Five Republicans vie for Maine speaker

Posted Nov. 08, 2010, at 12:26 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 08, 2010, at 5:56 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republicans who were just elected to the state House of Representatives are preparing to do something their party hasn’t done in more than three decades: elect a speaker.

As of Monday, a five-way race for the presiding officer to succeed Democratic Speaker Hannah Pingree of North Haven has taken shape.

Republicans elected in last Tuesday’s sweep of both legislative chambers and the governorship are virtually assured of getting their nominee for House speaker elected, thanks to their 77-73 edge over Democrats, who have controlled the chamber for 36 years.

The contestants in a runoff to be decided Friday include Reps. Andre Cushing of Hampden, Paul Davis of Sangerville, Stacey Fitts of Pittsfield, Robert Nutting of Oakland and Meredith Strang Burgess of Cumberland. Rep. Patrick Flood of Winthrop dropped out, saying he didn’t have the votes and thought he could offer more by serving another term on the Appropriations Committee.

The newly elected Senate Republican majority last Friday nominated Sen. Kevin Raye of Perry, now beginning his fourth term, as their choice for president.

The new House speaker and Senate president will be formally elected after lawmakers are sworn in Dec. 1.

Legislative leadership brings oversight of a staff of about 100 House and Senate support positions, with a $6.9 million budget this fiscal year, according to the Legislative Council office. The jobs include many partisan staffers who stand to lose their jobs as the GOP takes charge.

The change of command is evident in the State House, where desks in legislative offices are being cleaned out and occupants are getting the word out that they’re looking for jobs.

Of the Republican speaker candidates, Davis and Nutting have the most seniority. Nutting, a pharmacist, served four House terms before being forced out by term limits, then returned last session after sitting out a term.

Nutting believes his two terms on the budget-reviewing Appropriations Committee are critical to becoming a successful speaker and that his length of service gives him knowledge about the legislative process needed to lead the chamber.

Davis, a retired state police officer, also brings five terms of experience to the table. He has served four Senate terms —three of them as a leader — before serving a House term before this year’s election. Fitts has served three House terms, and Cushing has served one.

While Democrats are outnumbered, Davis said he’ll tell the GOP caucus the new minority should not be written off.

“We’ve got to realize that Democrats love the state of Maine as much as we do, and we have to work with them,” Davis said.

Other Republican leadership races to be decided Friday include majority leader between Reps. Philip Curtis of Madison and Kathleen Chase of Wells. Reps. Dale Crafts of Lisbon, Dean Cray of Palmyra and Lance Harvell are vying for assistant majority leader.

Democrats will hold their organizational caucus Nov. 18.

The Republican and Democratic leadership races continue as Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s newly appointed transition team begins the process of building an administration. The group will identify candidates for more than 100 positions within the executive branch.

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