Political shakeup in Saco

Following the unexpected announcement that State Sen. Linda Valentino (D) will not seek re-election for a third term in the senate, there has been a seismic shift in the city of Saco’s political landscape.

State Rep. Justin Chenette — Valentino’s protegé —  announced simultaneously that he would seek Valentino’s seat. Both moves were kept secret until  they were announced on these pages just two  days before Saco’s Democratic Caucus.

State Rep. Barry Hobbins, a Democrat who served the district as a state senator for four terms before Valentino, said he was caught off guard by the announcement.

During Sunday’s Caucus, Hobbins praised Valentino’s leadership and announced that he also would seek his party’s nomination for the senate seat.

That leaves the city of Saco with two open House seats.

According to Chenette’s Facebook page, which has become his temporary, default campaign headquarters, Katie Purdy, a political newcomer and Chenette supporter, will seek Justin’s House seat that represents the north and western portions of the city.

Donna Bailey
Donna Bailey

A more experienced candidate will seek Hobbins’ House seat, which represents the south eastern section of the city.

Donna Bailey, a well-known Democrat, will make her first legislative run.

A former York County Probate judge, Bailey has lived in Saco for 23 years. She is married with two children and two grandchildren.

She previously served on the Saco Zoning Board of Appeals and is currently serving as a member of the city’s Planning Board.

She is an attorney practicing probate, family and real estate law.

No word yet on Republican candidates for either the Senate seat or two open House seats in Saco. Stay tuned.

Bad News for Saco, Good News for Saco

BREAKING NEWS . . . And this just in from over the transom:

ValentinoAccording to multiple sources, State Senator Linda Valentino, a Democrat, is expected to announce Sunday (March 6) that she will not seek reelection to the Maine State Senate.

Valentino, who has served two terms in the Senate and is now a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, has reportedly made her decision for family reasons. After this term, she would have been eligible to serve two more terms under Maine’s term limits law.

On the heels of Sen. David Dutremble’s unexpected resignation from the State Senate a few weeks ago, a departure by Valentino will leave a noticeable void in legislative leadership for the tri-community area.

Dutremble, a fellow Democrat, represented the city of Biddeford. Valentino represents the communities of Saco, Old Orchard Beach as well as Hollis, Limington and parts of Buxton.

The two openings will surely delight Maine Republicans who already hold a majority in the Maine Senate.

During her tenure, Valentino has proven herself to be an independent leader who often questioned her own party. Her colleagues describe her as “passionate, meticulous and hard-working.” There is no doubt that her withdrawal from public service will leave a huge void in experienced political leadership in Saco.

Good News, Experience Matters

There is a silver lining in Valentino’s expected departure from politics. State Rep. Barry Hobbins, also a Democrat, could easily bring his many years of experience and leadership to bear for the district.

hobbbjFirst elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1972, Hobbins has decades of experience and a proven track record of success. He is highly regarded on both sides of the political aisle and he has the insight and political connections necessary to deliver exceptional service. A skilled attorney, he has served a total of eight terms in the Maine House of Representatives and five terms in the Maine Senate.

Few people understand and can navigate Augusta’s political landscape better than Hobbins. He has won each of his elections with wide margins of support, and there is a reason for that. Hobbins knows the district and its people. He knows how to get things done.

In what is expected to be a bitterly partisan legislative session next year, Hobbins would be a moderate voice of reason who will work hard to ensure that state government does not roll off the rails because of political stalemates and tension between the two parties.

Hobbins will almost certainly step up and fill the void being left by Valentino. Such a move will be good for Saco, the tri-community area and the state of Maine. Saco Democrats caucus on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Fairfield School, so the hall will be buzzing.

My prediction is the Dems don’t take any chances during the upcoming election cycle. They need a political heavyweight in that spot. Count on Hobbins being Saco’s next state senator.

Money for nothing

Ben Chin (Sun Journal Photo)
Ben Chin (Sun Journal Photo)

There were a few lessons to be learned this week for campaign operatives and political junkies in Maine.

1.) A financial war chest does not necessarily win an election;

2.) Voters in small communities become weary of aggressive campaigning that lasts for more than two or three months; and

3.) Negative campaign tactics still work, despite the fact that most people will say negative campaigning is a turn-off.

Lewiston’s mayoral race, in which Robert Macdonald won a third term, garnered national media attention. Tuesday’s run-off results were reported by media outlets across the country, including NBC News and the New York Times.

Although Ben Chin, a progressive Democrat, got the most votes during a five-way race for the mayor’s seat in the November 2015 election, a runoff election was required by the city’s charter because he did not capture at least 50 percent of the vote.

