AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Democratic legislative primaries in just over a week are marked by a mix of established politicians and newcomers who have been both drowned out by coronavirus and focused on health care, labor issues and LGBTQ rights.
Democrats will be looking to maintain a majority in both chambers of the Legislature after winning full control of Augusta in the 2018 election. Holding all of those seats will be difficult after making big gains in many previously Republican-held areas in a Democratic wave year.
The party made policy gains on health care, energy and the environment while choosing to cut deals with Republicans on thorny issues like worker compensation and gun policy. But they have not solved major long-term problems including transportation spending, and lawmakers may return by August amid Republican calls to rein in Gov. Janet Mills’ virus response.
Democrats across Maine will be faced with 25 contested legislative primaries on July 14. Only three feature incumbents. Some candidates are new to politics or are looking to return to Augusta. There is heavy turnover in relatively safe Democratic seats in Portland and Bangor.
Here are five races to watch. You can also use the interactive tool below to see if you have a competitive primary in your area.
Senate District 9 (Bangor, Hermon): Rep. Victoria Kornfield vs. Joe Baldacci
Both candidates are familiar faces in Bangor. Kornfield is a retired teacher who has co-chaired the Legislature’s education panel during her eight-year House tenure. Baldacci was a city councilor for 12 years and is the brother of former Maine Gov. John Baldacci.
But they have different priorities with support in different Democratic constituencies. Kornfield has a 100 percent rating from the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund and an endorsement from the national group EMILY’s List, which works to elect women who are support abortion rights.
Baldacci, a lawyer, ran for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat in 2015, but dropped out quickly after not gaining a foothold. He’s backed by the Maine AFL-CIO, the influential labor coalition, while expressing interest in the economy, civil rights and infrastructure.
The winner is the likely favorite to win in November. Penobscot County Treasurer John Hiatt, a Republican, and independent Kristie Miner have also filed to run. Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, beat a Republican in 2012 and held the seat easily in the last two elections.
Senate District 11 (Waldo County): Glenn “Chip” Curry, Charles Pattavina, Robyn Stanicki
Democrats were dealt a blow in this swing district when Sen. Erin Herbig declined to run for re-election after being named Belfast city manager. Three relatively well-known local Democrats will compete in a ranked-choice primary for the nomination with Republican Duncan Milne, a retired Marine colonel from Liberty, waiting for November.
Curry, of Belfast, has spent time on the Children’s Cabinet and a legislative task force on afterschool programs. He is running on expanding broadband access, small business support, investing in renewable energy and making the state government work “smarter” by reforming the juvenile justice and drug courts systems.
Stanicki, also of Belfast, works as a social worker and clinical researcher at Dartmouth College with a focus on substance abuse disorders. She has been endorsed by the progessive Democracy for America, Our Revolution and Maine People’s Alliance. Her platform centers on expanding access to health care and economic stability.
Pattavina, a “semi-retired” emergency physician from Winterport who led the Maine Medical Association from 2016 to 2018, describes himself as a “reasonable liberal Democrat.” He has held various leadership positions in health systems. He is running on expanding broadband access, civility in politics and repairing income inequality and tax fairness.
House District 9 (Kennebunkport, parts of Kennebunk and Biddeford): Gia Drew vs. Traci Gere
This open-seat race features candidates with distinct policy differences as well as the potential for a historic election in a swing district covering Kennebunkport and parts of Kennebunk and Biddeford.
Drew may have been one of Maine’s first openly transgender teachers. Now, the program director for EqualityMaine may become its first transgender legislator. Health care and personal safety are big parts of her platform — she serves on the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s LQBTQ Advisory Board and advocated to make conversion therapy illegal in Maine.
Gere, the owner of a retail store in Kennebunk, has centered the coronavirus pandemic in her campaign. She promises to work for more resources to make it easier for elderly residents to shelter in place and more protective gear and testing for health care workers.
The nominee will likely have a close November race. Rep. Diane Denk, D-Kennebunk, won in 2018 after two narrow losses in 2014 and 2016. The Republican who beat her, Stedman Seavey, has filed to run again. Seavey has served seven House terms dating back to 1982.
House District 125 (Bangor’s Little City and Judson Heights neighborhoods): Kenneth Huhn vs. Amy Roeder
The two candidates vying for Kornfield’s Bangor seat would be newcomers to the Legislature but bring different focuses in one of three primaries for open Democratic-held House seats in Bangor and neighboring Orono.
Huhn is the administrator of Seaport Village Healthcare in Ellsworth and the president of the Greater Bangor Democratic Committee. He is an associate at the UMaine Center on Aging. His health care experience informs his policy — he told Ballotpedia that he wants to ensure greater access to health care and more support for people with disabilities.
Roeder, who lost a 2019 city council bid, works at the University of Maine as an adjunct professor and a freelance business consultant. Those interests are clear in her campaign, which focuses on public education, wage equity, the energy sector and safe working conditions. She is backed by the AFL-CIO, EMILY’s List and the progressive Maine People’s Alliance.
House District 38 (Portland’s West End): Charles Skold vs. Michael Flaherty vs. Barbara Wood
The legislative delegation in the Democratic stronghold of Portland will see a lot of change in 2020. There are four Democratic primaries there in July with three for open seats. A seasoned advocate running is against two young Democrats in the race to succeed term-limited House Majority Leader Matt Moonen.
Wood was believed to be the first openly gay or lesbian elected official in Maine when she was elected to the Portland City Council in 1988. Now the vice president of the EqualityMaine Foundation, the education and advocacy arm of the organization, Wood has been endorsed by EMILY’s List and Moms Demand Action. Her focuses include immgration advocacy, education and the economy.
Skold, who works at a Boston consulting firm, has been endorsed by Run For Something, a group that recruits young progressives. His campaign issues include support for a local-option lodging tax, climate policy, more public education funding and making Maine more accessible to immigrants.
Michael Flaherty, a student at the University of Maine School of Law, told the Portland Phoenix he is running to get more young people involved in politics, saying the relatively older Legislature needs diversity.
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of contested Democratic legislative primaries in July.