BANGOR, Maine — The Democratic State Convention kicked off in Bangor Friday afternoon with an impassioned call by party leaders to unseat Republicans — particularly Gov. Paul LePage — and take back what they called “our Maine.”
The convention, which runs through Saturday at the Queen City’s new Cross Insurance Center, comes one month after the state’s Republican party convened in the same spot — but that’s where the similarities stop.
The convention offers Maine Democrats a chance to rally around their ideology without Republicans in the room.
“It’s just the nicest thing ever to be in a room full of Democrats,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who closed out Friday’s festivities after arriving straight from Washington. “The Republican Party has been the party of obstruction. … Every day I see evidence of this at a time when the American people are struggling, when the economy is lagging and there is so much work to be done; they continue to obstruct and continue to play politics.”
House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick kicked off what is sure to be a continued onslaught against LePage that will last through November with a rousing speech Friday evening.
“Maine needs a new governor, a governor who will be proud of the people and who will make us proud, one who won’t use headlines or soundbites to denigrate or divide us,” Eves said. “Maine deserves a leader that will help grow a fair and strong economy that works for everyone.”
Eves and others highlighted what has been perhaps the most contentious and longest-debated issue of the past two years: expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, which would expand health insurance to an estimated 70,000 new people. LePage and most Republicans in the Legislature pushed back five efforts by majority Democrats to enact expansion, which they argue comes with costs that would balloon out of control in a state that is already too generous with social services.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said Medicaid expansion should be the first order of business when the next Legislature convenes in January, providing Democrats hold the majority and take the governor’s office.
“I want every citizen in the city of Portland and the state of Maine to have access to health care,” Brennan said. “We’re stronger as a state, we’re stronger as cities and we’re more healthy when everyone has access to health care. This is why we have a Democratic party — to think ahead. We are the party of the future.”
Brennan also called for raising the state’s minimum wage — an initiative vetoed by LePage last year. LePage argues increasing wages in Maine would put the state at a competitive disadvantage with other states and says he would support the wage hike only if it is done at the federal level.
Brennan repeated previous statements he has made that he will propose raising the minimum wage within the city of Portland this fall.
More of the same is expected tomorrow, with presentations scheduled by several Democratic officials and candidates, culminating with Rep. Mike Michaud, the party’s nominee in the governor’s race. Also scheduled Saturday is keynote speaker R.T. Rybak, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former mayor of Minneapolis.
Republicans launched attacks on their political counterparts from afar.
“We’re actually fairly impressed that Maine Democrats managed to find a politician who’s even more obscure than Congressman Michaud to headline their convention,” new Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen said. Sorensen was formerly the communications director for Republicans in the Maine House.
“But we’re not surprised that they’d seek out the most liberal, out-of-touch politician they could find to be the messenger for their 40-year-old agenda of more government and fewer jobs,” Sorensen said in his first press release since taking his new job.
Also scheduled for Saturday are possible changes to the state party’s issues platform, including a proposed amendment that would advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana.