AUGUSTA, Maine — In a four-way race Tuesday, Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, emerged as Maine’s next likely speaker of the House of Representatives.
In a single ballot, after about an hour of speeches before the incoming Democratic House majority, Eves was selected over Rep. Mike Carey of Lewiston, Rep. Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Rep. Diane Russell of Portland.
In a forceful speech to his colleagues before the vote, Eves, a family and marriage counselor by profession, said his desire to serve in government was inspired by his work of strengthening families and relationships.
“I ran for office and now I’m running for speaker of the House because I believe so strongly in work to improve people’s lives on a much larger scale,” he said.
This is his third term in the House.
The Senate Democratic caucus, also in newly won majority status, selected Sen. Justin Alfond as its nominee for Senate president during a meeting at Sweet Chilli, a Thai restaurant in Augusta.
The House speaker’s position is a powerful one in the Legislature because that person decides committee assignments and appoints committee chairs. The speaker also is responsible for the House’s daily agenda and sets the tone and the pace of floor debates while ruling on various points of order.
Like the other candidates in the running, Eves focused much of his address on jobs and the economy, a theme that was echoed around the chamber as newly elected or re-elected Democrats got their first chances to vote.
The vote Tuesday means Eves will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the speaker of the House for the 126th legislative session. The entire House will vote again Dec. 5, but with 89 of the 151 votes in Democratic hands, it’s highly likely Eves will be the 101st speaker of the House.
“You told me you were ready for change in Augusta, ready to fight for what we as Democrats stand for and believe in; that’s jobs, health care and the economy, because they matter to our neighbors, our families and our constituents,” Eves told his colleagues before they selected him.
“Almost everything we care about as Democrats can be part of a strong plan to rebuild our economy and our middle class,” he said. “As Democrats, we understand that investing in education infrastructure and research and development will help grow our economy and strengthen our economic future.”
Eves was the only candidate for the speaker’s post who mentioned Republican Gov. Paul LePage by name.
“You told me that you were ready to take on Gov. LePage so that we could change the direction of this state,” Eves said. “You felt strongly that we need to stop the dissemination of vital programs and policies that have made this state so strong.”
Eves said the new Democratic majority likely would challenge LePage’s efforts to reduce the number of people eligible for the state’s MaineCare program, which is funded through the state and federal governments.
The LePage administration has been in an ongoing legal dispute with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over a state law change made earlier this year that would remove about 24,000 people from the state’s health care program.
Questioned about that after his selection, Eves hinted that Democrats would likely stand with the federal government and not with LePage.
“We are going to follow through with what we worked on during the last few years and we are going to make sure people have access to affordable health care,” Eves said.
Democrats also elected Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham to be the House majority leader over Rep. Mark Dion of Portland. Berry is in his fourth term in the House.
Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan was elected assistant majority leader.
“We have a lot to do,” new Senate President Alfond told his colleagues Tuesday. “Our work is just beginning. I want Maine to once again be a state where Mainers feel good about where they live, work and do business.”
Alfond also mentioned LePage.
“The door is open to Gov. LePage to join with us in coming up with reasonable and productive solutions to our state’s challenges,” Alfond said.
He said he had already called LePage’s office to set up a meeting with him, and suggested policies advanced by his caucus could be embraced by Republicans, as well.
“Mainers don’t care if there’s a ‘D’ or an ‘R,’” Alfond said. “They care about getting things done.”
Senate Democrats also elected Sen. Seth Goodall of Richmond as Senate majority leader and Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash as assistant majority leader.
Outgoing Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster took a swipe at the Democrats, noting they selected no women for leadership positions Tuesday.
“It’s interesting to me that after campaigning as the party of women, Democrats didn’t elect a single woman to their six leadership posts,” Webster said in a prepared statement.
Democrats were quick to note that Republicans did not elect a single female to the state Senate in 2012.