AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican leadership of the Legislature will remain unchanged for the next two years, following caucus elections at the State House on Thursday.
Sen. Mike Thibodeau of Winterport will return as Maine Senate president after his colleagues in the newly seated body elected him unanimously. With the vote, Thibodeau became the first Republican to hold the post for two consecutive terms since 1980.
“We are in for some interesting times, no doubt,” Thibodeau said in his acceptance speech. “As a group we will make the decisions and make our way through it.”
Thibodeau in the past few years has often found himself at odds with some of the most conservative Republicans in Augusta — most notably Gov. Paul LePage — but urged his colleagues to work with Democrats and make sure they listen to non-Republicans in their districts.
“There are big differences between Republicans and Democrats on policy,” Thibodeau said. “Let’s make sure that everything we do in this building is based not on personal gain or partisan politics but on making absolutely sure that the 1.25 million people that we all collectively represent” have better lives because of what the Senate does.
Republicans also unanimously returned Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls to the position of Senate majority leader for a second term, but there was a contest for the assistant majority leader post between Sen. Andre Cushing of Newport, who has held the position for two years, and Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth.
Cushing’s nomination was moved and seconded by Sen. James Hamper of Oxford and seconded by Sen. Kimberly Rosen of Bucksport, respectively. Langley’s nomination was moved and seconded by Sen.-elect Joyce Maker of Calais and Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, respectively.
Although there is unlikely to be any animosity between those senators over the results of Thursday’s election — Cushing said “we’re friends, and we’ll leave this room as friends no matter the results” — they do illuminate some internal divisions between moderates and conservatives in the Senate.
Maker, Katz and Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton, along with Langley, make up a moderate Senate Republican bloc that could assert itself on committees, during tight votes and especially during deliberations on the two-year budget that must be in place by July 1, 2017.
Mason addressed that in his acceptance speech.
“We as Republicans believe in a truly big tent,” he said. “We know there are differences of opinion in our caucus and we respect them. … We need to create a Republican political machine that goes far beyond termed-out senators. It’s important that that operation continues beyond us.”
In secret balloting, Cushing was returned to his position.
In other business, the Senate Republicans re-elected Heather Priest as Senate secretary.
In the House late Thursday afternoon, there was some debate about whether House Republicans would be wise to elect first- or second-term members to leadership in order to provide continuity into the next legislative session, when the two current leaders will be termed out of office. Those arguments were rejected.
Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport was re-elected as House minority leader and after besting two challengers, Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester was returned to her post as assistant minority leader. Fredette vowed to help members with any problem.
“I have an open-door policy so each of you should feel free to come see me at any time,” he said. “If I don’t know about your issues, I can’t help.”