Democrats tend to favor run-off elections and/or a concept known as ranked choice voting, but Tuesday’s results bit them in the ass, when Republican Macdonald came out on top, 53-47 percent over Chin.

What would have otherwise been a small community election became amplified when the campaign took an ugly turn in October.

Several signs that featured a caricature of an Asian man were hung on buildings in Lewiston. Those signs contained a blatantly racist message: “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare,” according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Is cash really king?

Robert Macdonald (Portland Press Herald photo)
Robert Macdonald (Portland Press Herald photo)

Because of the national attention, Chin’s campaign was able to raise a whopping $87,800. Maine Democrats wanted to send a message and large amounts of money poured in from all over Maine and across the country. Chin, the political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, was able to turn on one of the state’s biggest political machines.

In total, Chin’s campaign raised roughly 15 times more than Macdonald’s campaign, which raised $5,800.

By contrast, in the city of Biddeford, a typical mayoral campaign raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. This year, however, Mayor Alan Casavant raised a paltry $1,270 and spent $818 of it to secure a third term. He got 2,494 votes at a cost of roughly 33 cents per vote.

Chin garnered 3,826 votes; spending nearly $23 per vote. Macdonald, on the other hand, garnered 4,398 votes; spending roughly $1.32 per vote.

Chin edged out second-place finisher Macdonald in November, but Macdonald won Tuesday’s runoff, despite being outspent roughly 15-1. Why?

Almost every one I speak to about this race has a different theory, but I think voters were turned off by an incredibly aggressive campaign that was raising so much cash from outside of the city.

It was a bit over the top.

Voter fatigue?

According to the city of Lewiston’s web site, 33.5 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in the November election. That number dropped slightly on Tuesday, when 32 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots during the runoff election.

By contrast, slightly more than 30 percent of voters in Biddeford cast ballots in that city’s 2015 mayoral election.

Mayoral campaigns in cities like Biddeford or Lewiston usually have a shelf-life of between two or three months. Tuesday’s run-off election added another month to the process. I heard stories of voters being weary of door-knocking and incessant telephone calls.

Sometimes, too much of a good thing (grassroots campaigning and cash) can be a bad thing.

One friend of mine recently speculated that Lewiston’s voters are conservative (and perhaps just a tad racist). He failed to explain how Chin, a progressive Democrat, came out on top in November if a majority of Lewiston’s voters are bigoted or conservative.

In fact, Lewiston, which is a lot like Biddeford, has historically been a bastion for conservative, traditional Democrats (mill workers and Franco-Americans).

Macdonald, a former police detective and Vietnam War veteran, is  a blunt speaker and has a propensity for being “politically incorrect.”

When you consider all these factors, it’s no wonder that a small Maine city’s mayoral race attracted national attention.

It was a campaign that defied conventional wisdom, and it offered some lessons for all of us.



A hidden message

Maine_Capitol_Building_ba9aaba7950196e822e4_1My friend Alan Caron has some sage advice that each and every newly elected member of the Maine Legislature should read.

Alan’s column regulary appears in the Portland Press Herald, and an excerpt of his latest piece  ( Last election had a hidden message for Maine’s leaders) can be found here:

“Given the many challenges Maine faces today, nothing is more critical to our future than a nonpartisan, commonsense economic plan.

We’re a small state with limited dollars that’s in bad need of new economic energy. We spend more on government, as a percentage of our incomes, than just about any other rural state in America.”

If you want to read the full piece, you can find it here.

Just another new kid in town

Nate Wadsworth
Nate Wadsworth

Last week, I introduced two new legislators who are both Democrats from Biddeford.This week, we take a trip to the other side of the political aisle and the town of Cornish to meet Nathan Wadsworth, a young man who has been an acquaintance of mine for almost a decade. Nathan’s father, Jack, owns and operates Wasdsworth Woodlands, a family owned and operated company. I first met Nate and his dad while working various stints in the Natural Resources Building at the Fryeburg Fair year.

Now, the younger Wadsworth will be spending much of his time in Augusta as yet another rookie legislator.

He was gracious enough to answer my short survey about his hopes and goals for the next legislative session.

What are your top three priorities as a freshman legislator?

1) Vote for our economy first, especially any legislation affecting jobs, growth and taxes

2) be visible with my new constituents by attending functions in my five towns.

3) figure out how I can help best.

What is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?

Currently, our economy is the biggest issue facing [the state]. The governor has brought us back from the abyss but there is still a lot more work to do.

What, if anything, can the Legislature do about it?

The legislature can do a lot about this issue with bills focused around tax relief, energy policy and job growth.

