Former Portland Rep. Diane Russell announced her candidacy for governor Thursday, joining an increasingly crowded field in next year’s Democratic primary.

An experienced campaigner and grassroots organizer, Russell said she would campaign on progressive issues such as single-payer health care, universal college education and higher wages. The 41-year-old was a vocal, liberal voice during her eight years in the Maine House of Representatives before she was term-limited out last year and lost a Democratic primary bid for a state Senate seat.

“This is about the hardworking families of Maine who are getting left behind and forgotten,” Russell said in a statement announcing her candidacy. “More status quo politics is not going to cut it. We need good jobs, higher wages and health care for every Mainer. It’s time to take on the opioid crisis with treatment and education, while also taking on the pharmaceutical companies that created this crisis and devastated too many families.”

Russell was an early advocate for marijuana legalization, repeatedly sponsoring bills in the Legislature years before voters opted to allow recreational use of the drug last year. She has also been heavily involved in other ballot initiatives and was sharply critical of lawmakers’ willingness to change voter-approved laws during this past legislative session.

Russell may lack the statewide name recognition of Democratic primary opponents such as Attorney General Janet Mills of Farmington and former House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick. But the Portland Democrat has been active on the national political scene – sometimes to the dismay of state party leaders – such as when she worked last year to change the superdelegate system within the Democratic National Committee.

She has also proven herself to be a prolific fundraiser. Through her grassroots work on marijuana legalization, ranked-choice voting and other progressive causes, Russell already has a ready-made email list of more than 100,000 people that she used to raise nearly $90,000 in her unsuccessful bid last year to win a bruising, three-way primary for one of Portland’s state Senate seats. Her use of the list sparked complaints from opposing campaign supporters, however, and resulted in a $500 fine from the Maine Ethics Commission for failing to disclose what they said was an in-kind campaign donation.

She is running for governor as a privately financed candidate.

Russell portrays herself as “a reformer” guided by her experiences growing up in a mobile home in Bryant Pond and working at a Portland convenience store.

“Too many Mainers came into that store and told me they felt left behind, that they felt forgotten by a system designed to shut them out,” Russell said. “As governor, I’ll spend every day fighting to unrig the system and make Maine a place where everyone gets a fair shot.”

A second Democrat, J. Martin Vachon of Mariaville, also registered as a gubernatorial candidate Thursday. Vachon was a declared Republican candidate for governor in 2006 and was an unenrolled, write-in candidate in both the 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial elections. He was a Republican as recently as April 2016 when he participated in the state party convention.

All told, eight Democrats have declared their candidacy to succeed Republican Gov. Paul LePage, with more potentially coming. In addition to Mills, Eves and Russell, the other candidates are: veteran and attorney Adam Cote of Springvale, progressive lobbyist and activist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, former state Sen. Jim Boyle of Gorham and retired Coast Guard commander and health care CEO Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta.

Only one candidate is currently registered to run on the Republican ticket – former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew of South China – although U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is considering joining the race.

State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield is also running as an independent or unenrolled candidate. The other individuals who have filed candidacy paperwork so far are Libertarian Richard Light of Liberty as well as Green Independent candidates Elizabeth Marsano of Waldo and Jay Parker Lunt Dresser of Bangor.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH