AUGUSTA, Maine — A smaller House Republican membership turned to new faces Wednesday to lead them through the next two years, selecting Rep. Kenneth Fredette of Newport as their new leader and Rep. Alexander Willette of Mapleton as assistant minority leader.
The Republicans’ leadership elections came more than a week after Democrats recaptured control of both legislative chambers and forced their Republican colleagues into the minority.
Fredette stressed the need for a unified Republican caucus if the party is to recover from its electoral defeats last week and position itself for success in 2014. Though Republicans were defeated at the polls, Fredette said it’s important for them to persevere and focus on expanding the Republican Party.
“It is in our darkest hour that people will come forward and ask to be candidates in the Grand Old Party,” he said. “We must be ready to embrace more women, and we must be ready to embrace more young people, and we must be ready to embrace more leadership, not less.”
Fredette said he wouldn’t let Republican accomplishments — including tax cuts and welfare program changes — from the past two years be reversed by new Democratic majorities.
“If I am your leader, I will not let these accomplishments be repealed, because these are accomplishments for the next generation,” he said.
House Republicans chose Fredette over two other contenders, including the current House speaker, Robert Nutting of Oakland. Rep. Paul Davis of Sangerville was the other contender.
Candidates for leadership and their supporters made the case for Republicans to choose leaders with proven campaign fundraising experience after the Maine Democratic Party and allied political action committees outspent Republicans in a number of key races.
Nutting, in his speech, cited his ability to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Republican campaigns from the national Republican State Leadership Committee.
Fredette, who will be serving his second term in the House, served his first term as a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. A lawyer, he’s a former member of the Maine Human Rights Commission. He’s the second Newport representative in recent years to lead House Republicans. Fredette’s predecessor in the House from Newport, Josh Tardy, also served as House minority leader.
Willette, 23, also will be serving his second term. He told his colleagues they should focus on expanding the party, especially by attracting young voters.
“My presence as a leader in our party will send a message our party is embracing and promoting the youth in our ranks,” he said.
Unofficial election results show that Democrats will hold 89 seats in the House when the new Legislature is sworn in early next month. Republicans will likely hold 58 seats and Democratic-leaning independents will hold the other four.
The outgoing House is controlled by Republicans, 77-70. Two members are unenrolled, and two seats are vacant.
House Republicans met to choose their leaders five days after their Senate colleagues — who also will now be the minority in their chamber — chose Sen. Michael Thibodeau of Winterport as Senate Republican leader and Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta as assistant Republican leader.
Thibodeau and Katz both pledged to cooperate with Gov. Paul LePage and majority Democrats during last Friday’s Senate Republican caucus.
House Republicans met one day after their Democratic colleagues nominated Rep. Mark Eves of North Berwick to become the next House speaker. The next speaker will be formally elected next month as the new Legislature takes the oath of office.
House Democrats also chose Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham and Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan as, respectively, House majority leader and assistant House majority leader.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday nominated Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland to become Senate president. They chose Sen. Seth Goodall of Richmond and Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash as Senate majority leader and assistant Senate majority leader, respectively.
In a joint statement, House Democratic leaders said they looked forward to working with their new GOP counterparts.
“While we won’t agree on every issue, I’m confident we can work together toward the common goal of improving Maine’s economy,” said Eves.