Rep. William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham is a 44-year-old, libertarian-minded lobsterman from Winter Harbor who rose to prominence by leading a bipartisan effort to amend the state’s constitution, granting all residents the right to food.

At age 28, Sen. Harold “Trey” Stewart III, of Presque Isle, is the youngest member of the state Senate – a fifth-generation Aroostook County native with national ambitions who is concerned about woke, cancel culture.

The two were selected to lead the Legislature’s Republican minorities in the upcoming session and to help expand the party’s appeal to a wider swath of Maine voters after a disappointing election cycle. Democrat Janet Mills was reelected as governor, easily defeating former two-term Gov. Paul LePage by more than 10 percentage points, and Democrats also will hold sizable advantages in the Senate, 22-13, and House, 82-67.

In interviews with the Press Herald, both Stewart, the Senate minority leader, and Faulkingham, the House minority leader, said they will work with their respective caucuses to determine legislative priorities for the next two years, but each offered hints about the overarching values and themes they hope to focus on. Two common themes were individual liberties and parental rights in education, a national theme sparked by concerns about what students are being taught about racism, gender and sexuality.

Stewart said Republicans need to offer affirmative solutions to problems faced by Maine families, rather than being the party of opposition that seeks only to blame Democrats for global issues like inflation and high energy prices. He thinks they need to look to Republican success stories, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to find themes that resonate with voters.

He believes the state GOP needs to position itself as the party of individual freedom.


“We have to confront the cultural war that’s going on right now head on, in my opinion,” he said. “We can’t just make it about the economy when businesses are being shut down because of the woke culture – and parents are being boxed out of important decisions about their children.”

Faulkingham said Republicans need to push back when Democrats brand them as a party of racists, bigots and election deniers. He believes the party will have to consider changing its platform and general philosophy to be more accepting of labor unions, gay marriage and nontraditional families.

“The highest ranking Republican in Maine is (U.S. Sen.) Susan Collins and she just cast a vote to solidify gay marriage, so that’s something our party is going to have to address internally,” he said. “We need to change our view of unions, and we need to make unions change their view of us, because unions are workers and we support workers. I think there’s a divide there that shouldn’t exist.”

Unionization efforts have been picking up steam across the country, not just in industrial workplaces but in coffee shops and art museums. Faulkingham is a dues-paying member of the Maine Lobstering Union and he was the only Republican endorsed by the Maine Education Association, which represents teachers.

In addition to Stewart and Faulkingham, Sen. Lisa Keim, a Dixfield homemaker, was selected as assistant Senate minority leader, and Rep. Amy Arata, a New Gloucester real estate professional and former board member of the conservative Christian Civic League, will be assistant House minority leader.



Sen. Rick Bennett, a former chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said he was “very encouraged” by the new House and Senate caucus leaders, calling them among the hardest working legislators in Augusta.

He said Stewart’s selection represents a generational shift that he hopes will encourage his caucus to focus less on national political personalities or simply opposing Democrats’ agenda and more on finding new ways to connect with Maine voters. He said both Stewart and Keim are thoughtful, professional, serious, well-respected and effective communicators.

“It’s obviously a frustrating election return for Republicans. It’s time to regroup and analyze how to connect better with Maine voters,” Bennett said. “I do think it’s more than communication – we need to connect on issues. And we need a little introspection.”

Bennett said there is no ideological purity in the leadership of either chamber – and that’s a good thing.

“They’re people I don’t always agree with on the issues, but that’s really not the point,” he said. “The point is to have a process of discovery, where we think outside the box, so we can really reconnect government to the people.”

Ken Fredette, a House Republican leader from 2012 to 2018, said legislative Republicans and the Maine Republican Party need to make changes or risk finding themselves in the same position two years from now.


“We just got beat in a cycle where we should have picked up seats and we didn’t. It was pretty much an abysmal failure,” said Fredette, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.

“Ultimately, they sought to change leadership in the Legislature – they ought to be looking to make the same kind of changes at Maine GOP,” he said.

The Maine Republican Party, which is expected to elect its leaders in January, sought to blame Gov. Janet Mills and state Democrats for a range of problems – from inflation and high gas and heating fuel prices to crime and overdose deaths, without offering much in the way of ideas to solve them. The party also tried to tie Democrats, including Senate President Troy Jackson, to the progressive defund-the-police movement, prompting law enforcement officers to defend Jackson, and often characterized Democrats as fomenting what it described as a “woke” public education system.

It did not seem to work.

It’s unclear whether legislative Republicans will pivot from that strategy. Stewart and Faulkingham both suggested in interviews that they will continue to focus on parental rights in education – a strategy that worked for Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin in 2021 but failed to gain traction for many other candidates in 2022, including former Gov. Paul LePage.



