Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, front right, acknowledges a standing ovation from his fellow House members after they passed a joint resolution in honor of his retirement Friday at the Maine State House in Augusta. Millett is retiring after his ninth term in the House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Some have served eight or nine terms in the Maine Legislature. Others have worked on landmark bills. Several have been leaders in their parties.

More than two dozen state lawmakers won’t be returning to Augusta next year when a new Legislature takes office. Some have termed out of service, while others aren’t seeking reelection so they can be closer to home or focus on their work and families.

They include Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the powerful president of the Senate who ran up against term limits, and Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a State House institution who was first elected in 1968 and got a standing ovation on his last day in the House chamber on Friday.

Other lawmakers in leadership positions who can’t run for their seats again are Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic; Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield; and House Majority Leader Mo Terry, D-Gorham.

Other prominent lawmakers who have run up against term limits, including House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, are hoping to stay in the action by seeking other offices. Talbot Ross is running for the state Senate seat currently held by Ben Chipman, D-Portland, who is termed out of the Senate and is running for Talbot Ross’ House seat.

While both Democratic leaders are termed out, the two top Republicans in the Legislature – Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, and House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor – have yet to serve the maximum four terms and are seeking reelection to their same seats.

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The Press Herald spoke with 10 of the prominent departing lawmakers about their time in office and their future plans. Here’s what they had to say.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, left, speaks with Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic; Senate Republican Leader Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner; and Assistant Senate Republican Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, about which bills to take up next during a break in the Maine Senate in April 2022. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SEN. TROY JACKSON, D-ALLAGASH

Jackson was first elected to the House 22 years ago and served three terms there before rising up the ranks to become Senate president, a role he has served in since 2019. He is termed out of running for the Senate again under state law, which dictates that a person may not hold more than four consecutive terms in either chamber of the Legislature.

A major player at the State House in recent years, the 55-year-old’s next move is the subject of more than a little speculation. But a spokesperson for Jackson said he was busy wrapping up the legislative session last week and was not available for an interview.

During his time in office, he has championed issues such as workers’ rights and child care. In 2021, he sponsored the bill that was incorporated into the state budget to give all Maine students free lunches, and he was invited to speak on a panel at the White House last summer after pushing for the inclusion of investments in child care in the budget.

Jackson also clashed with former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, during earlier terms in office – a relationship that made headlines in 2013 when LePage said during discussions about the state budget that Jackson, then the assistant Senate majority leader, “claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people without providing Vaseline.”

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Some political observers have speculated that Jackson is eyeing a run for higher office. He made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2014 and has since been urged by supporters to run for governor.

“There’s been a lot of talk about him running for governor, and it’s a logical next step for him,” said Lance Dutson, a Republican political consultant. “Troy is definitely one of the leading Democrats in the state and appears to be fairly ambitious. Those things, I think, make the speculation make sense.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, and state Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, share a laugh during the Senate session last month at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SEN. LISA KEIM, R-DIXFIELD

Keim, the assistant Senate minority leader, is running for a seat as an Oxford County commissioner after four terms in the Senate.

“I have enjoyed serving my communities and my neighbors, and I look forward to taking on another role of service,” Keim said.

Keim, 51, was the sponsor in 2019 of the yellow flag law that allows police to seek court orders to remove firearms from people who are experiencing a mental health crisis. She also spent time working on local food ordinances and public defense services.

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But she said she’s been disappointed by a lack of progress on improvements to the state’s child welfare system and that a bill she sponsored last year to have the state undertake a review of its COVID-19 response never got funded.

“There’s been nothing really so traumatic to individual lives, to schools, communities and our state as that whole upheaval that happened,” Keim said. “Many states did a review commission, and Maine did not. And I believe we still should. … We have not taken a hard look at how we responded as a government.”

Keim said it’s hard to leave the Maine Senate, but she’s looking forward to potentially serving as a county commissioner. If elected, she would be the first woman to hold the position, she said. “That would be kind of cool,” she said.

Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, listens to speeches before the House passed a joint resolution in honor of his retirement on Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

REP. H. SAWIN MILLETT, R-WATERFORD 

Millett, a nine-term representative, was first elected to the House in 1968 and has worked with eight governors, both as a lawmaker and in the executive branch.

He served as commissioner of education under Govs. James Longley and Joseph Brennan, and as legislative director and later as commissioner of finance under Gov. John McKernan.

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He worked on policy and was an associate commissioner for mental health under Gov. Angus King and commissioner of the Department of Administration and Financial Affairs under LePage.

He also served as a town manager in Paris, and he worked as a staff member for Senate Republicans and state office director for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

And at 86, Millett’s still not ready to retire: He’s seeking a four-year term as an Oxford County commissioner.

