Former Senate President Rick Bennett in line to become new Maine GOP leader

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Posted July 19, 2013, at 11:07 a.m.
Last modified July 19, 2013, at 6:25 p.m.
Jonathan McKane
Jonathan McKane

AUGUSTA, Maine — The 77-member Republican State Committee will gather in Augusta on Saturday to choose new leaders after the recent resignations of its chairman and vice chairwoman.

At least three people have expressed interest in the positions, including former Senate President Rick Bennett of Oxford, former Rep. Jonathan McKane of Newcastle and former Maine House candidate Sam Canders of Bangor.

An email obtained Friday by the Bangor Daily News indicates that Bennett has the inside track to become the next party chairman. The email, signed by 39 members of the Republican State Committee, endorses Bennett for the position.

“Not only is Rick a successful job-creating businessman, he has also been a leader as President of the Maine Senate and a Member of the Maine House where he fought against out-of-control and wasteful government borrowing and spending,” the email states.

Based on the names of those endorsing Bennett in the email, his candidacy has support from Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.

Maine’s Republican Liberty Caucus, which embraces strong fiscal conservatism, also endorsed Bennett unanimously, according to a press release.

“Rick Bennett isn’t going to agree with us 100 percent of the time but we have found him equitable and willing to listen to our views and give them fair consideration,” said Vic Berardelli, chairman of the caucus. “At this time the Republican Party desperately needs a leader who will bring all factions together and grant each an equal seat at the table.”

The vacancies in party leadership were created in the past few weeks with the resignations of GOP Chairman Rich Cebra and Vice Chairwoman Beth O’Connor. Both resigned less than eight months after being elected to the positions.

Bennett, who holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Southern Maine and is CEO of a research firm called GMI Ratings, has been well known in Republican circles for decades. His involvement began with volunteering for GOP campaigns after graduating college, according to a website associated with his unsuccessful primary run for U.S. Senate in 2012. Before being elected to his first term in the Maine House of Representatives, Bennett served as Republican Party secretary and later as its vice chairman. Bennett was also a candidate for Congress in 1994 and later served a four-year term as one of Maine’s delegates to the Republican National Committee.

McKane, who served four terms in the Maine House, holds a degree from New England College in New Hampshire and is an electrical contractor. McKane, who was known as one of the more outspoken House Republicans during his service there, said Friday that he was recruited for the party chairmanship by several people, though he declined to identify whom. He said whatever his views are on various issues, his strength is his willingness to collaborate and ability to communicate.

“They came to me because they understand that I’m a good communicator,” said McKane. “I’m friends with all sides of the party and we are split up right now. That will be my biggest job, trying to unite the factions.”

McKane said he hopes to help reignite enthusiasm within the party that peaked in 2010 when Republicans won majorities in the House and Senate and LePage was elected governor.

“We’re just brokenhearted,” said McKane. “A year and a half after we lost those majorities, we’ve got a party with no chair or vice chair. Last May we had the biggest state convention ever with lots of young, new faces and a lot of energy. Somehow we let that opportunity slip by us, but I think that energy is still out there.”

Earlier this year, McKane became the center of controversy after Democratic legislators opposed his appointment by LePage to the Dirigo Health board. McKane subsequently withdrew from the nomination process.

Canders, who could not be reached Friday morning, ran unsuccessfully for a Bangor-area House seat in 2012. According to his campaign website — which also promotes him for the party chairmanship — Canders holds a degree in aeronautical science with a minor in meteorology. He has served for many years in the Army and Air National Guard, including four tours in Afghanistan. In addition to his continued role in the military, Canders is an airline pilot and owner of a rental management agency.

The Republican State Committee is scheduled to convene at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Augusta City Center.

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