ELLSWORTH, Maine — When it comes to partisan politics this fall, much has been made about the chance for Republicans to gain both chambers of Congress and how the role of three independent candidates might influence the outcome of the gubernatorial race in Maine.
But in Hancock County, there is little speculation about what appears to be a foregone conclusion: Republicans will take every seat up for re-election when it comes to county government.
That’s because none of the five races is contested. Outside the quasi-county position of district attorney, which technically is a state position that also includes Washington County in its jurisdiction, there are no Democrats running for county office in Hancock County.
Incumbent Sheriff Bill Clark is seeking re-election, as are Register of Deeds Julie Curtis, Judge of Probate James Patterson and Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown, each of them members of the GOP. Janice Pinkham Eldridge, a Republican, is running unopposed for county treasurer because incumbent Cathy Planchart, a Democrat, has decided not to seek re-election.
Planchart said Thursday she decided not to seek re-election because she works full time at Bar Harbor Bank and Trust, and she wants more time to spend with her family.
Dexter Bellows, chairman of the Hancock County Democratic Committee, said Thursday that political positions generally don’t come into play in county elections, which as a result tend not to attract the attention of would-be candidates. There are few, if any, differences between Democratic and Republican platforms that might affect how the county deeds, probate and sheriff’s departments are run, he said.
“I don’t think people view the county-level races as partisan,” he said.
Bellows also noted that two of the Republican incumbents, Clark and Patterson, have held their offices for decades. When it comes to such nonpartisan positions, he said, voters usually aren’t motivated to vote incumbents out.
“It’s kind of hard thinking about somebody new after 30 years,” Bellows said. “We look for candidates and encourage people to run, [but] we’re not going to knock ourselves out just to fill a ballot spot.”
The challenge of finding candidates to run against popular incumbents cuts both ways, he said. Bar Harbor resident Elsie Flemings, a Democrat who is completing her first term as a member of the Maine House, is running unopposed in her re-election bid to represent District 35 in Augusta.
“I think people have a hard time finding a reason to run against her,” Bellows said.
Eric White, Bellows’ Republican counterpart in Hancock County, acknowledged that some people may view the county positions as nonpartisan, but said this is not wholly true. In the district attorney’s office, for example, a liberal or conservative view could influence what kind of punishment is recommended for a convicted criminal. When it comes to budgeting and taxes, he added, there often is a difference among political parties.
White agreed that longevity in office can discourage challengers from opposing incumbents such as Clark and Patterson. And, he added, it can make it easier for the incumbent party to make sure they have a full slate of candidates.
“We made sure we had people in those [races],” White said.