AUGUSTA — The Republican minority caucus in the Maine House of Representatives is getting a little smaller after a South Portland lawmaker said he was unenrolling from the party to become an independent.

Rep. Kevin Battle, who was recently elected to his second term, said Wednesday he had decided to leave the Republican caucus but was doing so with no hard feelings.

Meanwhile, Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Sabattus, said he too may leave the Republican Party.

“I’m doing some very serious thinking about it and will know within the next week or so,” Wood said.

While Wood was still mulling his options, Battle said there was no specific reason why he is leaving the party. He just thinks he will be better able to serve his constituents without a party label.

“Being involved in a party you get tied up in more things party-wise,” Battle said. “I’ve always been an independent and most of the voters in my district are independents, so I think this would work better for both me and my constituents.”

Battle believes some constituents were less likely to approach him with concerns or ideas because he was enrolled as a Republican. “I think instead of having a party title looming over me, I will be more approachable,” Battle said, noting that his party affiliation “put a wall up for some people.”

His departure will bring the House Republican caucus down to 71 members, compared with 77 Democrats.

He doesn’t plan to caucus with Republicans or Democrats and said he would try to pick and choose which party to align himself with based on the issues at hand.

Battle previously has sided with Democrats, joining them on several issues, including voting to overturn vetoes by Republican Gov. Paul LePage on the state budget. Battle also has opposed LePage’s push to entirely eliminate the state’s income tax, and has supported the minimum wage increase and tighter background checks for private gun sales in Maine, both issues that the governor opposed.

“This will just work better for me and who I am,” said Battle, the harbor master of Portland Harbor and a retired South Portland police officer.

Wood, recently elected to his fourth term in the House, was more guarded about his reasons for potentially leaving the party, saying he will make them known publicly if he does decide to make the change. Wood typically votes with the more conservative flank of the party and has aligned himself with LePage on a host of issues, including tax cuts and firearm background checks. He works as a licensed Maine Guide.

Battle will join two other unenrolled members of the House.

“Rep. Kevin Battle is a friend of mine and we have enjoyed his being a member of the House Republican Caucus,” House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said in a prepared statement. “While I understand Kevin is becoming an unenrolled member today for personal reasons, we continue to expect that he will caucus with the House Republicans and work closely with us on either passing or stopping important legislation for our state.”

Battle said he still liked and respected both Fredette and House Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, and considered both friends. But he also said he has Democratic colleagues he valued and respected and intended to work with as well.

 

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