Do you support limiting the number of bills that a legislator can submit during a session?
I’m new to the process here so I’m not sure if the number of bills need to be limited. I do know if someone has 30 bills they internalize those costs by trying to promote all of them and it would be a difficult job. If were still in session in July then I will probably say there should be a limit.

How important will bipartanship be during the upcoming session?

Cooperation is going to be everything with a very evenly divided legislature. I have libertarian leanings so I should be able to find common ground with the other side of the aisle.


We were only freshmen

Democrats in Maine and across the country took a drubbing during last week’s elections, but there were a few bright spots, including the city of Biddeford, where State Senator David Dutremble easily fended off a challenge by Republican James Booth; and where two political newcomers held their party’s seats in the Maine Legislature.

In fairness, it’s not especially hard for Democrats to win elections in Biddeford.

In the western part of the city, voters overwhelming chose Ryan Fecteau over Republican Debbie Davis to represent them in the House of Representatives, holding the seat that is currently occupied by Democrat Paulette Beaudoin, who was barred from running again by term limits.

And Democrat Martin Grohman easily won a three-way race in the central part of the city to hold onto the seat that is now held by Megan Rochelo.

Fecteau and Grohman will both be sworn into office in December, joining several other freshman legislators from both sides of the political aisle.

We asked Fecteau and Grohman to tell us about their priorities. The following are their un-edited e-mail responses.

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau
Ryan Fecteau

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

1. Focusing on ways to encourage and support the return of young people to Maine and also retain those that are still living here/going to school here.
2. Pulling Maine out of nearly dead last (currently 49th) as it concerns homes heated by natural gas (only 4 percent of Maine households) – careful attention to seniors who are especially vulnerable of fluctuating energy costs.
3. Pushing to fund education at 55 percent as mandated by voters. Currently, the failure to meet this mandate pushes the burden to the hyper-local level: property tax payers.
What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
Losing young people and families to neighboring states. Thus losing a skilled work force (in turn deterring businesses from locating here), future entrepreneurs, innovators, and a means to expanding the tax base.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
We must set ourselves from neighboring states by providing incentive to move to Maine. Whether it be a program to assist in paying off student loan debt or creating /funding incubators for the creation of start-ups, the programs must be aggressively advertised across the country. Young people are burdened by student loan debt, they are mobile, and they are looking for opportunities!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
I am not sure. Have not experienced or heard of any troubles with the number of bills introduced. The length of the legislative session is obviously a tight window for presenting and passing legislation; it would seem understandable for there to be a density of legislation despite the number of legislators. More focused on legislation that will positively impact people.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
It will be critical. Folks did not cast votes on Tuesday for gridlock; they voted their frustrations. They want results. A do-nothing legislature, gridlocked by partisanship, will not deliver the results that people are looking for. We need legislative leadership from both parties who are willing to work together for the best interests of Mainers.

Martin Grohman

Marin Grohman
Marin Grohman

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

Probably just to do the best job I can to represent Biddeford well.  Residents are interested in property tax relief, road and bridge infrastructure, and education.  And of course I’m a business guy – I want to see businesses grow, careers grow.

What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
I’m really interested in expanding access to health care.  Let’s think about a hypothetical parent, a single parent, mother of four, let’s call her Linda Smith.  Now if we cut her off of health care, you might think we’ve saved the State money.  But if she shows up at the ER, one of her kids shows up at the ER, we’re all going to pay for that one way or the other.  And in a world of epidemics and communicable viruses like Ebola, I don’t think having sick people without access to health care is going to work.  Plus, denying access to health care for ideological reasons just doesn’t make business sense to me – as I said, I’m a business guy.  Anyone in the health care business will tell you getting ahead of the problem saves money.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
Man, I have no idea!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
Probably not – I’d have to study it.  I think coming up with rules and regulations in reaction to a single case or a moment in time tends to cause problems.  But I’m willing to listen.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
Look, I’m new.  I’m a rookie.  I’ve served on a lot of boards, done some fairly high level stuff, national, international.  But I’ll have to learn the ropes.  That said, I kind of doubt I’ll just cast every vote along party lines, and hopefully my colleagues will value my viewpoint as I value theirs.

We’re the kids in America

WARNING: If you are a partisan Democrat or Republican, you may not want to continue reading because this post will surely piss you off.

Me and Governor LePage
Me and Governor LePage in 2013.

Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, there is still a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on here in Maine, where Republicans had much to celebrate last night.

All the pundits, professional and otherwise, have bellied up to the bar to offer their “expert” opinions and analysis about what happened last night, so please forgive me for piling on to the fray of analysis and speculation.

