AUGUSTA, Maine — Alex Cornell du Houx, the state lawmaker from Brunswick who was the subject of a temporary protection from abuse order earlier this spring, told Democratic leaders more than a month ago that he planned to abandon his re-election bid following last week’s primary.
But he took his party by surprise Monday, telling a reporter he hadn’t yet made up his mind about withdrawing and later publicly accusing the party of not supporting one of its own. On Tuesday, Cornell du Houx left for a two-week, State Department-connected trip to Australia.
Cornell du Houx’s plans to withdraw from his race came last month after Democratic Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast filed a protection from abuse order against him in Belfast District Court. Herbig claimed that Cornell du Houx had stalked, harassed and threatened her after their relationship ended.
Herbig later withdrew the protection order after she and Cornell du Houx reached a private agreement, and Maine State Police ended their investigation into the matter without filing charges or interviewing du Houx.
Still, Cornell du Houx told the House Democratic leader, Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, and Maine Democratic Party officials that he intended to withdraw from his race for re-election following last Tuesday’s primary, according to spokeswomen for the House Democratic office and the Maine Democratic Party.
“Rep. Cain has been urging him privately to withdraw, supporting his own plan that he came to her with,” said Jodi Quintero of the House Democratic office. “He, himself, had said he was going to look at other options in his career.”
Democratic Party officials said Tuesday they’ve been operating under the assumption that Cornell du Houx would withdraw and that they would recruit a Democrat to replace him on the House District 66 ballot.
“If he’s truly not going to run, he needs to actively get out there [with his intentions], so we can get a candidate,” said Lizzy Reinholt, a Democratic Party spokeswoman.
House Democratic officials and officials at the Maine Democratic Party spoke with Cornell du Houx late Monday afternoon and scheduled an interview for him with a Portland Press Herald reporter, under the assumption that Cornell du Houx would tell the reporter, Steve Mistler, of his plans to drop his re-election bid.
Under Maine election law, a candidate can withdraw after winning a primary and the local party committee in the candidate’s district is able to select a replacement party candidate. Cornell du Houx has until July 9 to withdraw. The Brunswick Democratic Committee would then have until July 23 to name a replacement candidate.
On Monday afternoon, “We were fully under the impression that Alex intended to withdraw,” Quintero said.
But Cornell du Houx told the reporter that he hadn’t yet made up his mind. The same article quoted Ben Grant, the Maine Democratic Party chairman, urging Cornell du Houx to step aside, saying that Cornell du Houx’s dispute with Herbig could hurt Democrats in November.
“What we do know are the political facts,” Grant said, “and we do know what a distraction is when it comes to an electoral season.”
Those remarks from Grant sparked an angry press release from Cornell du Houx early Tuesday morning that accused the party of not standing by one of its candidates, highlighted his military background and professional work, and mentioned his legislative accomplishments.
“Ben’s desire for me to withdraw from my re-election bid is a complete surprise to me,” Cornell du Houx said in his release. “It is so unprofessional of him to make a public statement without ever talking directly to me about this incident.”
Later Tuesday morning, an aide to Cornell du Houx sent reporters a press release about Cornell du Houx’s trip to Australia, which said that he planned to lead a delegation of veterans in association with the U.S. State Department and the American Council of Young Political Leaders.
Cornell du Houx couldn’t be reached for comment by phone or email Tuesday morning. His aide also didn’t respond to an email from the Bangor Daily News.
Grant, in a statement released Tuesday, reiterated his desire for Cornell du Houx to step aside.
“For many weeks, Alex has consistently told people within the Democratic Party that he doesn’t plan to seek re-election and we’ve been operating under that assumption,” the statement said. “It’s the best thing for him personally and for the people of District 66.
“The party also needs to be able to move on to the job of finding a candidate to replace Alex, and there is no reason for any further delay that might slow down that process.”
The Brunswick Democratic Town Committee met Tuesday night with Grant to discuss the next steps and plans to coordinate electoral efforts with the Maine Democratic Party. Since the meeting was not public, a reporter was asked not to sit in.
Andy Cashman, the committee’s chairman, said the committee has been making contingency plans for Cornell du Houx’s withdrawal from the race since the possibility of his leaving the contest arose.
“We’re waiting to see what happens and prepare for whatever happens by July 9,” Cashman said before the committee’s meeting at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick.
Republican John Bouchard and Green Independent David Frans are Cornell du Houx’s opponents in the House race.