AUGUSTA — Newly elected Democratic lawmakers began choosing their legislative leaders Wednesday, vowing to govern with Republicans and Gov. Paul LePage, but not abandon their party’s values.

The selections came more than a week after a bruising election in which voters re-elected LePage and gave Republicans significant gains in the State House. However, Democrats rejected Republican claims that the election came with a mandate to approve a conservative agenda. And that sentiment was reflected in leadership selections that could set the tone for Democrats’ relationship with LePage over the next two years.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, was nominated Wednesday to a second two-year term following secret ballot voting held at the State House. Eves’ first term was marked by several run-ins with the governor, particularly over the expansion of Medicaid eligibility, something LePage vetoed multiple times over the past two years.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, voted unanimously to nominate outgoing Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, as minority leader during a separate election held in Hallowell on Wednesday evening. Alfond also sparred with LePage repeatedly during the governor’s first term.

“Even though, as Democrats, our political beliefs may be different from Paul LePage and Republicans in the Legislature, there are areas in which we agree – and we must build off of that common ground in order to serve the Maine people,” Alfond told his colleagues Wednesday evening. “I will extend my hand to Gov. LePage, Senate President-elect Thibodeau and others to find that common ground and forge the relationships needed to move ideas forward that work for Maine people.”

Senator Dawn Hill, D-York, who is beginning her third term in the Legislature, was elected assistant Senate minority leader. She is the former chairwoman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.


The victory for LePage and Republican gains in the Legislature came against a national backdrop that saw Republicans win 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers across the nation. In Maine, the victories spurred speculation that Le-Page had won something of a mandate, and therefore, should benefit from a less-resistant Democratic caucus.

However, a change in the governing dynamic in Maine appears destined to take place slowly, if at all. The retention of Eves and Alfond would appear to foreshadow more conflict between the Democratic leaders and the governor, who have squabbled over everything from major policy initiatives to whether it was proper for political messages to be broadcast on a television screen outside LePage’s office. Alfond in particular has been a frequent foil for LePage, both as president of the Senate and when he was Democratic minority leader from 2011 to 2012.

In addition, Senate Republicans last week selected a staunchly conservative slate of leaders noted for their allegiance to LePage.

Eves ran unopposed for a second term as speaker. He told caucus members Wednesday that Democrats need to work with Republicans while not compromising the party’s core values.

“Now we must come together with Gov. LePage, our Republican allies to meet the challenges that are facing the state,” said Eves, noting there are opportunities for collaboration in many policy areas, including economic issues and addressing challenges for Maine’s aging population.

Eves emphasized teamwork during his address. He said Democrats could not allow partisan battles and “petty politics” to deter progress.


“We will hold the line for hope, for promise of a better future,” he said.

Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, who seconded Eves’ nomination, underscored the challenge for rural Democrats, who suffered numerous losses on Election Day.

“Mainers disagree what we should do, but they all agree that we should work,” Duchesne said.

Democrats will retain a 79-68 majority in the House of Representatives. There are also four independents who often vote with Democrats.

However, Republicans now have a 20-15 majority in the Senate, which had been controlled by the Democrats. Such swings in power often result in leadership changes. Former House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, for example, was promptly voted out of leadership after Democrats retook the House during the 2012 election.

However, Alfond has been a prolific donor to political action committees that help Democrats get elected and his high-profile resistance to Le-Page helped energize the party after bitter defeats in 2010.


Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a moderate Democrat who had bucked the Democratic caucus during the first two years of LePage’s first term, had been rumored to be challenging Alfond. However, Diamond said Wednesday that he was out of the running.

Republicans in the Senate last week selected hardline conservatives, including Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, to Senate president and Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, as majority leader.

Republican minority leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who led a brief uprising against Le-Page when he and several Republicans joined Democrats to override the governor’s veto of the state budget in 2012, retained his position in the House. He will be joined by Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, a staunch LePage supporter, as assistant leader.

Wednesday’s leadership election signaled some discontent within the Democratic caucus. While Eves was re-elected, his leadership team faced a challenge Wednesday.

Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, a dealmaker who has fostered a working relationship with Le-Page, challenged Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, for House majority leader.

McCabe is Eves’ current assistant majority leader, or whip. McCabe has been an outspoken critic of LePage, a role often inherent in the whip position.


Hobbins said that if elected, he wouldn’t roll over for LePage.

“They (Mainers) don’t want daily attacks by the governor and daily counterattacks on us by the governor,” Hobbins said. “I will not disrespect this governor or ridicule him, or mock him or lampoon him. It serves no purpose. In fact it probably causes him to dig in his heels even more.”

He added, “They said stop talking at us and start listening to us. You may disagree with that analysis, but to me, it was crystal clear.”

McCabe, who ultimately won Wednesday, agreed that voters last week had signaled their desire for bipartisanship, not deadlock. He also noted that Democrats needed a lawmaker from the rural 2nd Congressional District.

“I truly believe that having that geographic diversity in leadership is essential as we move forward,” he said. “I will bring an important perspective and an understanding of the more rural, conservative part of our state to our leadership team.”

Democrats nominated Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, as assistant leader.

The Legislature will convene Dec. 3 to swear in newly elected lawmakers and ratify the nominees for Senate president and House speaker. If elected, Eves will become the first House speaker to be nominated to serve more than one term since 1994.

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