AUGUSTA – They want more Mainers to stay, work and live here. They think businesses should not loathe their encounters with state regulators.

And they want to create jobs.

They are the new class of Maine lawmakers swept into office on Election Day who, even before they meet, are making waves of change in the State House. Republicans now have majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1974 — which, beyond policy control, means staffing transitions and the prospect of a genuine shake-up from business as usual.

More than one-third of the incoming 125th Maine Legislature is newly elected.

In the 151-member House, there are 38 freshman Republicans and 14 freshman Democrats; one member — also a first-timer — is unenrolled.

On Friday, state Rep. Mike Willette, a one-term Democrat from Presque Isle, said he’s switching parties to become a Republican. His change gives the GOP a six-seat majority in the House; the party has a seven-seat majority in the Senate.

In the 35-member Senate, there are plenty of new faces: 11 Republicans, two Democrats and one unenrolled.

Nearly all of this new class shares the focus of improving the state’s economy and creating a place where young Mainers can — and want to — find employment.

“My inspiration to run, in a very selfish way, originated with my children and my concern with starting to look at their future,” said state Rep.-elect Susan Morissette, R-Winslow, who has four children, ranging in age from 9 to 13.

“A lot of (my high school classmates) have left the state so that they can be prosperous, and I want to find ways for my children and many other children to have the opportunity to stay in the state that they love, that they’ve grown up in, to have opportunities to be prosperous here at home,” she said.

State Sen.-elect Nichi Farnham, a Bangor Republican, and state Rep.-elect Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, both echo that story. Each cited concerns about their children’s future as influencing their decision to get involved in politics.

“We’ve got to make sure that we have a state here that our next generation wants to come back to and live and work and raise their families,” said Farnham, who served on the Bangor City Council and local school board.

Espling said though she was involved in the town Republican Party, she had never before run for office.

“I have four kids, and I just thought that there are some things that we can do to make Maine better so that they can maybe stay in Maine when they grow up if they chose,” she said. “So I just decided to get involved to make a difference, rather than just sit at home and hope for things to get better.”

State Rep.-elect Alex Willette, a 21-year-old Republican from Mapleton (and son of Rep. Mike Willette, the Legislature’s newest Republican), said his primary goal was also to make Maine a place where young people could find opportunity.

“Maine is the oldest state in the nation now, and Aroostook County is the oldest county in the state, so unless we start bringing our young people back and are retaining them at least, giving them an incentive to stay here in the state,” he said.

“Until we stop that, it will be hard for our economy to survive and thrive until we stop the youth drain, I guess.”

Alex Willette, a senior at the University of Maine at Farmington, said when he was home over Christmas break last year, he asked his friends if they would stay in Maine — and Aroostook County — if they could find good jobs.

“Almost overwhelmingly, all of them said yes,” he said.

When the Legislature convenes Dec. 1, the divisions could be just as much about old guard-versus-new class as they are about political parties. Newly elected Democrats, after all, are also laser-focused on the economy.

“(My children) both want to work in Maine when they grow up. They love living here, and I’d like there to be great, well-paying jobs that they are able to choose from,” said state Rep.-elect Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta. “So that’s my No. 1 focus: working to grow our economy and to create great jobs for people.”

State Rep.-elect Devin Beliveau, D-Kittery, thinks one of the keys is improving Maine’s popular community college system to prime them for the work force.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs — that’s I think what we all heard from the voters on Tuesday, so for me as a teacher that starts with education,” said Beliveau, a teacher at Thornton Academy in Saco.

“I would love to be able to look at long-term educational planning for the state, because I think the biggest issue facing us is all of our young people leaving and they are leaving because they need to find good jobs.”

But identifying the problems voters see is one thing; finding solutions is another.

“There are things in the way that the laws are to try to fix the business climate, whether it be regulation or taxes,” said Espling, the New Gloucester Republican. “Whatever those really specific things are, I don’t quite know yet. I’d like to look more closely, but I know that there are ways that we can fix the climate.”

Farnham, from Bangor, said it could be as simple as an attitude adjustment.

“We can do things that don’t even cost money, like changing attitudes, just being positive, having positive outlooks, asking the folks who actually implement some of the regulations that are in place to be more positive about it. The kind of attitude that says, ‘how can we make this work?’ versus ‘uhh, we can’t do it,’” she said.

State Rep.-elect Paul Bennett, R-Kennebunk, said just getting new people in government will help improve things.

“We have so much potential in this state; we have a great living room and a great brand, we just have no ability to attract people here, and I think we need a new perspective, a fresh approach,” he said.

State Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, the longest-serving House speaker in Maine’s history, said that new people stepping into the institutional roles will learn the ropes as others have done before them.

“They can learn,” he said. “There’s always people that are kept, and I think it’s even more so this year, because it’s been so many years since there have been any change, so there are not that many people who are Republicans that have been involved in something like this at this point.

“The institution will be fine, I’m not worried about that because eventually we have to pass a budget and we have to run the state, and somehow that will happen, and in some instances it will be more smooth than others.”

Willette, the Mapleton Republican, said never in his wildest dreams did he expect to be in the majority party in the House, but he has no illusions it will be easy to stay there.

“If we want to keep the public’s trust, we need to remember what they sent us there to do. Our message was fiscal responsibility. If we stray from that when we are legislating in the majority, we can expect to be put back to the minority,” he said.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]