The Democratic primary race to replace Gov. Paul LePage in 2018 attracted a seventh contender Thursday when former four-term state Rep. Diane Russell of Portland announced her candidacy.
Russell, 41, announced her candidacy by highlighting her ascent from a convenience store clerk earning $8 per hour when she first ran for the House of Representatives to a lawmaker with a relatively high profile built on advocacy for legalizing recreational marijuana and implementing ranked-choice voting in Maine.
Both issues were approved by voters in November 2016, though ranked-choice voting has been caught in controversy since May when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional.
In addition to her Maine activities, Russell has a national reputation, particularly as a critic of the party’s process of nominating presidential candidates with superdelegates who can vote for who they want regardless of how their states vote in caucuses or primaries.
At the invitation of then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Russell delivered a speech on the issue at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. But whether she will gain traction with the Democratic establishment during a primary is in question.
After finishing third in a Maine Senate primary for a Portland-area seat in 2016, she lashed out by telling the Bangor Daily News, “I knew the establishment was going to come after me” — a reference to former Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, endorsing Ben Chipman, who won the primary and the general election.
Russell said the focus of her tenure as governor would be helping working-class Mainers “who are getting left behind and forgotten” by advocating for higher wages, health care for all and solutions to Maine’s raging opioid addiction epidemic.
“As governor, I’ll spend every day fighting to unrig the system and make Maine a place where everyone gets a fair shot,” Russell said in a news release Thursday.
Russell brands herself as a “hardcore progressive” who favors single-payer health care, measures to ease student debt and a comprehensive approach to fighting drug addiction. She filed to run with the Maine Ethics Commission on Thursday as a privately financed candidate.
The other declared candidates in the 2018 Democratic primary are Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Sanford attorney and veteran Adam Cote, lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, former state Sen. James Boyle of Gorham and Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta.
Mary Mayhew, who is LePage’s former health and human services chief, is the only Republican in the race, although others have been rumored to be interested. Independent Maine Treasurer Terry Hayes, a former Democratic lawmaker from Buckfield, is also running.