AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Republican Party State Committee on Saturday elected Rick Bennett, former president of the Maine Senate, as the new chairman of the Maine Republican Party.
The 77-member committee chose former state representative Susan Morissette, the current chairwoman of the Kennebec County Republicans, as vice chairwoman.
Bennett said Saturday that Gov. Paul LePage personally asked him to run for the leadership position. He said he then spoke to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and other state party leaders before deciding to run.
“I feel like I’ve been called upon at this moment in the development of our party, literally by the governor and by lots of people across the spectrum — Sen. Collins, House and Senate Republican leadership — to take on this role and help unify our party and do the things necessary to be competitive for the votes of Maine people in 2014.
“There have been a lot of new energies that have come into the Republican party in the last few years, some from people inspired by Gov. LePage, some inspired by certain presidential candidates like Ron Paul, and some from other places [like] the Tea Party movement supplementing the traditional activities,” he continued. “That has come with its difficulties, as evidenced at our last convention … but I think now we have a sense that we all need to pull on the same oar and it’s time to work together constructively. I feel the pieces are there to do that.”
In a release Saturday, Bennett said, “The Maine Republican Party is ready to make the case to the people of Maine that the liberal leadership and policies of Senate President Justin Alfond and Speaker of the House Mark Eves are bad for the Maine people, bad for Maine’s small businesses, bad for Maine’s economy, and bad for the generations of Mainers who will inherit our decisions. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work electing Republicans who will grow Maine’s economy, protect Maine’s small businesses, control the size and scope of government and give the next generation of Mainers a stronger, more prosperous Maine than we inherited.”
Bennett was the expected to win Saturday’s election, according to an email signed by 39 members of the Republican State Committee that endorsed him for the position.
The Maine Republican Liberty Caucus also endorsed Bennett.
“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. 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,” Maine RLC state chairman Vic Berardelli said in a release.
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 is CEO of the research firm GMI Ratings. 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. He 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.
Former Rep. Jonathan McKane of Newcastle and Sam Canders, who ran unsuccessfully for a Bangor-area House seat in 2012, were also candidates to lead the state party.
Also on Saturday the Maine Republican Party selected Bangor as the site of its 2014 state convention, Bennett said.
BDN staff reporter Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.