By Glenn Adams
AUGUSTA, Maine — Sen. Elizabeth Mitchell was nominated Monday by newly elected Democratic senators to become Senate president, which means she is all but assured of becoming the first woman to serve as presiding officer in both chambers of the Maine Legislature.
The Democratic majority in the Senate elected its leadership team during an early evening caucus, but the voting was little more than a formality because the favored candidates were known in advance and none of the posts was contested.
Mitchell, of Vassalboro, has served nine terms in the House of Representatives, and in 1996 was elected speaker, making her the first woman to serve in that post. While other women have served since then as Senate president, including Freeport Democrat Beth Edmonds, who is vacating the rostrum because of term limits, no woman has served as both Senate president and House speaker in Maine.
Acknowledging the difficult financial challenges facing state government, Mitchell said she was “both humbled and terrified” by her selection. Mitchell said she does not see shrinking government as the single solution to meeting huge shortfalls, saying it is also important to invest in the future.
Mitchell’s nomination assures her election as president by the full Senate next month because the Democrats have won control of the chamber. In last week’s elections, the Democrats increased their majority from 18 to 20 seats, while the Republicans dropped from 17 to 15.
Sen. Philip Bartlett of Gorham won the caucus election for majority leader, and Sen. Lisa Marrache of Waterville was elected assistant floor leader, or whip.
Bartlett, a lawyer, will begin his third Senate term when legislators are sworn in Dec. 3. Marrache, a physician, has served three House terms and is about to begin her second term as senator.
The loss of Republican seats played a role in the minority party’s decision earlier Monday to replace its Senate leadership team.
The GOP caucus elected Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry as minority leader and Sen. Jonathan Courtney of Springvale as assistant minority leader. They replace Sens. Carol Weston of Montville and Richard Rosen of Bucksport.
Senators released no vote count after their closed meeting outside of the Capitol Complex in Augusta.
“We decided as a caucus that moving forward, this was the route to go,” said Raye. “Needless to say, we are disappointed we did not make gains this year, but we did face a very difficult environment for Republicans in 2008.”
Rosen, the former assistant GOP leader, acknowledged that the loss of Republican seats was an element in the vote, adding, “I think there was a desire for a change.”
Courtney said Republicans were indebted to Weston and Rosen for their hard work.
“They’re still part of the family,” he said.
House Democrats and Republicans plan caucuses later this week.