AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives picked up a new member Friday when independent Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland announced he will join the majority party.
Chipman said his primary motive for the switch was to better position himself against Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
“One of my priorities right now is to hold Gov. LePage accountable for his behavior and bring civility back to the State House,” said Chipman in a written statement. “Joining the majority party in the House of Representatives will give me more leverage to accomplish this goal.”
LePage’s communications staff did not respond to a request for comment.
Chipman is among a group of House members who have said they will pursue impeachment proceedings against LePage, though no formal steps have been taken, at least not publicly, to that end.
The late-June call for impeachment was in response to allegations that LePage abused his gubernatorial power when he threatened to withhold state funds from Good Will-Hinckley and a charter school it runs for at-risk youth if the organization hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves as its president. Good Will-Hinckley rescinded an employment offer to Eves after LePage’s intervention.
Practically speaking, Chipman’s move means little considering the fact he caucused with the House Democrats and has a history of voting with Democrats. The change puts the balance of power in the House at 77 Democrats, 67 Republicans and five independent or unenrolled members. However, two seats that were previously held by Democrats are up for grabs in special elections in November because of the death in July of Rep. Bill Noon of Sanford and the resignation last month of Rep. Mike Shaw of Standish.
Chipman, who serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, represents District 40, which includes Portland’s Parkside, Bayside, East Bayside and Oakdale neighborhoods. He is serving his third term in the Legislature.
Democrats welcomed Chipman to their caucus.
“It’s been great working with an independent, Rep. Ben Chipman, on issues ranging from environmental protection to workers’ rights to access to quality, affordable education,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. “It’s going to be even better to have him with us as a full-fledged member of the House Democratic caucus.”
Chipman’s move to the Democratic Party means Portland’s entire delegation to the Legislature — 11 representatives and two senators — are now Democrats.
He is the third member of the 127th Legislature to switch party affiliations since being elected. Republican Rep. Larry Dunphy of Embden and Democratic Rep. Stanley Short of Pittsfield both left their parties to become independents.
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport declined to comment.