Two state Senate seats representing Portland are up for grabs this year, setting off a chain reaction that could reshuffle the city’s deck of elected officials and perhaps even lead to a gubernatorial bid by Sen. Justin Alfond.

Alfond, the former Senate president and current Senate minority leader, is unable to run for re-election in District 27 – which primarily covers the peninsula, islands and Back Cove – because of term limits. He said he would not run for a seat in the Maine House but instead would explore a 2018 bid for governor.

“It’s just the beginnings of a conversation,” the 40-year-old Democrat said.

Alfond said he plans to help fellow Democrats regain control of the Maine Senate, while also focusing on an expansion of Bayside Bowl, a Portland business he owns.

Although the 2018 race for governor is two years away and there are no declared candidates, some have speculated Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves is also exploring a 2018 run, as well as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew on the Republican side.

The lack of any incumbents in the races for Portland’s two Senate seats will have a more immediate impact, sending ripple effects down to the City Council level.

Sen. Anne Haskell is retiring from politics at the age of 72. Haskell has served eight terms, including two in the Senate, and worked in both the governor’s office and Maine International Trade Center under Gov. Angus King, as well as for the Finance Authority of Maine under Gov. John Baldacci.

“It’s really a personal decision having nothing to do at all with events here (in Augusta) but wanting to spend a little more time at home with my husband,” Haskell said.


Haskell was alluding to the tense relationship between Democrats and Gov. Paul LePage, who in recent years has taken aim at Portland over funding for homeless shelters and providing state aid to asylum-seeking immigrants. He also misidentified Maine’s largest city as a “sanctuary city,” where law enforcement officials are prohibited from working with immigration officials.

Alfond has been a target of the governor both on a personal and political level. In addition to public spats over policy differences, LePage once described Alfond as a “little spoiled brat” and suggested he be “put in a playpen.” In turn, Alfond has been quick to call out the governor’s colorful language and explosive temperament.

It’s rare that both Senate seats lack an incumbent, though it happened most recently in 2008, when state Sens. Michael Brennan and Ethan Strimling both ran for the 1st District U.S. House seat against the eventual winner, Chellie Pingree.

So far, at least three candidates have declared their interest in Haskell’s District 28 seat in the Senate, which represents off-peninsula neighborhoods and part of Westbrook: Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland; City Councilor Jill Duson, a Democrat; and former state Rep. Ann Peoples, D-Westbrook.

Haskell is supporting Duson, having previously served as treasurer for Duson’s 2011 bid for mayor. “I expect a robust and very professional campaign with those three high-level individuals,” Haskell said. “They’re good people.”

Dion, 60, said he plans on formalizing his candidacy Wednesday. He said his experience as a state representative, where he has chaired the criminal justice and energy committees, would allow better coordination and continuity between the two chambers. The former Cumberland County sheriff said the Senate is “going to be key” in tackling the heroin crisis, high energy costs and wages.

Duson, 62, is in her 15th year on the City Council. Her current term doesn’t expire until 2017.

She recently retired from state government, where she has worked on and off since 1983, as the director of DHHS Bureau of Rehabilitative Services and more recently as a compliance manager for the Human Rights Commission.

“It’s not often there’s an open seat,” Duson said. “Working at the municipal level and watching what has gone on over the past few years has made me more committed to seeing if I can help make a difference and making that process manageable. I think we’re stuck in this style of contentiousness.”

Peoples served four terms in the House before being termed out of office in 2014. The 68-year-old said she has eight years of experience serving on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, as well as 20 years of transportation policy experience on the Metro board of directors and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Planning System.

Peoples said she expects an “uphill battle” against her well-known opponents from Portland. “It’s going to be hard work but I’m prepared to work very hard at it,” said the former Westbrook councilor and Planning Board member. “I think I have something to bring to the party and when I introduce myself to people, they will see that.”


In Senate District 27, representing the peninsula, Rep. Diane Russell is only person with elected experience to register with the state as a candidate. However, Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, representing the Parkside neighborhood, and City Councilor Jon Hinck, a Democrat and former state legislator, said they are strongly considering entering the race.

Both Hinck and Chipman said they were still talking to supporters, but were encouraged by what they heard. Both expect to decide soon.

Dr. Chuck Radis, a semiretired rheumatologist who lives on Peaks Island, announced Monday that he was collecting signatures to appear on the ballot. Besides being elected to serve of the Casco Bay Lines board of directors, Radis has little experience in elected office, but he thinks his medical background will help the state tackle issues such as MaineCare, the heroin crisis and health insurance exchanges.

Radis said he expects to register as a candidate soon.

Meanwhile, Alfond said he is not ready to weigh in on the Democratic primary for his seat, but he said it is important that Portland, which produces roughly half of the state’s total gross domestic product, has a strong voice in Augusta.

Eight House seats will also be decided in Portland. Only two incumbents – Democrat Peter Stuckey in District 42 and Russell in District 39 – are termed out.

Candidates affiliated with political parties have until March 15 to gather signatures and submit them to the state in order to appear on the June primary ballot.


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