AUGUSTA — The political committee trying to elect more Democrats to the Maine Senate marked its ceremonial campaign launch Monday with a distinct focus on rural districts.
Four Democrats announced their candidacies during a State House press event. According to the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, each candidate represents and embodies “the values of everyday Mainers.”
The candidates, who will help the Maine Democratic Party try to flip control of the Republican-led Senate, hit the familiar themes of income inequality and Maine’s uneven rebound from the recession.
Republican leaders said the launch revealed that Democrats are clinging to the failed policies that cost them the 2014 election.
“Senate Republicans will continue working for positive, constructive policies throughout 2016 and we look forward to comparing our records with those of Democrat candidates,” said Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls.
The Democratic candidates are Troy Jackson of Allagash, a former assistant majority leader in the Senate; Rock Alley, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Union; House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan; and Jonathan Fulford of Monroe, who narrowly lost to Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau in 2014.
Alley, from Jonesport, will run for the District 6 seat currently held by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting. McCabe will run for the District 3 seat currently held by Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan. Jackson is trying to take District 1, a seat currently held by Sen. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou.
“We need politicians who are accountable to working people instead of the lobbyists for large corporations who have changed the rules and made it easier for corporations to lay off workers, to keep wages low and to ship jobs overseas,” Fulford said.
Jackson, a logger who has fought laws that allow wood products companies to import cheap Canadian labor, said the political system is stacked against the working class.
“When I came to this building, I found out that working-class people often didn’t have a voice,” he said. “There’s nobody that lobbies for the working class. That’s what prompted me to run the first time.”
The press event took place two days before the beginning of the Legislature’s second regular session. With the state’s two-year budget in place and the bulk of bills decided, the session typically doubles as the unofficial beginning of the legislative campaign. The passage of sweeping legislation is rare because top lawmakers, responsible for fundraising and candidate recruitment, push bills that provide Maine voters with sharp contrasts between the two major political parties.
The upcoming session is expected to be no different. Democrats, who suffered punishing losses in 2014, are pushing job-training initiatives and economic policies that dovetail with national data showing an increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands. Republicans, meanwhile, are continuing to push themes that have served them well in Maine since the 2010 election of Gov. Paul LePage – reductions in welfare spending and limited government.
Democrats are hoping that the presidential election will mobilize key constituencies and elect down-ticket candidates often less known to average voters. The 2012 election helped Democrats take control of the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate after two years of Republican rule.
Power is currently split at the State House. LePage won reelection in 2014, while Republicans gained a five-seat edge in the 35-member Senate. Democrats managed to hold control of the House, electing 78 members in 2014 compared to 69 Republicans, three independents and one unenrolled member.