“I could have run for one more term (in the Legislature),” he said. “But being on the appropriations committee as well as government oversight, I found myself spending a lot of time on the road and away from home. Being the oldest member of the House, I think it’s time I spend more time at home and with my family.”

The longtime lawmaker said he’s seen things change a lot – there are more young people and women in office now than when he started.

But, at the same time, politics are also more divisive today, Millett said.

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“I find that less than desirable,” he said. “I go to the Legislature to get things done. I don’t look at it as a power struggle. I look at it as a way to work together to solve problems, not to exercise majority power. But it seems like that’s become more and more common.”

Still, Millett says he’s enjoyed his time in public service.

“It’s been a treat to work with people with diverse backgrounds, work across the party lines to get things done and be accountable in all my appointed roles for major functions and programs: education, finance, administrative and financial, mental health,” he said. “We had some serious issues to be dealt with. … I enjoyed being accountable.”

Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, speaks during a 2022 Senate session at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

SEN. ELOISE VITELLI, D-ARROWSIC

Vitelli, the Senate majority leader, has served a total of five terms in the Senate, including the past four.

“I don’t know what comes next for me, is the true answer,” she said. “I’m looking forward to finishing out my term by making sure our office stays strong and our constituents continue to be served.”

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Vitelli, 75, spent time in the Legislature working on the establishment of a public-private retirement savings program for employees who don’t have one through their work, renewable energy issues and student debt.

She’s also worked on child care and women’s issues, and she was the sponsor this session of L.D. 780, which would have sent to voters a referendum to add an amendment to the Maine constitution protecting the right to abortion.

“I felt so strongly, and still do, about the importance of that legislation,” Vitelli said. She said the issue of abortion rights is not going to go away, even if she’s not the one that keeps it moving forward.

“These things don’t come easy, but we don’t give up,” she said.

State Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, introduces his bill, L.D. 1738, “An Act to Create Lodging for Legislators,” before the State and Local Government committee in May 2023. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

REP. BENJAMIN COLLINGS, D-PORTLAND 

Collings, a four-term lawmaker, plans to get back to his work as a political and business consultant. He said his time in office reinforced how partisan American politics have gotten, and that term limits aren’t a good thing.

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“I’ve seen every year that it seems that bureaucrats, executives and lobbyists have the advantage,” said Collings, 48. “A lot of them have been there for decades. They don’t have term limits. (In the Legislature), you’re always starting out with new people having to learn and get trained again. You’re always in a deficit.”

As someone who served through the COVID-19 pandemic, Collings said he will remember it as an especially challenging time.

“Day after day all of us were just constantly helping people who lost their jobs, lost their housing or were having health care issues,” he said. “It was a bit surreal to have to do that, especially with hybrid meetings.”

“I have to commend my peers,” Collings added. “We really worked hard through that and sacrificed to make sure everyone, no matter who they were and where they lived, had their needs met to the best of their ability.”

Then-Sen. Rebecca Millett, center, calls for a vote from members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs on a bill she sponsored to ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools during a hearing in 2019. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

REP. REBECCA MILLETT, D-CAPE ELIZABETH 

After 12 years in the Senate and House of Representatives, Millett is stepping aside to let others run for her seat.

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“It’s important to make room for new people, new energy and new perspectives,” she said. “Twelve years seems like the right time to make room for somebody new.”

Millett, 61, said it will be hard to leave, though, and she will miss working on the issues she’s most passionate about in the Legislature: children and public education.

During her time in office, she was proud to have worked to get the state to pick up its full share of education costs, setting a minimum salary for teachers and reforming Child Development Services, the state agency that oversees the education of young children with disabilities.

Her biggest disappointment has been the failure of the Legislature to pass a red flag law that would allow families and law enforcement to seek a court order to temporarily remove a person’s weapons if they pose a risk to themselves or others, without the need to take the person into protective custody or have a mental health evaluation.

Millett sponsored a red flag bill in 2019 that was rejected in favor of the current yellow flag law. Gun safety advocates renewed the push for a red flag bill this session, but a bill from Talbot Ross was never voted on by the full Legislature.

“I cannot figure out why people are willing to have a person’s personal freedom taken away by being put in protective custody rather than (having authorities temporarily take) their firearms,” she said. “That was my biggest disappointment for sure.”

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Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, asks questions of a speaker during a hearing on a proposal before the Legislature for a “crisis intervention” law that would be similar to red flag laws in other states on April 5. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

SEN. ERIC BRAKEY, R-AUBURN

Brakey served as a state senator from 2014 to 2018 and returned in 2022. He’s stepping down and relocating to New Hampshire to take a job as the executive director of the Free State Project, which aims to get people with libertarian values to move to New Hampshire.

