Maine Democrats appear to once again control the state House and Senate after reclaiming the legislative majorities they lost two years ago when Republicans swept them from power, unofficial election results show.
Democrats say they now have a 21-13-1 majority in the state Senate, with potential recounts in two races, and an 87-60-4 lead in the House, with potential recounts in six races. If these results hold, they will reverse the current Republican majorities in the House (77-70, two members unenrolled, two seats vacant) and the 19-15 advantage in the Senate (one unenrolled).
Not every race has been called, but it’s unlikely that Republicans will hang on to their majority in either chamber.
That means Democrats will be able to keep in check the policy agenda of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, after playing defense for the past two years. Democratic lawmakers will also be able to elect the state’s constitutional officers, including secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general.
And the party will hold sway over legislative redistricting, which must be done during the upcoming session.
The victories represent a comeback for a party that also has struggled against independent candidates in top-ticket races. Democrats finished third in the 2010 governor’s race and this year’s U.S. Senate race.
Wednesday, party leaders attributed the legislative win to overreaching by LePage and the Republican majority.
“This election was about working Mainers standing up for themselves and saying ‘Enough,’” Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said in a prepared statement. “We heard them, we’ve got their back, and we’re ready to work.”
Democratic candidates flipped Senate seats in at least four districts, including District 32 in Bangor, the most expensive race in the most expensive legislative election in state history. So far, 23 Republicans have been unseated in the House.
In addition, independent Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth apparently held off a challenge from Republican Chris Tyll, according to unofficial results.
The Woodbury-Tyll race was significant on several levels. Woodbury, who caucuses with both parties, figured to be a key player if the Senate race resulted in a 17-17 tie. Tyll, meanwhile, was projected as a rising star in the Republican party.
The race also drew attention from advocates for the Maine Clean Elections Act, which allows candidates to receive public funding to finance their campaigns. Recent changes to the law by the Republican Legislature — forced by a U.S. Supreme Court decision — were perceived to have weakened the law.
Woodbury, who ran as a Clean Elections candidate, was initially besieged by conservative groups spending against him and supporting Tyll. The Yarmouth independent had just over $20,000 in public election funds to spend on his race, while outside groups spent more than $70,000 in support of Tyll before OneMaine, a group started by 2010 gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, and another political action committee spent on Woodbury’s behalf.
Democrats’ biggest win was probably in Senate District 32, in Bangor and Hermon, where challenger Geoffrey Gratwick defeated Republican incumbent Nichi Farnham. The District 32 win was bolstered by two other victories over incumbent House Republicans in the Bangor area.
Democrats also picked up Senate District 15 in Androscoggin County, where candidate John Cleveland unseated Republican Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello. Democrat Colleen Lachowicz, hammered by Republicans for her online gaming activities, defeated Republican incumbent Thomas Martin in Senate District 25, which includes Kennebec County.
Democrats also defended their Senate District 6 seat in Scarborough, a race targeted heavily by the parties and outside groups. Democrat Jim Boyle defeated Republican Ruth Summers, wife of Secretary of State Charlie Summers, who also lost his U.S. Senate bid.
The news wasn’t all good for Democrats. Rep. John Martin, longtime Democratic stalwart and former House speaker, was defeated by Republican Allen Nadeau in House District 1 in Aroostook and Somerset counties. Martin was renowned in Augusta for his mastery of parliamentary procedures, which he used to outmaneuver opponents. Martin and his business interests were at the center of controversies that may have hurt his bid.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: