HOULTON, Maine — The state’s first Maliseet legislator said Friday that he will step down from that position at the end of the term in order to run as an independent this fall for the House District 22 seat.
The area includes the communities of Glenburn, Kenduskeag, Levant and part of Corinth.
David Slagger, who lives in Kenduskeag, said the move is necessary in order to better represent the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and Native Americans across the state.
“When I came into the position, I knew the rules ahead of time,” he said. “But it turned out to be a lot more frustrating than I thought it would be, and I have to make a change.”
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians was formally recognized as a tribe by the U.S. government in 1980, and in 2010 it was authorized to send a representative to the Legislature. Slagger was sworn in four months ago during a ceremony in the governor’s cabinet room at the Maine State House. He joined representatives of Maine’s two largest tribes, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation, which have had member lawmakers at the State House for years.
Slagger was chosen after three candidates were interviewed by the Maliseet Tribal Council, according to tribal Chief Brenda Commander.
Tribal representatives can propose legislation with a co-sponsor and serve on committees, but they cannot vote on legislation. Since tribal members live throughout the state, preventing tribal representatives from voting is intended to avoid dual representation.
Slagger said he tried to work with those restrictions, but he was “frustrated and humiliated” after an incident during a Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee meeting. Slagger sits on the panel.
“There was a tie vote pertaining to a bill, and I was the deciding vote,” he explained. “I voted against the bill and the chair of the committee announced that my vote would be recorded but it didn’t count. It was quite humiliating. I was there just to look good, I guess. I can look like a Native American anywhere in Maine, but my goal is to make a difference. That is how I reached this decision.”
Slagger will conduct a privately funded campaign for House District 22, currently held by Republican Rep. Stacey Guerin of Glenburn who is running for re-election. Jassen Bailey of Levant, a Democrat, also is running, according to information from the Maine Secretary of State’s website.
Slagger said he informed the Maliseets of his decision and explained the reasoning behind it.
“I think they understand that I don’t just want to sit there and observe,” he said. “My vote is recorded in committee, but if it doesn’t make a difference, what is the point? What matters is the vote. I also could only speak on tribal-related matters, so on issues such as insurance, roads and bridges, and taxes, I could not provide input. How many representatives would go to Augusta if their vote didn’t count?”
Slagger said he already has a great deal of support and will spend the next few months introducing himself to area residents.
“I am going to work hard on this,” said Slagger. “I want to do more than just sit there.”