AUGUSTA – As Democrats regroup following a truly awful election season, they will be making key decisions in the coming months.

One will come Jan. 23 when they choose a new party chairman.

Four people have officially signed up to run: Stephanie Clifford, who was political director of Tom Allen’s 2008 Senate campaign; John Hanson, director emeritus of the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine; Bil Moriarty, head of the Biddeford City Democratic Committee; and Melissa Sterry, a Kennebec County Democrat.

Other candidates can still jump in, and party rules allow people to be nominated from the floor the day of the meeting, said Rita Moran, Kennebec County Democratic Committee chairwoman. Moran, who is seeking to be re-elected to the party executive committee, said the new chairman should be looking at winning support from various factions, including non-Democrats.

She’ll be looking for a leader who can “both empower and trust the grassroots.”

“I’m also looking for a leader who will understand that people who don’t get paid are just as important as people who do get paid,” she said.

After losing the House, Senate and governor’s race, it is a time of soul-searching for Democrats — those in Maine and elsewhere.

One person we can cross off the list of potential new Democratic Party chairman?

Rosa Scarcelli, former Democratic primary gubernatorial candidate, sent a “tweet” on Thursday, confirming her noncandidacy for the top slot.

“Flattered by the rumors, but I am not entering the race for @mainedems Chair. Happy Holidays everyone!!” she said via Twitter.

BUDGET PANEL LEADERS

Majority Republicans released the full list of committee assignments last week, setting the stage for the legislative session that will start Jan. 5.

The Legislature’s most powerful committee will be led by Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, and Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop. Both have experience on the Budget Committee, but will lead a group with a lot of new faces, such as Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

The Democrats on the committee will be led by Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. Reps. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, and David Webster, D-Freeport are returning members as well.

When it comes to other high-profile committees, Health and Human Services will be led by Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, and Rep. Meredith Strang-Burgess, R-Cumberland. Taxation will be led by Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, and Rep. L. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls.

HEALTH CARE RALLY

The Maine Heritage Policy Center has organized a “Rally for Freedom” at 1 p.m. Jan. 7 at the State House to encourage incoming Attorney General Bill Schneider to join the states suing the federal government over the new health care law.

“We want the very first message Bill Schneider hears as attorney general to be our call to lead Maine in defense of our constitutional rights,” the group said in a news release.

The group says Maine has until Jan. 10 to decide whether to join the lawsuit.

IN WASHINGTON

In a month full of stops and starts, Congress actually ended up getting a lot more done than many thought it would before adjourning for the year.

Most of the action was dominated by the Senate, which was able to vote on a logjam of issues after President Obama and Republican Senate leadership made an agreement on extending Bush-era tax cuts.

Sen. Susan Collins was a leader in reviving the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, which had been headed toward defeat while attached to a larger defense spending bill. The Maine Republican sponsored the repeal as a stand-alone measure and helped shepherd its passage. Sen. Olympia Snowe, also a Maine Republican, supported the stand-alone repeal that will eventually allow gays to serve openly in the military.

Snowe and Collins also voted with 11 other Republicans and Democrats to support the New START treaty, a nuclear arms reduction pact negotiated between the United States and Russia.

The pair voted against the Dream Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

The 9/11 first responders health bill also passed at the last moment, with support from Snowe and Collins. The measure that was eventually approved was reduced in cost and the funding mechanism was altered from the original proposal.

Maine’s U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, also supported the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and the 9/11 health bill. They voted against the tax deal.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]

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

[email protected]