AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers are hopeful for action — and in no mood for partisan bickering — as the state’s first Republican-majority Legislature in decades prepares to launch its two-year session this week.
“If they can get along, they might be able to take care of some of the problems” such as job creation and keeping young people from leaving the state, said retiree Judith Marinetti of Gardiner. “They have to cooperate.”
The newly elected House and Senate members will be sworn in Wednesday morning after two days of preliminary gatherings to acquaint members with their new roles and to nominate candidates for attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state.
“The new Republican majority in the House and Senate is under no illusions,” said Republican Rep. Robert Nutting, the presumptive speaker. “We know that all Mainers have not suddenly fallen in love with the Republican Party. We realize the voters are giving us a test run to see if our ideas can bring Maine back from its economic slump.”
Voters in the Nov. 2 election chose a business-friendly Republican governor and put both the House of Representatives and the Senate under GOP control for the first time since the 1973-74 session. Republicans now control the House 78-72 and the Senate 20-14, with one independent serving in each chamber.
“I’m hoping they create more jobs and make it more friendly for small business. Mainers like to work,” said Jason Pratt of Augusta, who works two jobs as a cook. Pratt said he doesn’t care which party gets the credit, “as long as they do the job they promised.”
Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage is to take his oath on Jan. 5. While his transition team organizes a new administration behind the scenes, the new 125th Legislature kicks into gear in the State House right off.
On Monday, freshmen lawmakers-elect met for orientation sessions. On Tuesday, Republican and Democratic lawmakers will nominate their candidates for the three constitutional officers.
Two Republicans, former state Rep. William Schneider, now an assistant U.S. attorney, and outgoing Sen. Douglas Smith, an attorney from Dover-Foxcroft, are vying for their party’s nomination for attorney general. Sitting Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills said she’s willing to allow her name to be placed in nomination. While her party lacks the numbers to elect her, Mills said she would welcome an opportunity to tell what she has accomplished in her two years on the job.
The treasurer’s post has attracted two GOP contestants — former gubernatorial candidate Bruce Poliquin and former House GOP leader David Bowles. Current Democratic Treasurer David Lemoine said in a letter to House and Senate leaders he will not be a candidate.
“My plans now are to polish my resume and prepare to provide as smooth a transition as possible for the next treasurer,” said Lemoine, who has been treasurer for six years.
Charles Summers, a former GOP state senator who also ran unsuccessfully for Congress, is the lone party choice so far for secretary of state. The Democratic six-year incumbent, Matthew Dunlap, acknowledged the GOP’s numerical edge but said he hadn’t decided whether to have his name placed in nomination.
“Obviously, the numbers are what they are,” Dunlap said.
The attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state will be elected by the Legislature on Wednesday after the new lawmakers are sworn into office by Gov. John Baldacci. Presiding officers also will be elected in each chamber: presumably Republican Kevin Raye of Perry as Senate president and Nutting in the House. No Democratic nominee was expected in either chamber.
Lawmakers embark on the new session amid some positive fiscal trends, with revenues over the next 2 1/2 years expected to rebound from the two previous recession-choked years. But state officials know that predictions are fluid and subject to changes. GOP leaders will be closely watching those trends just as voters scrutinize their party’s leadership in the State House.