But that new job isn’t the only reason he isn’t seeking reelection.

“I’ve realized there’s a lot of life yet I still need to live, including wanting some more space to earn some money and start a family,” said Brakey, 35.

Brakey, though registered as a Republican, was known for promoting libertarian causes while in Augusta. He sponsored the 2015 bill that was signed into law to allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

Brakey said he’s proud to have “charted my own course,” though he also had frustrations working in Augusta.

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“I’m very disappointed with the gun control measures that passed this year, and I don’t think the last few years, if you’re someone who lives for freedom and liberty, have been good for you in the state of Maine,” he said.

Brakey, who has previously run for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, isn’t ruling out future runs for office.

“I’m going to take some time to be in the professional world and focus on family,” he said. “But it’s hard for me to imagine I won’t be hopping back into politics one day, whether that’s in Maine or in New Hampshire.”

Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, right, speaks at a news conference about gun safety in May 2019. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, file

REP. ANNE PERRY, D-CALAIS 

Perry, 76, has served a total of eight terms in the House of Representatives.

A retired family nurse practitioner, Perry prioritized legislation that was important to the health care sector, such as a bill that established Maine’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.

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The program allows doctors, nurses and other prescribers of medication to access a statewide database of patients’ controlled substance use information. The aim is to decrease prescriptions of opioids and controlled substances.

She also served on the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act in 2019 and said one regret from her time in office is that more progress hasn’t been made to implement the task force’s recommendations to give Maine tribes broader authority over issues including taxes, gambling and fishing.

“It’s moving forward, but slowly,” Perry said. “I would like to see more of it implemented.”

More recently, Perry was the sponsor of L.D. 227, which Gov. Mills signed into law last month. The legislation will shield providers of legally protected abortion and gender-affirming care from hostile out-of-state litigation.

Perry plans to spend more time with her family now that her legislative service is over, including on a trip they have planned to Korea this summer. And she doesn’t plan on running for any other office.

“I think it’s time for younger people to get in and get involved,” Perry said. “And they are. They’re doing that. And that, to me, is as important as whether I’m there or not. I’ll be here to help anyone who has questions.”

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Heidi Sampson

Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, wears a face shield during a legislative session in June 2021. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, file

REP. HEIDI SAMPSON, R-ALFRED 

Sampson, a former member of the State Board of Education and member of the Legislature’s education committee, said schools and education were a big focus for her during her four terms in the House.

Sampson was also known for her push back on the Mills’ administration COVID-19 response, signing on to a federal lawsuit in March 2021 that sought to end the state’s emergency declaration and prompting calls for her resignation after she made comments comparing vaccine mandates for health care workers to a Nazi doctor’s experiments on Jews during the Holocaust.

She said she was proud of the Legislature’s bipartisan work this session to set a minimum wage and raise pay for education technicians and to reform Child Development Services.

Sampson said she will be working as an educational consultant with the goal of providing support to struggling educators.

“I think I can be far more effective working with school districts” on an individual basis, Sampson said.

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“There are teachers working their butts off, hanging on by a thread. Administrators are frustrated. School board members are well-meaning and want to do the right thing but aren’t given all the necessary tools,” she said.

“Kids in Maine need a well-structured learning environment so they can succeed in life,” Sampson added, “and right now, we’re not serving them as well as we could.”

Rep. Maureen “Mo” Terry, D-Gorham, served as Speaker pro tempore of the Maine House in March 2023. Photo courtesy of the House Democratic Office

REP. MAUREEN TERRY, D-GORHAM

Terry, the House majority leader, is planning to get back to her business, Three Daughters Cookie Company.

Her seat may stay in the family, though: Her husband, Parnell Terry, is running.

Terry, 56, sponsored a law to allow nonprescription medications to be sold in vending machines and said she also enjoyed working on issues important to children and families.

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Jackson’s bill for free school lunches for all students was one of the most important things that passed during her time in office, Terry said.

“That’s one of the big reasons I came to the Legislature, was for working families like ours, folks with kids that are school-age, that are struggling to make ends meet,” she said. “I wanted to make sure working families have the things they need to be successful.”

Terry said there are a handful of bills she worked on this session that she’s asked returning lawmakers to continue moving forward, such as a bill to expand the tax credit for historic buildings to include smaller projects, residential buildings and nonprofits.

“Now we’ve done so much work on it, next year it will be a whole lot easier to understand,” she said. “It should be an easy thing to go through.”

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