Looking back at the Augusta election, plus predictions

Another Augusta special election has provided evidence that voters who bother to go to the polls in small turnout June elections know who the best qualified candidates are. Two excellent candidates, one each for the City Council and school board, will now complete unexpired terms caused by resignations.

In our previous column I predicted that Jennifer Day, former school board member, would be elected to the council, and recommended that Pia Holmes would be the best write-in choice for school board. New Councilor Day parlayed her experience and credentials into victory over two opponents, Bob Trask and Stan Koski. Day concentrated through social media in getting friends to go to the polls in an election that would be decided by a small number of voters. She was endorsed early by former Councilors Cecil Munson and Pat Paradis. Munson helped with signs and his influence in Ward 4, where he resides, probably contributed to her winning margin there.

As expected, Trask, a third consecutive candidate from the troubled Ward 3 Grandview neighborhood, won handily in his home ward, but Day swept Wards 1, 2 and 4. As I predicted, Day’s margin in westside wards, 1 and 2, gave her a lead that could not be surmounted. That coupled with surprising strength in Ward 4 gave her an impressive 48 percent-31 percent win over Trask, citywide. Koski finished a distant third. Trask waged a spirited campaign but may have been seen by some as a single issue candidate because of the never-ending dispute over McGee Construction’s pit blastings in his neighborhood. An unusual twist in this election was a late Trask flyer hand delivered to homes with a Maine Republican Party authorization on it. That is unprecedented in the city’s non-partisan municipal elections.

Day was the early choice of Munson and Paradis, who have actively recruited and helped elect other recent council members. They remain active in local politics after being term limited as city councilors, and both serve as Greater Augusta Utility District trustees. Look for the pair to seek seats on the new city charter commission next year.

The Augusta Board of Education gets a valuable new member with the write-in victory of Pia Holmes. She is a highly credentialed former teacher and school administrator from nearby Manchester who moved to Augusta. Holmes, wife of Augusta realtor Bruce Holmes, outsmarted other write-in candidates. She was seen at Augusta’s various polling places throughout election day greeting voters and pointing them to the write-in candidates names and voting information posted just outside entrances to the polling booths. Holme’s wise actions may have proven critical to her garnering 66 percent of the write-in vote divided by four candidates.

An election worker told us of some upset, even irate voters who complained at the polls regarding the write-in procedure. Once inside the voting area, after viewing their ballot, a voter cannot request information on who the write-in candidates are, and the voter is not allowed to leave the voting area to go back out into the hall-way to look for that information. This brings into focus an issue that the state Legislature may want to review.

A quick fix is not simple because there is good reason for candidates who haven’t gathered and submitted valid signatures to not have their names on the ballot. That would be unfair to candidates who earned ballot placement. Perhaps all this is a question for the next meeting of the state’s city clerks, including Augusta’s.

Next year will be a big political year for Maine and Augusta. Will Republican Sen. Roger Katz, term limited after next year, run for governor? My guess is no, for a couple of reasons. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, I believe, will make the decision to try to complete her political career back home in Maine as our governor.

The other reason is that Katz, whose local popularity is unquestioned, would probably not be conservative enough to satisfy statewide Republican primary voters.

Many politicians need to make campaign decisions soon; the filing deadline for June 2018 primaries is next March. Augusta Mayor Dave Rollins is now officially a registered Democrat and reportedly on course to seek Katz’s seat. The tip off to the mayor’s potential Senate candidacy is his many recent front-page initiatives promoting political civility, ranked-choice voting and a welcoming immigration policy.

The question is, will Matt Pouliot, the conservative Augusta Republican House member, forego a final House term to become Rollins’ general election Senate opponent? Politics can still be fun.

Don Roberts is a veteran broadcaster, writer and political consultant. He has served Augusta as a city councilor at-large, charter commission vice chairman and utilities district treasurer.