AUGUSTA — Any way you slice it, this is a change election in Maine.

Thousands of voters will go to the polls today to choose a governor to replace Democrat John Baldacci. Five people want his job: independent Eliot Cutler, Republican Paul LePage, Democrat Libby Mitchell, independent Shawn Moody and independent Kevin Scott.

The race began more than a year ago. Mitchell, the state Senate president, announced in August 2009 that she would run, followed a month later by LePage, the mayor of Waterville, and by Cutler in December.

The parties chose their nominees in June, Moody and Scott jumped into the race, and the state witnessed an all-out campaign, complete with stinging television commercials and money from out-of-state groups.

And while the governor’s race has dominated headlines, voters have other important decisions to make today, too.

The state’s two congressional seats are in play, with Republican Dean Scontras challenging one-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Republican Jason Levesque taking on U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, who was first elected to Congress in 2002.

There also are 186 legislative seats up for grabs that will determine control of the House and Senate. There are three statewide ballot questions, local town and city races, and local ballot questions.

And in Portland, voters will decide whether to elect the mayor – rather than having City Council members choose one – and they will decide whether to allow legal residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in city elections.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap expects 50 percent to 55 percent of eligible voters to cast ballots.

“There is a lot at stake, and my message to each Maine citizen is simple: Vote,” he said in a written statement. “Voting is what makes our country great and it’s what gives you a voice.”

GOVERNOR

The gubernatorial election season officially started March 15, when party candidates were required to turn in at least 2,000 signatures to qualify for the June ballot. Seven Republicans and five Democrats did so.

While all the major party candidates met the requirement, Green Independent Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor came up short. For the first time in 16 years, there would be no Green Independent candidate in the governor’s race.

On April 26, Democrat John Richardson was forced to drop out of the race after state ethics officials found irregularities with his application for Clean Election funds. Four campaign workers have since been charged with misdemeanor violations. Richardson was not accused of any wrongdoing.

The races picked up steam as the party conventions approached, with Republicans meeting in Portland in May.

An enthusiastic crowd packed the Portland Expo for the event, which featured an unexpected change in the party platform driven by tea party activists.

The new platform, submitted by the Knox County Republican Committee, calls for a “return to the principles of Austrian Economics,” declares global warming a myth and seeks a return to local control of schools and elimination of the state Department of Education.

Many of those same voters provided a big boost to LePage, who gave a moving speech about his childhood of poverty and homelessness and promised to make the state a more business-friendly place if elected.

Two weeks later, Democrats gathered in Lewiston, where Mitchell gave a rousing speech in which she emphasized her experience in the Legislature.

On June 1, the other part of the fall election puzzle fell into place when independents had to submit 4,000 signatures to make the November ballot. Moody, Cutler and Scott beat the deadline, while others who tried to meet the standard failed to qualify.

Months of speculation about the party primaries ended on the night of June 8, when LePage won convincingly, capturing 37 percent of the vote in the seven-way race. The next closest competitor, businessman Les Otten, finished at 17 percent.

On the Democratic side, Mitchell, too, had a strong showing, winning with 34 percent over former Attorney General Steve Rowe at 23 percent, who finished second. That put the field at five and set the stage for the campaign that ends tonight at 8 p.m. when the polls close and the counting begins.

The job doesn’t pay well. At $70,000 a year, Maine’s governor is the lowest-paid in the nation.

But the fight for the job has been rough-and-tumble by Maine standards, with television, radio and direct-mail ads clogging airwaves and mailboxes across the state.

LEGISLATURE

The other branch of government that faces a big day today is the state Legislature, where all 151 House seats and 35 Senate seats are on the ballot. Most of the attention has focused on the Senate, which is considered to be in play for a possible Republican takeover.

Democrats currently enjoy a 20-15 advantage, but hotly contested races across the state may tip the balance the other way.

Races to watch are in Augusta, Waterville, Bangor, Auburn and Hancock County.

By all accounts, the House, which is currently controlled by Democrats 95-56, will likely stay in Democratic hands.

BALLOT QUESTIONS

Question 1 on today’s ballot asks voters if they want to “allow a casino with table games and slot machines at a single site in Oxford County.”

Black Bear Entertainment LLC is proposing to build a $165 million, four-season resort and casino. The company gathered enough signatures to present the proposal to the Legislature earlier this year. Lawmakers decided to send the measure directly to voters.

Backers say the project would support thousands of jobs and generate $60 million a year in tax revenue. Opponents, including former Gov. Angus King, say it will not deliver the jobs and revenue promised and will tarnish the state’s image.

Question 2 asks voters to support a $5 million bond issue to increase access to dental care in Maine.

Question 3 proposes a $9.75 million bond issue to invest in land conservation, working-waterfront preservation, and to preserve parks.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]