AUGUSTA — Rep. Steve Hanley of Gardiner, a lifelong Democrat, recently dropped his party affiliation, saying the party’s politics have become too liberal for him.

The 68-year-old grew up in a family of Irish Catholic Democrats, but he said he’s become increasingly uncomfortable with his party in recent years. So on June 29, he became unenrolled, opting not to join ranks with Republicans even though he often has voted with them.

Because of term limits, Hanley cannot run for re-election in House District 59, which consists of Gardiner and Randolph.

“I’m upset with both parties,” he said. “The Democrats have gone too far to the left and the Republicans have gone too far to the right.”

The House is not likely to meet again before the November election, when all 151 House seats and 35 Senate seats will be on the ballot.

Republicans hope to build on their 77-seat majority, with House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, predicting at an Augusta caucus earlier this week the party will get to 85 seats after the November election.

“I am more and more convinced 85 is do-able,” he said. “We will be stronger in the House and we will be stronger in the Senate.”

In response, Maine Democratic Party spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said their candidates and campaigns are off to a good start.

“Our chances of winning back the House are extremely good, and the Senate,” she said.

Hanley has not endorsed any candidate in the race to replace him, which features Democrat Gay Grant against Republican Daniel Bates.

The House makeup is now 77 Republicans, 70 Democrats, two unenrolled, and two vacancies.

One vacancy exists because Rep. David Burns, R-Alfred, resigned in January when the state launched an investigation into his use of Clean Election money. He later pleaded guilty to forgery and theft and was sentenced to six months in jail and to pay $2,384 in restitution.

The other vacancy came when Rep. Rob Hunt, D-Buxton, resigned June 1 because he had sold his house and was considering a move outside the district.

Hanley served eight years in the House, following service on Gardiner City Council. He stepped up to serve in the Legislature when House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner, was prevented by term limits from running again. Hanley had retired from Sappi Paper and his work as a local reserve police officer in Gardiner, and said he wanted to continue to serve his community.

His decision to unenroll from the party is not a surprise, given his tendency to vote with Republicans over the last few years.

Toward the end of the legislative session, Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, said on the House floor that term limits force good lawmakers from service, but he illustrated the point with a joke linked to the fact that in Old Orchard Beach, Rep. George Hogan, a Democrat, also is prevented by term limits from running again.

“Democrats will lose George Hogan,” Duchesne said, before delivering the punch line. “Republicans will lose Steve Hanley.”

Hanley said when he first signed up to vote about 50 years ago, he enrolled as a Democrat.

He could not point to any one position by the party that most influenced his decision to drop out, but said it didn’t feel like a good fit anymore.

“I never was out to make a big name for myself,” he said. “I never got into the bill race.”

Susan Cover — 621-5643

[email protected]

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