Throughout the day, on social media and around the water cooler, I have heard a wide range of opinions about why Democrat Mike Michaud lost his bid to oust Republican Paul LePage.

Many people blame Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. I disagree, I think Cutler was a factor but not that significant, let’s say 5%

Other people said the controversial “bear-baiting” referendum brought out “conservative/sportsmen” voters who would have otherwise stayed at home during a midterm. Wrong again, in my opinion. But let’s give this “factor” another 5%

Others have said that Gov. LePage was able to latch on to the Ebola hysteria that dominated the final days of the campaign cycle. This one I find laughable, but let’s give it 2 percent, anyway.

Still others have said it was because Michaud was an openly gay candidate. I have a fair amount of Republican friends, and I never heard this issue raised in conversation. But I am also a realist, and I know that awful bigotry does lurk everywhere, so let’s give that factor another 5%.

So far, if you add all these factors together, you only have 17 percent of the puzzle.

So, what really happened last night?

In my opinion, it was two things that really mattered.

For almost four years Democrats have howled and railed about how awful governor Paul Lepage is. In this campaign cycle, they spent boatloads of cash driving home that message. He is a bully. He is an embarrassment. He likes to kill puppies. He spews dioxins.

Let’s, for a moment, assume the Democrats were right that Paul LePage is the worst governor to ever occupy the Blaine House. Let’s assume he is the great Satan.

Well, if that’s the case, how do you lose against such a God-awful candidate? You nominate a weak candidate to take him on.

Everywhere I go, I hear people tell me that Mike Michaud is a “nice guy.” And that is the truth. I have met Mr. Michaud. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a nicer guy.

But you need more than being a nice guy.

Maine’s Democratic Party cleared the primary decks and anointed Michaud as heir apparent with no contest. On paper, it made a certain amount of sense. Michaud was from northern Maine, and he could probably carry southern Maine. He is a respected legislator and held his Second District Congressional seat for several terms. He is likable. A working-class guy just like you.

But Michaud’s campaign focused primarily on being “not Paul LePage.” Voters turn out to be for a candidate, not against a candidate.

LePage had the advantage of being an incumbent and trumpeted his accomplishments. No matter how you feel about the guy, he has a loyal fan base and they rallied like there was no tomorrow.

But all that only counts for 40 percent of why Michaud lost and LePage won last night.

What’s the missing piece of the puzzle?

History and voting trends.

Make no mistake, the President played a factor in this race and several others. Historically, the second-term mid terms are a major disappointment for the person sitting in the Oval Office.

The nation is weary and wants a new direction, away from the party that controls the White House.

Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to 2006. George W. Bush was halfway through his second term in office. He lost Congress in 2006. But what was happening in Maine?

Gov. John Baldacci was seeking re-election. The Republicans nominated conservative Chandler Woodcock to take him on. But the Dems had other problems. Barbara Merrill, a former Democrat lawmaker from Appleton, filed papers as an independent. Pat Lamarche, the driving force behind Maine’s Green Party was also a candidate and threatened to peel progressive votes from Baldacci. Between them, LaMarche and Merrill got roughly 20 percent of the vote.

Baldacci still won because a.) he was a stronger candidate than Woodcock; and b.) because Republicans nationally and at home were useless during the waning days of the Bush Administration.

By contrast, Cutler only got eight percent of the vote, but it would be a major leap of speculation to assume that every one of those votes would have gone to Michaud.

In the end, Michaud was a mediocre candidate who ran an uninspiring campaign while his political party was suffering all over the country.

That’s what happened in Maine last night.



Radio Free Europe

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?
Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

There’s one aspect of this year’s Maine gubernatorial race that has received little attention: where will dispassionate Republicans land on Election Day?

Four years ago, in what was largely a three-way race, Republican Paul LePage became Maine’s governor by securing approximately 38 percent of the vote.

Since then, much has been said about plurality, the merits of run-off elections and the so-called Cutler effect.

But little has changed in how Maine will choose its next governor, and today LePage is again on the ballot with two opponents.

More importantly, we don’t have Independent Shawn Moody (9 percent) to kick around this time.

Moody was always a long-shot, a late entrant, dark-horse candidate with broad appeal. At least a third of his support likely came from Republicans who were less than impressed with LePage’s style and tone.

From my perch, it’s hard to see how LePage has done anything to build his base, to draw in moderates; and I wonder where will those folks go. Will they hold their noses and vote for LePage? Will they hold their noses and vote for Cutler? Will they clamp down on their noses and vote for Democrat Mike Michaud; or will they leave their noses alone and just stay home on Election Day?

Many Democrats blame Cutler for LePage’s election in 2010. They say he split their party’s voting block and could do it again this time.

