AUGUSTA — Local legislators who began their first term Wednesday said they were honored by the job and anxious to get going.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” said Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta. “The lens I look at things through is going to be trying to keep young people in Maine.”
Pouliot was one of 186 Mainers who officially began their new terms of office in the 126th Maine Legislature. He’s one of 13 local legislators with no previous experience in the House or Senate, and many of them said they were nearly overwhelmed with emotion during the ceremonies in the House and Senate chambers.
“I had goosebumps coming in today,” said Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro. “Today it takes on another whole meaning.”
Fowle said she and her colleagues will be focused on balancing the budget and that she’s anxious to get her committee assignment. Leadership is expected to let lawmakers know later this month which committees they will serve on.
Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, said she’s ready to get to work on the budget and issues such as the need for affordable health care and jobs.
“I feel really honored to be here,” she said while the Senate was in recess. “I think we’re all just excited to work together. That’s why I’m here.”
Democrats officially took control of both the House and Senate on Wednesday, installing Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, as Senate president and Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, as House speaker. Both men sounded bipartisan tones in their speeches, something local legislators echoed in their remarks following the ceremonies.
“I’ve made lots of friends on both sides,” said Rep. Ellen Winchenbach, R-Waldoboro. “Speaker Eves said everything that needed to be said. I look forward to working together across the aisle.”
Rep. Gay Grant, D-South Gardiner, said it was “awe-inspiring” to get sworn in. As she held a bouquet of roses a friend gave her in honor of former U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, she spoke of Daniel Bates, a Republican who was running against her for the Legislature until he died in September.
“The spirit of his civility and community service have come with me to the House,” she said. “I can’t sit here and not think of him.”
As they stood in the lunch line together, Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, both talked about their concerns about balancing the budget.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to not cut, cut, cut so people aren’t strapped,” Hickman said.
Wilson said he’s hoping to get a spot on the Transportation Committee, where he intends to fight for more money to pave roads in Augusta. As a veteran, he’s also interested in sponsoring bills to help others who have served in the military.
Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, said she too will focus on serving her hometown.
“I want to be the voice for Winslow,” she said. “I want to make sure we can get as close to 55 percent (funding) for our schools as we can get.”
Over in Fairfield, Rep. Karen Kusiak, a Democrat, said she too has an interest in education. As a college professor, she said maintaining a strong educational system — from early childhood through the community colleges and universities — is her priority.
“I’d like to be supportive of public education,” she said.
Grant, a Democrat, said she’s already met a fellow female lawmaker from Caribou — Rep. Carol McElwee, a Republican — and they have agreed to check in with each other as they learn the legislative ropes.
Today their formal training continues with a legislative policy forum on jobs and job creation at the Gov. Hill Mansion in Augusta.
“My first order of business was to make friends on the other side of the aisle,” she said. “I reached out to newbies like myself.”
Susan Cover — 621-5643