November 14, 2012

Democratic State House leaders ready to face LePage

Fresh from reclaiming their majorities, Democrats choose Mark Eves of North Berwick as speaker of the House and Justin Alfond to preside over the Senate.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The Legislature's newly elected Democratic majority chose its House and Senate leaders on Tuesday, and showed that the party won't be afraid to get contentious with Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

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Justin Alfond

click image to enlarge

Mark Eves

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ABOUT THE SENATE PRESIDENT

Justin Alfond, 37, of Portland

• Slated to become the youngest Senate president since 36-year-old Joseph Locke, a Portland Republican, was elected in 1880.

• Has been elected to three terms in the Senate.

•During his first term, served as Senate chairman of the Legislature's Education Committee. Was the ranking Democrat when Republicans took control in 2010.

• Became the assistant minority leader in his second term.

• Grew up in Dexter and Waterville and earned a degree in business administration from Tulane University.

• Founded Maine chapter of the League of Young Voters.

• Grandson of the late Harold Alfond. He's invested in Portland real estate projects and owns Bayside Bowl.

• Lives on Munjoy Hill in Portland with his wife, Rachael, his 1-year-old son, Jacoby, and their dog, Tipitina.

ABOUT THE HOUSE SPEAKER

Mark Eves, 35, of North Berwick

• Elected to third term in the Legislature. Has been the House lead Democrat on Health and Human Services Committee.

• Business development director at Sweetser since 2011.

• Owns private family therapist practice in Sanford, which he started in 2008.

• Maine Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Board of Directors 2007-11.

• Lives in North Berwick with his wife, Laura, and three young children.

Democratic lawmakers nominated Rep. Mark Eves of North Berwick for speaker of the House. They selected Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland as Senate president Tuesday evening.

The selections were made during caucus events that were celebratory for the party that has spent the past two years in the minority.

Unlike Eves, who beat three other nominees for speaker, Alfond ran unopposed. Both stood out for their willingness to take on LePage, who often called Democrats "the loyal opposition" while they were in the minority.

Senate Democrats nominated Alfond, 37, to the second-most powerful position in the State House. Alfond, one of LePage's most vocal critics over the last two years, will be the youngest Senate president since 1880, when 36-year-old Republican Joseph Locke of Portland held the position.

Eves, 35, made his mark in the last session as the ranking Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, and led the opposition against LePage's cuts to MaineCare, Maine's Medicaid program.

Medicaid is expected to be a hot issue again as Eves presides over the 126th Legislature. LePage has hoped to make additional cuts to the program.

Some reductions were passed by the Republican majority in the last session to balance the state budget. However, several of the reductions have not been approved by the federal government.

The state also must decide soon whether to move forward with Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law. LePage has not committed to Medicaid expansion, an initiative that Democrats support.

Before winning the nomination, Eves told House Democrats that members must make a clear distinction between their ideology and LePage's "extreme agenda," while engaging Republicans.

"But we can't be satisfied with just highlighting our differences and holding ground," Eves said. "We will have to look for opportunities to forge alliances with our Republican colleagues to get them to break with the governor in order to do what is right for Maine and Maine people."

He said, "This is still the Maine my family and I know and love, and it has not changed because of who occupies the governor's office -- the extreme, ideological agenda does not represent my family's values or the values of Maine people."

The other nominees for speaker were Rep. Teresea Hayes of Buckfield, Rep. Diane Russell of Portland and Rep. Mike Carey of Lewiston.

Eves and Alfond will officially take their leadership positions on Dec. 5, after votes by the entire Legislature. Their elections are ensured by the Democratic majorities in both chambers.

Alfond, whom LePage once described as a "spoiled little brat" in the last session, has been one of the governor's most persistent and vocal critics.

He is a grandson of Harold Alfond, the late founder of Dexter Shoe Co. and a prominent Maine philanthropist.

During a radio interview with Capitol News Service in April, LePage said of Alfond, "He's very fortunate that his granddad was born ahead of him."

The governor had taken issue with Alfond's opposition to several of his education reform bills.

Alfond said he has moved on from the governor's comments. "I don't think Mainers are interested in verbal disagreements between people in Augusta," he said, "they're interested in results."

Alfond said there is room for common ground with the governor even in education policy.

(Continued on page 2)

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