BANGOR, Maine — Democrats stormed back into control of the State House for the first time since 2009 after Tuesday’s election by flipping the Maine Senate and expanding their margin in the House of Representatives to back Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, the state’s governor-elect.
It’s a mirror image of what the parties faced eight years ago, when Gov. Paul LePage and Republicans ousted Democrats from power. It could set off a course change. Mills has vowed to implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion, which is stuck in a monthslong court battle.
Senate Democrats claimed victory in at least 20 of the state’s 35 districts Tuesday night, erasing Republicans’ current one-seat edge. Senate Republicans conceded the majority Tuesday. Their biggest casualty was Assistant Senate Majority Leader Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who conceded her swing-seat race to former Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, on Wednesday.
Democrats also said they had won at least 89 of Maine’s 151 House districts after only holding a three-seat plurality over Republicans in the lower chamber. Democrats took at least 12 Republican-held seats in the 2018 election. Five Republican House incumbents were ousted, and the party is expected to hold no more than 57 seats.
The Democratic majorities will give Mills an easier time in Augusta. Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, a pugnacious labor Democrat from Allagash, is expected to become Senate president. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is poised to ease into her second term.
On Wednesday morning, Jackson said Democrats’ victory in the upper chamber came down to candidates who “wanted to do good things for the people of Maine.”
He said Democrats would use their newfound power to target property tax and student debt relief, as well as lowering prescription drug prices — all items that he said should garner Republican support.
“We definitely are going down that path, and I would rather be joined with our colleagues in making the best possible legislation,” he said. “If not, we think that’s what’s good for the people of the state of Maine, and I think that’s what they’re asking for.”
The Legislature’s relationship with LePage has been difficult. During the past four years of his tenure, the governor’s power rested mostly with the conservative House Republican caucus, which was crucial in upholding many of his record-setting number of vetoes — most notably during the 2017 budget fight that led to Maine’s first government shutdown since 1991.
Democrats bet big on legislative races in 2018, spending roughly 69 percent of the campaign and outside money put into the elections by the two parties. The parties put nearly $4 million into the Senate races and $2.2 million in the House races, according to filings with the state.
The closest races for control of the Legislature largely fell into three categories — traditional swing districts, Democratic pick-up opportunities in parts of southern Maine where President Donald Trump is unpopular and rural pickup opportunities for Republicans that mostly didn’t come to pass.
More than $442,000 in campaign and outside money — three-quarters of it from Democrats — poured into a Senate race between Democrat Ned Claxton, an Auburn physician, and departing Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester.
Claxton won Tuesday. It was one of at least three Republican-held Senate seats that Democrats captured Wednesday alongside two others reportedly won by outgoing House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth.
In the House, five Republican incumbents lost, including Rep. Jeff Pierce of Dresden, who will be replaced with Woolwich Selectwoman Allison Hepler after the Portland Press Herald reported that Pierce tagged game with firearms hunting permits despite being barred from possessing guns because of felony conviction.
Democrats won in diverse areas of the state. Former state Rep. Archie Verow, D-Brewer, ousted Rep. Garrel Craig, R-Brewer, in a rematch. Democrats claimed wins in three Republican-held but open House seats in York County. Democrat Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro flipped a Lincoln County-centered district leaning Republican by more than four percentage points.
One Democratic incumbent lost on Tuesday, with Rep. John Madigan ceding his Rumford seat to Republican Josanne Dolloff.
Majorities in both chambers will position Democrats to pick Maine’s next attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. State Sen. Mark Dion, D-Portland, and Verrill Dana attorney Tim Shannon have publicly acknowledged bids for Mills’ position.