AUGUSTA, Maine — Rep. Larry Dunphy, a third-term lawmaker from Embden, has announced he will leave the Republican Party.
Dunphy made the decision public in a column published Wednesday by the Bangor Daily News. The column was written jointly by Dunphy and Brian Jones, a former Democratic lawmaker who also announced his withdrawal from his party.
The disillusioned duo said the major political parties exert undue influence, not only on policy but on the individual votes of lawmakers. Dunphy said during an interview Wednesday he would not seek re-election in 2016.
“Ask your legislator if a party leader has pressured him or her to reverse a vote. Or if he or she has been pressured to reverse a vote on reconsideration of a veto in order to support a governor. Or if he or she has really read and understood the bills on which he or she has voted or has merely relied on the caucus position,” the pair wrote. “The answers will not surprise you, but they are not the answers that the people of Maine want to hear. Party politics are directing Maine’s future, not the people of Maine.”
Dunphy was first elected to the Legislature in 2010. He is best known as a fierce advocate for giving residents of the state’s unorganized territory a more direct say in the development of grid-scale wind farms in Maine’s sparsely populated interior.
In an interview Wednesday, Dunphy said he still would caucus with Republicans when necessary. He did not expect his leaving the party to affect his role in the Legislature and said he didn’t expect party leaders to retaliate against him for unenrolling from the party.
“I’m oblivious to a lot of that … anyway because I don’t participate,” Dunphy said. “If you don’t play the game, they don’t play with you.”
He also said much of the anger in the electorate is mistakenly directed at lobbyists who apply pressure to lawmakers to vote in their clients’ interests.
“We complain about lobbyists, but they are doing what they’re paid very well to do. But the lobbyists aren’t the ones who push the buttons,” Dunphy said. “It’s the elected politicians who buckle. They’re ultimately the ones who make the vote. But if they’re willing to compromise on behalf of a PAC or for a committee assignment or whatever, they’re the ones who are failing, not the lobbyists.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, described Dunphy as a friend and said he would always be welcome in House Republican caucus meetings.
He would not directly address Dunphy’s concern about party leaders strong-arming individual lawmakers but said legislators face pressure from all angles.
“We’ve encouraged our people in the House Republican caucus to vote the way they want to vote to represent their constituents,” Fredette said. “There’s all kinds of pressure that bears upon legislators today, and at the end of the day the most important people you need to think about are the people you represent back home. But that’s not done in a vacuum.”
Jones served one term in the Maine House of Representatives, from 2012 to 2014. He was a vocal proponent of local food sovereignty legislation and campaign finance reform. He lost re-election last year after he was caught allegedly having a sexual encounter with a woman at a West Gardiner carpool lot. Jones later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and refusing to give his correct name to law enforcement.
Dunphy and Jones have reputations as mavericks. Both have shown a willingness to buck their respective party leadership in the past.
Dunphy is the second member of the House this year to defect from his party, after Rep. Stanley Short of Pittsfield left the Democratic Party earlier this year. Dunphy’s departure does not drastically affect the composition of the House, which now stands at 77 Democrats, 67 Republicans and six unenrolled representatives.
There is one vacant seat, held by Rep. Bill Noon, D-Sanford, until his death this month.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.