had hoped. We realize we're going to be in the minority, and we need to have positions we can defend and work hard to succeed."

Democrats will meet Thursday to choose their leaders.

"Everyone is going to be paying close attention to the caucus and the leadership races," said Rep. Michael Brennan, of Portland. "That will determine committee assignments, committee chairs and priority issues for the caucus."

SESSION BEGINS DEC. 7

It could also set the tone for relationships with the newly reelected Gov. Janet Mills, who has been fiscally cautious and reined in progressive proposals.

As of Friday, each of the three House majority leadership positions had two candidates, said Mary Erin Casale, a spokesperson for the House Speaker's office.

Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, a Portland progressive who was a strong advocate for ambitious reforms in criminal justice and tribal sovereignty, is looking to become the first Black woman to become speaker in state history. She's running against fellow Portlander Ed Crockett, who was just elected to his third term.

Maureen Terry, of Gorham, and Rebecca Millett, of Cape Elizabeth, are vying for the position of majority leader, while Kristen Cloutier, of Lewiston, and Lori Gramlich, of Old Orchard Beach, are running for assistant majority leader.

Other candidates for either party could be nominated from the floor and candidates could be shuffled from one leadership post to another.

While Democrats could choose leaders next week, the House will formally vote for the speaker on Dec. 7, the first day of the legislative session.

Constitutional officers also will be chosen by the Legislature on Dec. 7. Those posts are currently held by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, Attorney General Aaron Frey and Treasurer Henry Beck.

Casale was not aware of any challenges for those posts.