AUGUSTA — Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives nominated the next speaker of the House on Friday, selecting a Freeport lawmaker who has gone toe-to-toe with Republican Gov. Paul LePage on a number of issues.

Rep. Sara Gideon, 44, was a determined proponent of solar energy expansion and increased access to the overdose antidote naloxone, positions that put her at odds with LePage on those issues.

LePage prevailed in the battle over solar energy, backed by Republican allies in the House. However, Gideon defeated LePage and in April won approval of a bill that was aimed at expanding access to naloxone, often known by its brand name Narcan. The bill championed by Gideon and supported by constituents who had lost family members to overdoses became law over LePage’s veto.

Gideon was widely credited with pushing the legislation through and building a bipartisan coalition that also drew national attention to her, LePage’s stance against the drug and Maine’s opioid crisis.

That effort was not lost on the Democratic lawmakers Friday, with those who nominated Gideon to the speaker’s post saying she could be credited for saving hundreds of lives in Maine.

In August, Gideon also led a chorus of Democratic lawmakers who called on LePage to resign or seek professional help following controversial comments he made about the race of drug dealers in Maine and an expletive-laden voice mail he left for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. Gideon said she and other Democrats believed LePage was “unfit to serve.”

Gideon will be replacing outgoing Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Eves also has had his share of conflicts with LePage, including a lawsuit that Eves filed against LePage after the governor threatened to cut state funding to a nonprofit charter school if the school’s parent organization went ahead with hiring Eves as its new president. That case is under appeal.

Gideon, currently the assistant majority leader, won the nomination and likely the post, in a three-way race featuring Rep. Gay Grant of Gardiner and Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop.

Gideon won a majority of votes in a secret ballot, and both Grant and Hickman vowed to fully support her.

The entire House will vote on filling the speaker’s seat. With Democrats holding a five-seat edge over Republicans, Gideon is virtually assured of being chosen.

In a proceeding that consumed the morning, House Democrats – who hold 77 seats to the Republicans’ 72 – also elected Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, as their new majority leader over Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle. There are two unenrolled House members in the 128th Legislature, which will begin its work in December.

Elected unopposed as assistant majority leader was Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston. Golden recently won his second term in the House, while Gideon was just elected to her third term, while Herbig won her fourth and final consecutive term.

Gideon told her colleagues the results of the recent elections in Maine and nationally need to be a wake-up call for Democrats.

“Our faith as Americans and as Democrats has been tested this year,” Gideon said. “This election was like no other in our lifetimes.” She said they were all still likely wondering how they ended up with Republicans chipping away at their majority and Donald Trump as president.

“We are still the party of the people who have each others backs, we are still the ones who care about 99 percent of the people, the people who need our advocacy … we are still a diverse group of Maine Democrats trusted by Maine people to send us back here to work on their behalf. And we are still Mainers and this is really important because instead of seeing division and dysfunction in the wake of these elections, instead we see the immense opportunity to meet people where they are and to find a way to bring us all back together,” she said.

Gideon went on to say that all voters, no matter whom they voted for, need to be respected and understood.

“The opinions expressed by voters this fall are real, and they have meaning and they matter,” she said. “We need to understand that all across this state there are people living on the edge, people who can’t imagine what will bring their jobs or their communities back.”

As the presiding officer and majority leader, the speaker of the House holds an important position, often setting the agenda for floor proceedings and determining when bills will be brought to the floor for votes. The speaker also is instrumental in appointing lawmakers to committee chairmanships and in Maine is third in the line of succession to the governor’s office, behind the Senate president.

Those speaking in favor of Gideon said her cool-headed leadership would be needed to ensure negotiations with Republicans in the House minority and the Senate majority, as well as with LePage, are productive.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, likened Gideon to a captain guiding a ship through storm at sea. “Make no mistake the LePage storm will continue to threaten all of us doing the most harm for those already suffering the most pain. Paul LePage’s desire for a legacy will now be reinforced by Trump’s idealogical hurricane.”

Warren said Gideon’s leadership would provide hope, shelter and protection from the merger of those allegorical storms that would threaten civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection and “basic equality.”

“Indeed these storms will shake the very foundation of civilized government in Maine,” Warren said.

Herbig will replace outgoing Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, who also has clashed with LePage on a range of issues. Both Eves and McCabe are leaving the House because of term limits, each having served four consecutive two-year terms. Earlier this month, McCabe lost a bid for a state Senate seat against incumbent Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan.

Last week, Republican lawmakers in the Senate majority and House minority stuck with their current leaders nominating Sen. Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, for the post of Senate president while reelecting Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, as majority leader and Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Newport, as assistant majority leader.

In the House, Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, was reelected as the Republican minority leader and Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, was again selected to be Fredette’s assistant.

On Monday, Senate Democrats elected their leaders, selecting Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, as minority leader and Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, as assistant minority leader.

The new leaders are expected to be instrumental in the 128th Legislature, which is more evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans control the Senate, with 18 seats to the Democrats’ 17.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.