PORTLAND, Maine — Two Democratic members of the Maine House of Representatives have unenrolled from their party, eliminating the party’s outright majority in the chamber and reducing their advantage over Republicans to four representatives.
Reps. Denise Harlow of Portland and Ralph Chapman of Brooksville confirmed their withdrawal from the party Friday in messages to the Bangor Daily News.
Though unenrolling, Harlow said she “continue[s] to to be aligned with the core Democratic Party values.”
The move leaves the House with 71 Republican representatives, 75 Democratic representatives and five unaffiliated representatives, according to the House legislative website.
The shift means a party-line vote no longer constitutes a majority for Democrats. If all Democrats vote together, they would need support from one of the five unaffiliated representatives to get to a majority of 76.
Harlow said unenrolling — though a very simple process — was not one she took lightly, with a generations-long history of Democratic politics in her family. Her father served three terms on the Portland City Council and three terms in the Legislature.
“There is a long-term systematic problem in the building where individual thinkers are often marginalized,” Harlow said. “We all have unique and important perspectives and I do not want that to be forgotten.”
After more than six years representing part of Portland in the Legislature, Harlow said she is also concerned by the influence lobbyists had over the legislative process.
Harlow declined to elaborate with any examples of the reasons for her withdrawal, which she officially completed on Monday.
Chapman was not immediately available for comment Friday morning. Harlow said she was aware of his withdrawal but said the decisions were not coordinated.
“Obviously we’re colleagues and we do speak, but we’re individual people and we make individual decisions,” Harlow said.
House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, called the withdrawal of Harlow and Chapman disappointing.
“I’m disappointed that Rep. Harlow and Rep. Chapman have unenrolled from the Democratic Party, but I respect their decision and value their friendship. I have always admired their progressive values and the passion they bring to their work,” Gideon wrote in a statement. “Democrats will continue to staff them and our door is always open to them. I look forward to continuing to work with them on issues that matter to all of us.”
Rob Poindexter, spokesman for the House Republicans, said the party’s representatives “are completely focused on doing the work we were elected to do, including the biennial budget, and don’t have time to waste on the drama happening in other caucuses.”
Harlow and Chapman are the second and third House members to quit their parties this session. In January, at the outset of this legislative session, Rep. Kevin Battle of South Portland left the Republican Party and now serves as an independent.
Harlow, who has sometimes broken with Democratic legislative leaders in the past, said via telephone that she also hoped her decision wouldn’t create a distraction from the Legislature’s work ahead, including on the budget.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.