So far, Cutler is only a shadow of the threat he was in 2010; but even then his support came late in the game. Say what you will, but Cutler’s numbers will likely rise over the next few weeks as LePage and Michaud busy themselves with tearing each other down.

Recent polls have shown LePage and Michaud in a very tight race. So, I want to know where the Moody voters from 2010 will go; all nine percent of them.

Nine percent may not seem like a big number, but LePage simply cannot rest on his base of 35 percent. This time, the Democrats are working harder and smarter than they did in 2010. They are more unified and reaching for the middle.

LePage has an opportunity to draw in some of those moderate voters in the middle, but so far there’s been no evidence that he’s willing to court their vote.

So far, Eliot Cutler is the only candidate working really hard for the middle, the place where a growing number of voters call home. I doubt it will be enough for him to win, but I am positive that it would be enough for LePage to lose.


Survey says . . .

Eliot Cutler
Eliot Cutler

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler is in trouble.

At least according to the latest All Along the Watchtower survey (and every other poll conducted over the last few months)

Whatever star power the independent from Cape Elizabeth had during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign has all but vanished.

Of the three major candidates, Cutler was the only one to see his support fade (a 40 percent drop) between my two surveys conducted on March 14 and July 24 of this year

Meanwhile, incumbent Republican Paul LePage saw a 19 percent jump in support between the survey period, but Democrat Mike Michaud maintained strong and commanding leads in both surveys, handily winning each with 48 percent in March; and 49.5 percent in July.

As I said previously, this was NOT a scientific poll. It was not restricted to Maine voters, and there are no cross-tabs to analyze. An eight-year-old girl from Toronto could have voted in this survey, so no one should get too wound up about the results . . . except for Eliot Cutler.

Before I proceed, it should also be noted that my latest survey (launched on July 24) had far fewer participants than the earlier survey I conducted in March.

In my March 14 survey, there were 2,411 participants. By contrast, only 122 people participated in my latest survey.

I am not sure how to explain the dramatic drop in participation. It could be that we are in the middle of summer. It could be that people are growing weary of politics and are waiting until Labor Day to get fired up. It could be apathy. It could be a lot of things, but Cutler’s team could have shared this survey widely among their supporters. They could have easily had a small win. 75 votes for Cutler would have resulted in a blog post that “Cutler wins survey.”

gov chart1What would be the value of a minor league blog announcing a Cutler win?

Well, it would be something that Cutler could point to as semi-tangible evidence of his campaign’s viability. It would likely help him more than saying he was asked by the Democrats to be their party’s nominee.

Instead, the results here are just more bad news for a campaign that has yet to have a sun-shiney day during the 2014 cycle.

It’s also further evidence that the Democrats don’t need to worry too much about Cutler, and it’s a bit of bad news for the LePage team that desperately wants Cutler to cut into the Democratic base.

That eight-year-old girl from Toronto probably had no idea about how much power she and her friends could have wielded in the 2014 campaign for the Blaine House.


Cold as ice

ECThere are advantages to being independent, but there are also some big disadvantages.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Ted O’Meara, campaign manager for gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Cutler.

In an e-mail to Cutler’s supporters this week, O’Meara praised his team’s hard work and their ability to collect more than 5,000 signatures to ensure that Cutler will be on the November ballot.

But O’Meara also took a swipe at Maine’s political parties, pointing out that campaign rules discourage independent candidates from seeking office.

“Our work was made more challenging by the fact that Independents like Eliot have to collect 4,000 signatures, while the party candidates only have to collect 2,000,” O’Meara wrote. “It’s just the reverse when it comes to fundraising; Eliot can collect only half as much per contributor as the party candidates. 

“That’s right: twice the signatures, half the money. Guess who wrote the rules?”

O’Meara goes on to say that “self-serving election laws are the only thing the parties can agree on these days.”

It should be noted that O’Meara was more than happy to be a member of a major political party in the not-too-distant past.

In fact, O’Meara was once the chair of the Maine Republican Party and served as a staffer for both Senator William Cohen and Senator Olympia Snowe.

But his point about party control of Maine politics is valid.

In fact, members of both major parties ought to seriously ponder why an ever-increasing number of Americans are registered as unenrolled voters.

Being “independent” is gaining traction all across the nation, and that spells big problems for the big parties, especially when it comes to fundraising from a smaller pool of voters.

Although the party faithful generally point out that their candidates must endure the expense of grueling primaries, that’s just not the case this year.

Both Democrat Mike Michuad and Republican Paul LePage are unopposed for their respective party’s nomination.

Regardless of whether you support Cutler, we should level the playing field for all candidates. Let’s be independent together!