An embattled Brunswick lawmaker’s refusal to say whether or not he’ll run for re-election has put the Maine Democratic Party in a bit of a pickle.
Party Chairman Ben Grant told the Press Herald Monday that Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx should abandon his bid for a third term in the Legislature. Grant said Cornell du Houx could be vulnerable at the ballot box after a failed romantic relationship with a female lawmaker resulted in her securing a temporary protection order against Cornell du Houx and eventually led to a legal settlement.
Cornell du Houx’s withdrawal from his legislative race has been rumored since he reached the settlement with state Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. Since then Cornell du Houx has “consistently told people within the Democratic Party that he doesn’t plan to seek re-election and we’ve been operating under that assumption,” Grant said today.
However, Grant’s public statement and Cornell du Houx’s defiant response raise questions about whether the 29-year-old legislator will follow the party’s wishes and what happens if he doesn’t.
Cornell du Houx today issued a 933-word response to Grant’s comments, saying he was “surprised” the party chairman would make such “unprofessional” statements before talking to Cornell du Houx directly.
Cornell du Houx also quoted anonymous commenters who questioned Grant’s leadership on online versions of the MaineToday Media story. “These are the people of Maine voicing the obvious,” Cornell du Houx wrote.
Grant stood by his comments, saying Cornell du Houx’s withdrawal was the best thing for Cornell du Houx “personally and for the people of District 66.” Grant added that the party needs to move on to the job of finding a candidate to replace Cornell du Houx.
“There is no reason for any further delay that might slow down that process,” Grant said.
However, shortly after blasting Grant, Cornell du Houx departed for a two-week trip to Australia with the American Council of Young Political Leaders.
He could not be reached for comment.
Cornell du Houx’s written statement gave no indication of his re-election plans and he refused to answer the question directly when reached by phone Monday evening, a few hours after indicating to staff in the House minority office that he was getting out of the race.
The uncertainty puts the party in a tricky position.
Cornell du Houx has until July 9 to withdraw from the race, a deadline that would allow the Brunswick Democratic Town Committee to hold a caucus and draft a new candidate for the November ballot.
If Cornell du Houx doesn’t remove his name from the ballot by July 9, the party will find itself in the position of saying publicly that he should have, thereby potentially arming Cornell du Houx’s two opponents, Republican John Bouchard and Green Independent David Frans.
Voting results show District 66 leans strongly toward Democratic candidates. However, Cornell du Houx narrowly won the seat in 2010 after facing a strong challenge from Green Independent Fred Horch, who divided the district progressive vote.
Town Democrats believe that Frans will be a placeholder candidate for Horch, who told a newspaper in March that he wanted to run again.
Frans and Horch could not be reached for comment.
Democrats could organize a write-in campaign against Cornell du Houx or stay out of the race and take their chances that a strong Green candidate will win and caucus with the House Democrats in 2013.
The party isn’t saying how it will proceed. Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said today that the party hadn’t discussed what it will do if Cornell du Houx stays in the race.
“We’ve been operating under the assumption that he is not running for re-election because that’s what he’s been telling folks within the party for more than a month,” Reinholt said. “We haven’t discussed a different scenario.”
Andy Cashman, chairman of the Brunswick Democratic Town Committee, confined his remarks to a prepared statement when asked about the situation.
“These are always difficult decisions,” Cashman said. “Ultimately the voters in District 66 are the ones who will decide who can best represent their interests in Augusta.”
State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, also sits on the town committee. He said Cornell du Houx was conflicted about his decision. Gerzofsky added that many residents he spoke with didn’t know about Cornell du Houx’s messy breakup with Herbig, the court order or the legal agreement between the former couple.
“Not everyone reads the newspaper,” he said.
Gerzofsky acknowledged that voters could be made more aware of the controversy during campaign season. When asked if he’d advised Cornell du Houx on his future, Gerzofsky said he “didn’t want to go there.”
“He has to make up his own mind,” Gerzofsky said. “He’s been bouncing back and forth. I guess I’ll end up supporting him either way.”
Meanwhile, rumors are swirling about potential replacement candidates, including Gerzofsky, who held District 66, formerly District 50, for four consecutive terms. Gerzofsky, who is seeking re-election for the Senate District 10 seat, quickly dismissed speculation that he planned to run for his former seat and allow former lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate John Richardson to run for the District 20 Senate seat.
Herbig secured a temporary protection-from-abuse order against Cornell du Houx on April 30, alleging that he had stalked and threatened her. Herbig withdrew her request to extend the protection order after signing the private agreement.
Cornell du Houx had been investigated by the Maine State Police, who ended the probe without filing charges or interviewing him.
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.”
Griffin Greenberg, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Council of Young Political Leaders, said the trip was paid for by the organization. Greenberg said Cornell du Houx was a charter-member of the organization and that his personal issues had no bearing on his ACYL membership.