Democrats kick off state convention

Posted May 21, 2010, at 10:46 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — Democrats from throughout the state kicked off their state convention Friday with speeches meant to fire up party faithful headed into the 2010 elections and by paying tribute to outgoing Gov. John Baldacci.

On the first night of the two-day convention, leaders of Maine’s Democratic Party sought to portray the gubernatorial, congressional and legislative elections as pivotal choices between moving Maine forward or backward.

“Democrats will win in November because our candidates are better, our ideas are better and because you’re going to work harder,” Baldacci told official party delegates and others gathered near downtown Lewiston.

Only about half of the roughly 1,000 seats on the floor of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee were filled on Friday evening. But the space is expected to be full on Saturday as attendees gather once again for the major events of the convention, including adoption of a party platform and speeches by the four Democratic candidates for governor.

On Friday evening, speakers wasted little time before going after their colleagues from across the political aisle, paying particularly close attention to the more controversial aspects of a Republican Party platform passed at the recent state GOP convention.

Democratic leaders including U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud, Chellie Pingree and her daughter, House Speaker Hannah Pingree, criticized language in the Republican platform calling for the elimination of the Department of Education, urging tougher laws on immigration and stating that health care is not a right but a service.

Seeking to portray Republican party leaders as out of touch with Maine’s more moderate voting base, speakers pointed to language in the GOP platform calling for the U.S. to reject several United Nations treaties and referring to climate change as a myth.

“I’m proud of our party for caring about our future and understanding that global warming is a substantial threat to our planet, our state and our people, our fishermen and our farmers,” said Hannah Pingree. “It is not, as another party might call it, a myth.”

“It may seem hard to believe that a Republican Party in Maine, once so moderate and thoughtful, has gone so far to the right,” added U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who is seeking her second term representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District.

Michaud, who is also seeking re-election in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, compared watching the Maine Republican convention held in Portland two weeks ago to watching the movie “Thelma and Louise.”

“The right wing has hijacked the party platform and took it so far down the road that they actually drove it off a cliff,” Michaud said.

Of course, the proposed Democratic Party platform that will be debated on Saturday contains items sure to draw fire from GOP leaders. Those items include language reaffirming a woman’s right to an abortion, calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage and supporting Maine’s controversial Dirigo Health program.

Convention-goers will also hear presentations from the four Democratic governor candidates — Steve Rowe, Pat McGowan, Rosa Scarcelli and Libby Mitchell — as well as a speech from the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

Friday’s opening ceremonies closed with a tribute to Baldacci, who has said he will retire from politics after roughly three decades when his second term ends next January.

Betsy Sweet, one of the major players in last year’s ballot box battle over gay marriage in Maine, credited Baldacci with becoming the first governor in the nation to sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage after experiencing a change of heart on the issue. While voters subsequently overturned the law, Sweet said Baldacci’s efforts on behalf of the issue will be long remembered by gay and lesbian activists and others.

“Maine has been so fortunate to have a governor with an open mind and an open heart,” Sweet said.

Habib Dagher, a University of Maine researcher who is helping lead the effort to develop offshore wind technology capable of deployment in the Gulf of Maine, predicted that the governor will become known as “Green Energy Baldacci.”

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