AUGUSTA – With 10 open seats in the Senate and a close margin in the House, Maine Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a big election year.

Two years ago, Republicans took control of both houses and the governor’s office for the first time since 1966.

Control of both houses is again up for grabs, said Mark Brewer, political science professor at the University of Maine at Orono.

“It’s certainly conceivable you could have a change in partisan control in one or both chambers,” Brewer said. “Given the fact the governor has pushed a pretty aggressive and controversial agenda, the success or failure of his agenda lies largely with the results of this election, at least after this (legislative) session.”

This year will see the largest number of state senators — five from each party — timed out of office since term limits became law in 1993. That opens the Senate to newcomers, or in many cases, sitting House members.

More than 150 have already signed up in advance of the March 15 filing deadline and with 186 seats, more than twice that number are expected to run.

Both parties say they expect to field candidates in almost every race, even in districts where they know they have little chance of winning. And both say they are optimistic about their odds in November.

“I think what helps us is most people recognize the Legislature has moved the ship of state just slightly closer to the middle,” said Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party. “I don’t think people are upset with what the Legislature has done.”

Democrats disagree, pointing out that Republican majorities approved the ban on same-day voter registration, which was later repealed by voters. Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt cited other examples, including bills that have proposed getting rid of the state’s Clean Elections laws.

“Overall, there have been tons of distractions,” she said. “The eye hasn’t been kept on the ball — the economy and jobs.”

Republicans control the House 77-72-1, with one vacancy following last week’s resignation of Rep. David Burns, R-Alfred, pending a possible indictment on ethics violations. In November, the ethics commission found that Burns violated seven parts of state law governing Clean Election funds, including using the money for personal purposes, filing false documents, and reporting expenditures that never occurred. The matter has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office, with charges expected to be filed this week.

Another House seat might become vacant later this month if Rep. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, wins the Senate District 20 seat in a Feb. 14 special election. He faces Democrat Christopher Johnson of Somerville.

In the Senate, the current margin is 19-14-1. The District 20 seat became vacant when Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, left the Senate after becoming executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

The November ballot will be full of candidates and issues relevant to Mainers, including the presidential race, Sen. Olympia Snowe’s bid for re-election, both congressional elections, and an all-but-certain referendum on gay marriage, as well as the House and Senate races.

HOUSE

Few predicted a Republican takeover of the House in 2010, and the 151 races are always hard to call. So far, about 110 candidates have filed to run for the seats.

Two seats in particular could factor into who controls the chamber next year.

Burns’ resignation last week opens a seat representing the York County towns of Alfred, Limerick, Newfield and Shapleigh. Once the towns officially notify the governor of the vacancy, he will work with Secretary of State Charlie Summers to set a date for a special election.

If Dow wins the District 20 Senate seat, it will open up House District 50, which covers Bremen, Nobleboro, Waldoboro and part of Jefferson.

If Republicans retain both seats, they will keep their 78-72-1 majority. But if Democrats win both, it would be 76-74-1, with independent Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland voting with Democrats more often than not.

Both parties believe the House is up for grabs.

SENATE

Among the 10 lawmakers leaving due to term limits are high-powered legislators on both sides.

The GOP is losing Senate President Kevin Raye, Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman, Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Rosen and Judiciary Committee Chairman David Hastings.

Of those, only Plowman has filed to run for office again — she is seeking election to the House.

On the Democratic side, Minority Leader Barry Hobbins, former Majority Leader Phil Bartlett, former Appropriations Chairman Bill Diamond, Sen. Nancy Sullivan and Sen. Elizabeth Schneider are all prevented from running for re-election.

Sullivan has filed to run for the House.

State Senate primaries will be held for at least three Democratic and two Republican seats in June. More are possible, depending on who files to run by the March 15 deadline.

Republicans in Senate District 13, which covers 14 towns in Oxford and Cumberland counties, will decide between two sitting House members: Rep. Richard Cebra of Naples and Rep. James Hamper of Oxford. Senate District 33 will also have a Republican primary, with Assistant House Majority Leader Andre Cushing of Hampden facing Rep. David Richardson of Carmel.

For the Democrats, former Rep. Stephen Beaudette of Biddeford and David Dutremble of Biddeford will compete for the Senate District 4 nomination. That district covers four towns in York County.

Nearby Senate District 5, which includes five additional towns in York County, will see Democratic Reps. Don Pilon and Linda Valentino, both of Saco, on the June ballot. And in Waterville, newcomers Dana Hernandez and Colleen Lachowicz will compete for the Democratic nomination to Senate District 25.

Two years ago, outside money played a significant role in five Senate races. The Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Virginia, spent nearly $400,000 in the last two weeks of the election. All five Republican candidates who benefited from the independent expenditure won.

Brewer said he expects more outside spending this time around. “The days of that not being the case is over,” he said. “Outside money is going to continue to flood into Maine.”

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

[email protected]

 


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