AUGUSTA — The race to fill the Senate District 19 seat is heating up before its current occupant, Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, even has left office.
Goodall, D-Richmond, was appointed by President Barack Obama as the new regional administrator of the Small Business Administration, where he will oversee operations in all six New England states. He is expected to take the new position — and leave his District 19 seat — after the current legislative session ends, though he has not submitted his resignation yet.
A pair of State House veterans from both of the major parties say they are interested in running for the seat, which includes all of Sagadahoc County and the Lincoln County town of Dresden, though neither has made a final decision to jump into the race.
House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Phippsburg resident Paula Benoit, a Republican who was the District 19 senator from 2006 to 2008, both said Thursday they are “seriously considering” running for the Senate seat and have received numerous calls from supporters urging them to run.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from constituents, the minute Seth Goodall said he was stepping down, urging me to run,” Benoit said. “They’re saying, ‘Please, please, we need a moderate person in there, someone level-headed, and a business person.’ And I’m all three. I’m seriously considering it. There will be a caucus, and I’m sure there are other candidates people will put up. If I’m the candidate chosen, I shall do my best.”
Berry, who would be ineligible to run for re-election to his House District 67 seat at the end of 2014 because of term limits, also said he’s very seriously considering a run for Senate District 19, but said he also has to consider his obligations to his family and career as he makes that decision.
“I’m going to take my time and make a thoughtful decision that is right for my family and the people of Senate District 19,” Berry said. “I’m very committed to making sure my Senate district is well-represented in the future, as well as my House district. I’ll be working hard for that regardless of my own personal decision about the race. I’m pleased at the outpouring of support for me or whoever runs on our side. The Democrats in the district are fired up and prepared to stand up for Maine people.”
The race could have added statewide significance because if the Republican candidate wins, it would narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate to 18 seats. Democrats now hold a 19-15 majority, with one independent.
A fundraising email from the Maine Republican Party, authored by party chairman Richard Cebra, notes the race’s importance while also taking jabs at Berry.
“A victory for the GOP in this race puts us on the path to reclaiming a majority in the Maine Senate next year, as we would have knocked the Democrats down to just 18 seats, the minimum to hold a majority,” the email states, urging people to donate to the party to help fund the race. “All signs point to a solid Republican candidate stepping up to the plate in this race, and going head to head with the likely Democrat nominee, Seth Berry, who has never met a liberal fringe policy or damaging tax hike scheme he doesn’t support. At Maine GOP HQ we are gearing up for this race, but we need your help.”
Republicans held majorities in both the House and Senate from 2011-2012, but voters gave control back to Democrats for the 2013-2014 legislative session.
Berry noted the letter is making assumptions because he has not decided whether he’s going to run. He said he’s proud of his work for tax fairness and on the recently passed bipartisan state budget and other bipartisan legislation in the current and past Legislatures.
Berry said, “What’s clear from that email and other signs as well is this special election for Sen. Goodall’s seat will be a referendum on whether folks in Sagadahoc County and Dresden prefer the top-down policies of Governor LePage, or Democratic values of growing the economy from the middle out.”
Keith Edwards — 621-5647