AUGUSTA, Maine — Despite seeing their majority shrink by 10 seats after last week’s election, Maine House Democrats on Wednesday re-elected the two returning members of the past session’s leadership team to key posts for the next two years.
Rep. Mark Eves of North Berwick won two more years as House speaker, and former assistant majority leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan was chosen for majority leader. McCabe succeeds Seth Berry, who left the Legislature after serving four consecutive terms representing his district, the maximum allowed under Maine’s term-limits law.
Rep. Sara Gideon of Freeport was tapped as assistant House majority leader. Recently elected to her second term, Gideon is a newcomer to legislative leadership.
In the Senate, Democrats returned former Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland to the group’s top post of Senate minority leader and elected Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick as assistant minority leader.
McCabe turned back a challenge from Rep. Barry Hobbins of Saco, a legislative veteran who was Senate minority leader in the 125th Legislature. Gideon defeated Rep. Lori Fowle of Vassalboro in a contest between two second-term incumbents.
With Gov. Paul LePage handily winning re-election and Republicans seizing control of the Maine Senate, the Democrats’ House leaders will encounter great pressure during the next two years. All three members of the party’s new leadership team addressed that fact during speeches to their peers Wednesday.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, a veteran lawmaker from Lewiston, nominated Eves.
“Mark stands out for his sincerity, his beliefs and commitment to the people of Maine, as well as his ability to listen,” Rotundo said. “He understands how to compromise and work across the aisle, even during the toughest negotiations.”
Eves congratulated his fellow Democrats for maintaining a majority in the House in what he called “one of the most difficult elections in history for our party.” He urged Democrats to seek common ground with Republicans, which turned out to be the theme of Wednesday’s leadership elections.
“With Election Day behind us, now is the time to govern,” Eves said. “We are honored that the people of our state have put their faith behind us. Now we must come together with Gov. LePage and our Republican allies to address the challenges we face as a state.”
McCabe said “Maine people are tired of gridlock” and partisan political gamesmanship.
“My hope would be to develop a culture in the Democratic caucus that seeks the input of all members, welcomes reasoned dissent and respects differences of opinion,” McCabe said. “I also am committed to working with our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate and I’m willing to work with Gov. LePage. It is essential for all of us elected leaders to move beyond the party labels and work together to build a better future for the people of this state.”
Hobbins said what many pundits and political experts have surmised about last week’s election: Democrats campaigned too hard against LePage and not enough on their own ideals.
“The Maine people don’t want us to govern by press release,” Hobbins said. “They don’t want daily attacks by the governor and daily counterattacks on us by the governor. … There is one thing I will not do: I will not disrespect this governor or ridicule him or mock him or lampoon him. It serves no purpose. In fact, it probably causes him to dig in his heels even more.”
In her speech, Fowle said that in addition to pushing Democrats’ policy agenda, the party needs to start focusing on the 2016 elections.
“There is no reason we cannot recover, and it is imperative that we must,” Fowle said. “There is too much at stake, and too many people are depending on us to do so.”
Gideon said Democrats need to demonstrate they can achieve results, even with an opposing Senate and governor.
“It’s time to show the people of Maine that the Democrats are about action, that we will deliver results while holding onto our values,” Gideon said. “We only achieve that better place with organization and very specific planning. It takes a longer term vision and the fortitude and willingness to get there incrementally.”
House Democrats also unanimously chose Robert Hunt of Yarmouth as House clerk. Longtime clerk Millie MacFarland died in September.
Alfond said after being voted in that the coming two years will be tough for Senate Democrats, who are now in the minority.
“We’re all hurting right now,” Alfond said. “This was a tough election and a bitter election and one that we all had high hopes for. … We’ve got to balance our values with making sure that a lot of very difficult, i.e., bad legislation doesn’t move forward. With 15 votes it’s going to be very hard, but we have our colleagues down in the House.”
Hill agreed that holding the caucus together will be difficult but crucial.
“My intention is to nurture these relationships between us because there cannot be a weak link here — none whatsoever,” she said.
Last week, legislative Republicans nominated Sen. Mike Thibodeau of Winterport as Senate president, along with Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls as majority leader and Sen. Andre Cushing of Hampden as assistant majority leader. Republicans flipped the majority in the Senate during this year’s elections and lead 20-15. In the House, Republicans re-elected Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport as their minority leader and chose Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester as assistant minority leader.