Stewart comes from a prominent northern Maine family. His grandfather, who served in both the U.S. Navy and Army, spent one term in the 100th Legislature – a position he primarily sought to gain clients for his new law practice – and his father ran his own law firm for nearly 30 years before becoming a Superior Court judge.

His mom owned an outdoor sporting goods store in The County but moved Down East to work on a lobster boat after getting divorced. She was diagnosed with stage four cancer about four years ago and died last year. Stewart has two younger siblings.

He said he was first drawn to politics while attending the University of Maine, where he served as student body president and graduated with a political science degree.

During the summer between his junior and senior year in college, Stewart served as an intern for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Washington. He said he wasn’t impressed with some of the people elected to Congress, primarily those from gerrymandered districts.

“It surprised you how low the bar was in some cases,” he said.

Soon after, Stewart was working in Poliquin’s Presque Isle office. He ran for state House his senior year and won, serving two terms and earning a master’s degree in business during his first term. He served one term as assistant minority leader before reluctantly running for state Senate after a Republican candidate withdrew. He won that race as well and went on to earn his law degree while serving in the Senate. He passed his bar exam this summer.


Stewart serves as the state chairman and is on the board of directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank that offers model state legislation. He had set his sights on challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden for the 2nd District seat in Congress, but withdrew when his mentor, Poliquin, announced another run.

“I thought I could give Jared a good run for his money, and I thought the timing was pretty alright,” he said. “I was surprised when Bruce got in. … Bruce gave me my first crack at politics in Maine, so I wanted to be loyal to him in that regard.”

Stewart said he and other Republicans are waiting to get data from the Secretary of State’s Office before conducting a full postmortem on the 2022 cycle. But he believes Republicans need to do a better job of articulating what they stand for, rather than what they stand against.

“As Republicans, we need a vision up and down the ticket for how we want to move the state of Maine forward and articulate that vision clearly,” he said, adding that the party also needs a better fundraising strategy and campaign infrastructure. “We need to be more mechanical and engineer-like in how we go about operating and supporting our candidates, because the other side does that a lot better.”


Faulkingham’s earliest memories are the times he spent on his father’s 28-foot lobster boat, Becky’s Boy, off the coast of Winter Harbor in Hancock County. At the age of 3, he could barely see over the rail and would often take naps on a pile of lifejackets his dad had set up for him.


By 7, Faulkingham was mucking his way through the mudflats with hoe in hand, digging for worms right alongside his dad. Later, he’d learn a thing or two about plumbing from his grandfather.

While Faulkingham was learning how extract a living from the sea, his mother was working 10 hours a day in a sardine factory. His family didn’t have much, he said. His first bed was a couch in the living room of his family’s one-room apartment.

Faulkingham, who appeared in a TV ad for Poliquin and stumped for LePage, said he is looking to make inroads with a wider swath of Maine voters. He wants Republicans to reach out to parents and workers to better understand the issues that matter to them. Republicans should be known for supporting workers and family values – which is why he expects to keep a focus on parental rights.

More broadly, he believes the party needs to reassess its positions on what constitutes a family and a marriage. The current state party platform says marriage should be between a man and a women.

Faulkingham also is looking to make inroads with unions. He noted that he was the only House Republican endorsed by the Maine Education Association, in part because of his successful effort to increase the state’s share of public school teachers’ health care costs from 45% to 55%.

He acknowledged a rough patch in his 20s that resulted in a criminal record – something the Maine Democratic Party made public when he first ran for office in 2018. He was convicted of assault in 2000; he pleaded guilty in 2003 to criminal mischief and disorderly conduct; and he was found guilty of driving under the influence in 2008, according to a criminal background check.


But he said he turned his life around after his daughter – the first of his three kids – was born.

“I was young and immature,” he said. “After my daughter was born, my life changed. I think I’m a pretty good example that you’re not defined by your mistakes and how far somebody can come.”

Faulkingham said he was drawn to politics by Ron Paul, a libertarian, at a time when he was looking for better ways to push back against federal regulations that he worried would sink the state’s lobster industry.

Before he discovered Paul in 2012, he said, he he felt like a political outcast – he was fiscally conservative, from having to write checks to the IRS every year, but couldn’t support Republicans’ attack on civil liberties. He served as a selectman in Winter Harbor for six years before he was elected to the House in 2018.

Faulkingham was the lead sponsor of a bill that led to the right-to-food constitutional amendment last year. He also sponsored a bill to prevent police from seizing private property – a process known as civil asset forfeiture – until a person has been convicted of a crime. He led efforts to block an offshore wind project and was an outspoken critic during the pandemic of mask and vaccine mandates.

He said he will look to his caucus for priorities going forward but thinks his new position sends a message.

“We didn’t elect a lawyer or a retired person – we elected a worker,” he said. “My living comes out of the sea. I think we want to be the party that represents those people.”

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