BELFAST, Maine — Republicans in House District 97 have a candidate running this fall against incumbent Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and Green Party challenger Paige Katharine Brown, but there’s a problem.
That Republican candidate, Ben Bryant, moved out of the district that contains the communities of Belfast, Northport and Waldo shortly after he won a contested primary against Tom Burpee of Belfast. Bryant, whom court documents indicate is in the process of getting divorced, moved from Belfast to Knox, which lies northwest of District 97. But as of now, his name will be printed on the ballot that voters will see on Election Day in November.
“At this point, Mr. Bryant has not withdrawn,” Julie Flynn, the Maine deputy secretary of state, said Monday. “There’s nothing that can be done administratively. He’s on the ballot, unless he opts to withdraw.”
She said the Maine law that defines residence for voters is the same one that applies to candidates for office, and that candidates are considered voters first. If he wins, Flynn said, it will be up to the House of Representatives to determine if he qualifies to be seated.
“The residence of a person is that place where the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return,” the law states.
A woman who identified herself as Bryant’s mother said Tuesday that her son has moved and will not be able to run. He was at work and could not be reached, she said. Waldo County Republican Party chairman Bob Hanish said Monday that he had no comment about what the party will do now that its candidate has moved out of the district.
Flynn said that other candidates are free to make the question of Bryant’s residency into a campaign issue. There is a challenge period, during which an opponent can submit a challenge to the secretary of state’s office, and then there would be an administrative hearing on the matter. However, that period is “long gone,” she said. Her office has received a few queries about this situation, or others like it, but there is not much that can be done at the state level.
Republicans who live in the district are able to write a different candidate’s name on the ballot.
Neal Harkness, chairman of the Waldo County Democrats, said Tuesday that he feels bad for Tom Burpee of Belfast, who lost the primary to Bryant. If Bryant had withdrawn earlier, it would have been possible for Waldo County Republicans to submit Burpee’s name instead to the secretary of state’s office, but that did not happen.
“It’s a bad situation,” he said. “When you sign papers in front of the clerk, there’s an affirmation on there that you intend to go through with it. I think it’s too bad. That was a contested primary, and I think Tom Burpee has a good right to be upset.”
Burpee said Wednesday that the Maine Republican Party had asked him to fill the ticket after Bryant moved out of the district, but he declined, saying that he was disappointed in the party.
“It’s not a party of ideas anymore,” Burpee said. “It’s a party of conformity.”
Efforts to reach the Maine Republican Party this week were unsuccessful.