AUGUSTA – Quick, somebody take a picture while it lasts.

It’s Wednesday morning and the State House is standing room only.

Everyone is smiling, from the soon-to-be-sworn-in members of the 125th Maine Legislature to their proud families, friends and the ever-hovering lobbyists.

Everyone’s talking about the spirit of cooperation, the new political wind blowing through the Hall of Flags, the need to set aside differences and meet Maine’s monumental challenges together.

Some have been here before. But if you really want to capture this historic moment — the first time in almost half a century that both chambers of the Legislature have been controlled by Republicans — you’ve got to talk to the “newbies.”

Meet Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls.

He’s 25, has never held political office and, truth be told, he’s a little surprised to be here.

“But I think ‘honored’ is a better word,” said Mason, a self-employed graphic designer who until recently worked as the director of administration for the Lewiston Maineiacs hockey team.

Some will tell you that Mason, one of five new state senators (all Republicans) with no previous legislative experience, is a product of the tea party movement. But Mason, while appreciative of those folks’ support, says he’s by no means here just to carry one group’s boiling water.

“I’m not a tea party senator. I’m not a Republican senator,” says Mason. “I am the senator for Senate District 17. I represent 10 towns and those are the people who elected me and those are the people I will listen to.”

Meet Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick.

She’s a mother of four, grandmother of one and works as a waitress. She’s also vice chairman of Maine Taxpayers United and last year wrote a “Letter to America” in which she asserted that President Barack Obama is “either stupid or evil.”

Also in her letter, parts of which were read to the nation by none other than Glenn Beck, O’Connor wrote, “When I contemplate the 50 years of my life, I am left with no doubt whatsoever that government in all forms not only creates most of our problems, it is the greatest threat to our freedom.”

And now that she’s part of that government?

“People like me,” says O’Connor. “I don’t know why, but people like me.”

She later adds, “I have a heart. However, I have a really good, economic brain. I’m self-educated and I’ve studied political science and economics — Austrian economics — for years. And I really think that I’ll be a voice of reason.”

As for politics, O’Connor says she’ll listen to any good idea, regardless of which side of the aisle it comes from.

She’s already introduced two bills — one to prohibit the tracking of Maine students via their Social Security numbers, the other to make it easier to purchase ethanol-free gasoline.

“I think it will be OK,” O’Connor says. “There are a lot of honorable people up here. And we’re going to work together.”

Meet Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, who arrives at the State House on the heels of a 12-year stint as Cumberland County’s sheriff.

“I tend to be non-denominational in the sense that problems are problems and I’ll work with anyone to solve them,” Dion says. “I’m not going to get caught up in this partisan stuff.”

Dion has no quarrel with the many around here (actually, everyone) who say Job One this session will be turning around Maine’s moribund economy.

In fact, Dion plans to push for the creation of “business advocates” who can help aspiring businesspeople navigate Maine’s regulatory process the same way victim advocates shepherd crime victims through the criminal justice system.

But at the same time, Dion maintains a soft spot for people with mental illness — more than a few of whom passed through the Cumberland County Jail during his tenure.

“I know there are limited resources, (but) we’re not going to jettison those people,” he says. “I won’t be a party to that and I think it’s a matter of educating the other side and others to create a partnership to deal with that.”

Speaking of mental health advocates, meet Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond.

Back in the administration of Gov. Angus King, McClellan was the director of special projects (and, he says with a grin, the “token Republican”) in the former Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.

Before that, he was a leader of Amistad — the Portland-based organization that advocates for and assists people with mental illness.

“Environment, health care, education — I think those are all Republican issues,” says McClellan, who more recently served as executive director of the Greater Bridgton Chamber of Commerce. “I think a good Republican is going to be very sensitive to those issues.”

McClellan says the newbies — 49 members of the House, more than two-thirds of them Republicans, have no previous legislative experience — seem to share a sense of mission on the heels of last month’s historic election.

“I’ve heard many people here say they’ve been called to be here,” he says. “And I’ll say in my case, I feel God has called me to be here. I really do — and I know there are other people who would say the same thing.”

Meet Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth.

A pediatric nurse-practitioner who works in Portland’s school-based health clinics, she squeaked through a recount in her three-way race to get here and looks forward to the emergence of a “moderate caucus” that will draw Democrats and Republicans alike.

“I think people on the far extremes, their agenda is not going to be successful because that’s not what this body is all about,” Graham says. “We do want to work across the aisle. We don’t want to fight. We want things to work.”

Meet Rep. Ryan Harmon, R-Palermo.

“I’m here to represent everybody in my district, whether it’s a tea party member or anyone that’s out there,” says Harmon. “I always listen to both sides.”

Harmon is a retail manager for Hannaford supermarkets who thinks two-way communication with voters is the only way to alleviate the lack of trust many Mainers feel toward state government.

He also believes in what he calls “economic liberty for Maine citizens.”


“I think it’s apt to say I really represent the people in making sure that they have the freedoms necessary to do what they want to do,” he replies.

Meet Rep. Devin Beliveau, D-Kittery. Perhaps you’ve heard of his father, prominent attorney and lobbyist Severin Beliveau.

“Once I get to know someone, they quickly realize I’m not my dad,” Beliveau says with a smile. “I took a very different path.”

He teaches history and government at Thornton Academy in Saco and wants first and foremost to figure out a way to keep young people from fleeing Maine in search of gainful employment.

His assessment of the political landscape?

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Oh, in two years we’ll get the majority back,’” Beliveau says. “I hope that’s not what (the coming session) is about.”

Ditto for Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth.

Not too long ago, Luchini was a track star at Ellsworth High School who went on to run professionally for Nike and almost made the Olympics.

Now he’s scrambling to get a grip on a seat he honestly didn’t expect to win against his seasoned Republican opponent, Hancock-Washington District Attorney Michael Povich.

“It’s kind of overwhelming at first because you get so much information,” Luchini says. “Then you watch the speaker of the house and the clerk speak at the same time and you’re like, ‘What are they talking about?’“

Has his learning curve left Luchini time to meet any Republican colleagues?

“I know a bunch of them,” he replies. “They seem nice. They seem great. They’re actually really friendly.”

And so it goes. Handshakes and heartfelt wishes of good luck fill the air on this day, along with the frequently repeated assertion that 80 percent of the work here is accomplished harmoniously and without partisan rancor.

But alas, there’s still that other 20 percent …

Meet Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. Then again, you probably already know the longest-serving member of the House, who ruled as speaker from 1975 to 1994 and has served a whopping 36 years at one or the other end of the State House.

Martin was 23 when he first arrived here way back in 1964.

Now back in the House after four terms in the Senate, he can’t help but grin when he hears about all those newbies who insist that bare-knuckle partisanship at last has given way to across-the-aisle partnership. That the political divide heading into the next six months may not run nearly as deep as some fear. That when it’s all said and done, those storm clouds on the horizon somehow might pass Maine by.

Martin’s thoughts?


“Stick around,” he says.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]