AUGUSTA — Maine Republican Party Chairman Richard Cebra has resigned after about six months on the job, the party said Wednesday, and a high-profile politician is thinking of taking over for him.
Former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin said Wednesday that he is considering becoming chairman of the party since “a number of people” have asked him to consider taking the job.
“That request has accelerated recently,” Poliquin said. “I’ve been asked to consider it and we’ll see how it plays out shortly.”
Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage confirmed Cebra’s resignation Wednesday, saying it was “for personal reasons.”
He said the party’s vice chairman, Beth O’Connor, resigned before Cebra, but he didn’t know when each one submitted a resignation letter. Party rules say that when a chairman and vice chairman resign, a special meeting must be called within 45 days to pick successors.
Savage said Cebra and O’Connor are the only party officials who are stepping down, and he will keep his position.
Poliquin wouldn’t say who, specifically, asked him to consider becoming party chairman, only that it was “a number of people from across the party.”
The shakeup in the party’s leadership follows a legislative session marked by tension between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and some prominent and moderate Republican lawmakers.
Much of that rancor surrounded the two-year state budget that took effect Monday, a compromise crafted by Republicans and Democrats.
LePage vetoed the budget because of the tax increases in it, but many Republicans voted for it to avoid a government shutdown. The budget was enacted after the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto.
Cebra’s response to the budget battle brought criticism from some Republicans. In June, Bangor Daily News blogger Chris Dixon reported that Cebra had sent county chairs a list of Republicans who were open to a “tax increase,” citing an email from a county chairman.
Rep. Corey Wilson of Augusta, one of 24 Republicans in the House who voted to override LePage’s veto of the budget, said he was very upset” with Cebra over his list of lawmakers.
“I don’t think that was helpful for bringing this party back together,” Wilson said. “It’s our job to represent our districts, like it or not.”
Charlie Webster, who was party chairman before Cebra took over in December, told the Portland Press Herald just before he stepped down that LePage made it clear in the days after the 2010 election “that his people were going to run the party.”
LePage endorsed Cebra’s candidacy for party chair.
Webster said LePage also hand-picked Savage, who had been executive director of Maine People Before Politics, the pro-LePage political advocacy group.
At the time, Savage said rumors of a LePage takeover of the party “were way overblown.”
A schism in the Maine Republican Party became public in early 2012, when supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul accused party leaders — especially Webster — of declaring Mitt Romney the winner of county caucuses before all meetings had been held.
Tension between the libertarian and traditional wings of the party deepened when Paul supporters used their numbers to gain control of the state party convention in May 2012.
Webster resigned as chairman months later. But internal tension apparently continued under Cebra.
Eric Brakey of New Gloucester, a 2012 Paul delegate to the Republican National Convention who is now an at-large committee member from Cumberland County, credited Cebra with helping to improve communications between the state party and Republican lawmakers.
Brakey said the next chairman must be “someone able to work with all coalitions within the Republican Party to bring people together.”
Debra Plowman, a former state senator from Hampden who now is the Maine Republican Party’s Penobscot County chair, said she was “shocked” to hear of Cebra’s resignation.
Plowman said Cebra was likely overwhelmed by the responsibility of the job and found it difficult to raise money.
“He really went gung-ho and I hope he didn’t burn himself out,” she said. “Rich went in with his whole heart, and I know how that feels.”
Poliquin, a Georgetown resident, has expressed potential interest in the 2nd Congressional District seat, which likely will be vacated by Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who is raising money to oppose LePage in 2014.
Since losing to LePage in the Republican primary for governor in 2010, Poliquin has been a loyal supporter of LePage, and was a political ally as state treasurer.
Since leaving office when Democrats gained majorities in the Legislature, Poliquin has stayed in the public eye, using his Press Herald blog to echo the perceived merits of LePage’s economic policies. He co-hosted a fundraiser Tuesday night for LePage’s 2014 campaign, featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Poliquin said Wednesday that he’s considering “three or four things,” including becoming chairman of the state party and running for the state Senate seat soon to be vacated by Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond.
– Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller contributed to this report.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: