AUGUSTA, Maine — A Republican political newcomer narrowly defeated a city councilor with institutional support for the right to take on a Democrat for an open Maine House of Representatives seat representing half of the capital city this November.
It sets up a November 2021 race between Republican James Orr and Augusta City Councilor Raegan LaRochelle for the seat vacated this year by former Rep. Justin Fecteau, R-Augusta. The seat has been held by Republicans for more than a decade, but Democrats hold a narrow party registration edge there and see it as a prime pickup opportunity.
Orr’s victory at a sparsely attended Augusta Republican caucus on Monday. He beat City Councilor Michael “Shu” Michaud in a 13-11 vote after Assistant Maine Senate Minority Leader Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, who held the House seat before Fecteau, spoke in favor of Michaud.
The victory came less than a week after Orr decided to run and the victory surprised him, he said. He appears to be a staunch conservative, saying he opposes Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate for health care workers and wants Maine to have a voter identification requirement.
The 53-year-old Republican is a retired Army master sergeant who saw stints in Iraq and Kosovo during 24 years of service and leads the Veteran Mentors of Maine, a charity that helps veterans reacclimate to civilian life.
LaRochelle, 43, is in her first council term and works as a consultant and businessperson. She was not challenged in the Democratic caucus for the seat, which took place at the Augusta City Center across the hall from the Republican caucus.
While Republicans have done well in Augusta in recent years, they have typically distinguished themselves from their parties on issues including the public workforce and education. Pouliot has gotten high marks from the state employees’ union, while both Fecteau and his Democratic opponent in 2020 won a dual endorsement from the Maine Education Association.