LEWISTON — Maine Democrats recaptured majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives in Tuesday’s election, and Republican Gov. Paul LePage said he stood ready to work with anyone who wants to put Maine people first.
“Here in Maine, we must come together to find solutions to our fiscal challenges that will lead to the recovery of our economy and improve prosperity for hardworking families and businesses,” LePage said in a written statement.
The goals of his administration would not change, LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett said Wednesday.
She said the administration would continue its focus on two priorities in the upcoming legislative session set to start next month: implementing public education reform that puts students first and lowering the state’s high energy costs.
“The priorities stay the same; the strategy may change,” Bennett said. “But again, the governor has a proven track record of working with Democrats as the mayor of the city of Waterville and it’s something he is familiar with.”
LePage still expects action from the Legislature, Bennett said.
“We need not just talk,” she said. “We need action at this point. That’s what the governor is interested in, seeing those plans and finding a way to move Maine forward.”
She said all of the economic priorities for the administration, including increasing employment, wages and job security for Mainers, were still high on the governor’s agenda.
High on the list of things for the next Legislature to tackle will be a state budget shortfall estimated at about $750 million. State law requires a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year in June.
Democrats have been critical of state income tax cuts that were promoted by LePage and enacted by the outgoing Republican majority. They’ve argued that part of the state’s budget shortfall is the result of those tax breaks that were not paid for.
They have also challenged LePage and the Republican majority’s changing of eligibility standards that push more people off the state and federally funded MaineCare health insurance program. The administration is in a legal dispute with the federal government over whether the state can reduce the program, which is part of the federal Medicaid program.
LePage and the Republicans have said the state’s welfare and health care benefit programs are more generous than most states and Maine cannot afford such expansive programs if it hopes to maintain a quality safety net for “truly vulnerable” populations, including the elderly and the disabled.
Bennett would not speculate on how LePage would work with leaders in the new Democratic majority, but emphasized he was committed to doing the best by Maine people.
“What he says is true,” Bennett said. “He does stand ready to work with anyone and everyone who is willing to put Mainers first.”
Maine political observer and University of Maine at Farmington political science professor Jim Melcher said some of LePage’s message was expected.
He also said that even with a Republican majority at his side, LePage often seemed disastisfied with the pace of change in the Legislature and often seemed impatient.
Melcher said he had heard some pundits suggest the new Democratic majority was a referendum on LePage’s first two years in office, but Melcher would partially disagree with that analysis.
“To some extent I think that’s true, but races in Maine for the Legislature tend to be a lot more about local personalities and whether you like that person, especially for the House,” Melcher said.
He said Democrats tried to tie specific Republican incumbents in the state Senate to LePage. Ads attacking certain Republican senators for being a “rubber stamp” for LePage may have had some effect.
“If there was an anti-LePage vote, you could say that more readily about the Senate,” Melcher said.
As it stood Wednesday, it appeared Democrats could win as many as 21 of the the 35 state Senate seats.
Outgoing Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Cain of Orono, who won her bid for state Senate District 30 on Tuesday, said Democrats would work to restore balance in Augusta.
“For two years we’ve seen Gov. LePage and his Republican allies push a partisan agenda that left our economy and the middle class behind,” Cain said in a written statement issued by party leadership. “Democrats are ready to get to work immediately on reasonable solutions that will strengthen the middle class, rebuild our economy and get Maine people back to work. (Tuesday’s) victory does not mean that our work is done. It means it’s just beginning.”