The leader of Maine’s Democratic Party said Monday that the lawmaker from Brunswick whose former lover filed a temporary protection order against him should abandon his re-election bid.
Ben Grant, the party chairman, said details of the breakup between Democratic state Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx and Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, remain unclear, but the high-profile dispute could hurt the party at the polls.
“We don’t know what the facts are” that led Herbig to seek the protection order, Grant said. “What we do know are the political facts, and we do know what a distraction is when it comes to an electoral season.”
Cornell du Houx has faced mounting pressure to withdraw from the race in Brunswick’s House District 66. That pressure had occurred privately until Monday, when Cornell du Houx discussed his future with the Democratic House staff.
The staff arranged a phone interview with Cornell du Houx, and emerged from the conversation believing he would soon announce his withdrawal.
However, Cornell du Houx later told MaineToday Media that he hadn’t yet decided.
Cornell du Houx said in an email Monday night: “Ben’s desire for me to withdraw from my re-election bid is a complete surprise to me. It is so unprofessional of him to make a public statement without ever talking directly to me about this incident. He claims, ‘We don’t know what the facts are,’ but the public does as no charges were ever brought and the police never bothered to interview me. If he needed more facts he could have called me or talked to me campaigning door to door.”
Herbig secured a temporary protection-from-abuse order against Cornell du Houx on April 30, alleging that he had stalked and threatened her. The eight-page court complaint drew media attention that ended with Cornell du Houx and Herbig signing a private agreement and Herbig withdrawing her request to extend the protection order.
Cornell du Houx had been investigated by the Maine State Police, who ended the probe without filing charges or interviewing him.
Cornell du Houx, a two-term lawmaker, has maintained that Herbig’s court complaint against him was false and that the legal agreement has prevented him from giving his account of what happened.
Grant said party leaders aren’t “the judge and jury,” but they could not ignore the political reality of an issue that makes Cornell du Houx vulnerable, even in Democratic-dominated District 66.
Cornell du Houx won a tough three-way race in 2010, when a Green Independent split the progressive vote. His opponents this year are Green Independent David Frans, who ran against Cornell du Houx in 2008, and Republican John Bouchard, who is running for the first time.
Grant said Cornell du Houx “has been a good representative for Brunswick, but it’s clear to me and clear to the party that at this moment and time his energies are probably best spent straightening out his personal life.
“With such an important election, we can’t afford to have any distractions from what our central mission is, and that’s winning back the state House and the state Senate,” Grant said.
The Democrats lost their majorities in both chambers in the 2010 elections.
Herbig is seeking re-election. She has not experienced pressure to withdraw.
In her handwritten court filing dated April 30, she made a series of specific accusations against Cornell du Houx, including that he entered her apartment without permission, acted in a threatening way and followed her while she was driving.
After the agreement was reached, Herbig issued a public statement saying that she had felt unsafe during the ordeal and that details of her personal life had been “distorted and maligned” in the media.
Herbig’s marital status was one element of public speculation. Her divorce from Josh Povec was finalized in January. Belfast District Court documents show that Povec filed for divorce on Aug. 9, 2011.
Herbig’s complaint against Cornell du Houx said the two were in a romantic relationship “late 2011 through early 2012.”
The deadline for the Democratic Party to replace Cornell du Houx on the ballot is July 9. If he withdraws after that, or refuses to withdraw, the party could organize a write-in campaign.
In his email Monday night, Cornell du Houx said he will leave for Australia today to lead “a cross cultural state department trip for veterans and delegates for Brunswick and Maine.”
Grant said it’s “important that Alex take the time that he needs, but there’s a timetable” because the party would like to get to work drafting another candidate for the Nov. 6 ballot.
“Obviously, we’d like to get that work started now,” Grant said. “I understand that this is a difficult decision for him, but I think the bottom line is clear that he does need to withdraw from the ballot.”
State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: email@example.com