AUGUSTA, Maine — The impending resignation of Senate Democratic Leader Seth Goodall could shake up Democratic leadership in both chambers of the Legislature if Rep. Seth Berry successfully pursues his ambitions to run for Goodall’s Senate seat.
Goodall, a Richmond Democrat who represents Senate District 19, will resign from the Senate after the Legislature finishes its business later this month in order to take a presidentially appointed position as New England regional director of the Small Business Administration.
Berry, the House majority leader who lives in Bowdoinham, which is part of Goodall’s district, said Tuesday that serving in the Senate has long been a goal. He represents three towns in the Senate district and taught for years in a school system that includes Topsham, District 19’s most populous community. His position as House majority leader gives him name recognition.
“I would have to very seriously consider running for that Senate seat,” said Berry. “I need to talk with my family, talk with my constituents and also talk with my caucus.”
Berry is serving his fourth consecutive term representing House District 67. Maine’s term limits law would prevent him from running for re-election. The soon-to-be-open Senate seat would afford him an opportunity to extend his legislative service and run in the 2014 general election as an incumbent.
Berry can retain his House seat while running for the Senate, but if he wins a special election to replace Goodall, he would have to leave his post as House majority leader. That would create a scenario in which Democrats in the Legislature would have to elect majority leaders in both the House and the Senate.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said Tuesday that he’ll seek to succeed Goodall as the majority leader.
“I’m sorry he’s going to have to leave the Senate after working so hard to help us get the majority back,” said Jackson.
As for potential challengers or candidates to serve as assistant majority leader, Jackson said, “I’m sure everyone in the Democratic caucus has thought about it.”
Goodall and Jackson ran unopposed for their leadership positions in the Senate. Sen. Emily Cain of Orono has past legislative leadership experience, having served as the House minority leader during the previous Legislature, but she is serving her first term in the Senate.
Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are large enough that the party would retain control of both chambers if they lost special elections in Senate District 19 or House District 67.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage will set the date for the special election in Senate District 19, according to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Local and county party committees will choose the candidates.
Because of the time needed for the caucusing process and the printing of ballots, Dunlap said the absolute earliest date the election could take place, providing the Legislature adjourns by June 19 as planned, is Aug. 9. Dunlap said when a legislative seat has opened in the past, governors have scheduled the election on the first Tuesday in November, when general elections are held. No gathering of signatures or primary is involved in filling a seat midterm.
“It’s a fairly truncated process of what we go through with a general election,” said Dunlap. “Anytime between Aug. 9 and the November general election might be a practical time to do it but the parties may not want to wait until November.”
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Tuesday that the governor would make a decision about when the election will take place after Goodall officially submits his resignation.
“We need to have official confirmation [of Goodall’s resignation] before doing anything,” said Bennett.
Dunlap said Berry could campaign for Senate while serving in the House, but another special election would be required to fill Berry’s seat should he win.
The situation has Republicans wondering if this is an opportunity to narrow the Democrats’ 19-15-1 majority in the Senate. Before Goodall won a close race to unseat incumbent Paula Benoit in 2008, Republicans dominated elections for Senate seats in Sagadahoc County.
“I’m sure that we’re looking forward to having a Republican replace him,” said Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport.
A prominent Republican resident of Goodall’s Senate district who has shown a keen interest in elected office is Bruce Poliquin, who lost primary bids for governor and U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012, respectively. He served as state treasurer for two years until Democrats regained a majority in the Legislature last November and unseated him.
Poliquin said Tuesday morning that he had just heard of Goodall’s appointment to the SBA.
“This news is brand new,” he said. “I have not really had a chance to think about this much or discuss it with other people. The probability is high that I’ll run for public office in the future. The question is which office that will be.”
Lawmakers from both parties called Goodall a good fit for the SBA position but lamented the departure of a legislator known for being able to broker compromises.
Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who publicly opposed the other SBA nominee from Maine, Steve Minkowsky, said Goodall’s experience helping found a small landscaping business will serve him well in the SBA position. She also said Goodall’s work on the “Gang of 11” tax reform package is another indication that he is the right person for the job.
“It showed his willingness to work on both sides of the aisle which will be helpful in dealing with small businesses,” said Volk, who is also a member of the Gang of 11, which includes five Republicans, five Democrats and an independent.