Maine Governor-elect Janet Mills.
Maine Governor-elect Janet Mills.
" “This campaign has always been about doing things differently. It’s about what we can do when we come together with kindness, compassion, respect, listening, and understanding. It's about what we can accomplish when we focus on our humanity, not our party.” — Representative-Elect Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) "
Tuesday’s election was a smashing success for Maine Democrats, who managed to take back control of the Maine Senate, expanded their seats in the House and elected the state’s first female governor, Janet Mills. With a record high voter turnout of 65 percent, Maine was one of six states that pulled off a “Democratic trifecta” by taking over all three branches of state government, according to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Mills was ahead of Republican Shawn Moody by about eight points, according to the Associated Press, which is what a recent Emerson College poll predicted.

“I will be the 75th governor of this great state,” said Mills in her victory speech. “Looking over the trail of nearly two hundred years, considering the history of governors from the first Governor King of Bath to the current governor from Waterville, something about this election is different, something makes me stand apart from the rest — yes, through 198 years of our state’s history, I am the first and the only governor elected from Franklin County!”

Mills was also elected as Maine’s first female attorney general in 2008 and as the first female district attorney in New England in 1980. She has served as a state legislator and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1994. As attorney general, Mills fought with Gov. Paul LePage over his attempts to cut health care coverage for low-income people and eliminate emergency food and housing assistance for asylum seekers as well as refusing to represent the governor in his legal briefs supporting President Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Mills said her first order of business will be to properly fund education, invest in renewable energy and implement the MaineCare expansion law, which LePage has blocked for the past two years.

“What once was just a promise to invest in education and grow our economy must now become a reality of thousands of young people,” said Mills. “What once was just a promise to embark on a clean energy future must now become a reality for our environment. What once was just a promise about expanding health care will now become a reality for tens of thousands of Mainers.”

Speaking to reporters on CBS-13 on Tuesday night, Shawn Moody said the outcome of the race was “more about the headwinds that’s going on across the county” and that voters wanted to “swing the pendulum back the other way.” But he added, “We have to find a way to stop, you know, the lying and the attacks that aren’t factual, because the thing I’m really, really concerned about is we’re not gonna get good, honest, hardworking Mainers to step up and run for public office.”

Gov. LePage struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his message to the newly elected governor and lawmakers:

“I thank all the candidates for stepping up to serve the people of Maine and congratulate all the winners of yesterday’s election,” said the outgoing governor in a statement. “Mainers have entrusted you with the future of our state and to represent all of the people. Please hold that trust sacred. In addition, I specifically wish Governor-Elect Janet Mills well in her new role.”

On the national level, Democrats currently have a 219-193 seat lead over Republicans, according to the Associated Press, but it will likely be a long time before Maine’s Second District Congress race is resolved. At press time, Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden are locked in a virtual dead heat at 46 to 45.9 percent. Since neither candidate has won a majority, on Thursday the ballots will be transported by courier to a central vote counting place in Augusta, where they will be tabulated in subsequent rounds until two candidates remain and one of them has the majority of votes. The AP is reporting that the two liberal-leaning independent congressional candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar have 5.7 percent and 2.4 percent respectively, so it’s unlikely a majority of their voters will choose the conservative Poliquin for their second and third choices. However, according to press reports, Poliquin has not ruled out challenging the results in court if he wins a plurality but loses in an instant run-off, which could mean the second district won’t have a representative for several months.

Meanwhile, in the liberal first district, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree trounced Republican Mark Holbrook and independent Martin Grohman with 58 percent of the vote. In a statement, Pingree said she was honored to be elected to a sixth term.

“During this campaign,” said Pingree, “I’ve heard time and again what really matters to the people of our state — access to quality affordable health care; protecting Social Security and Medicare from cuts; ensuring the economy works for everyone; and tackling the opioid crisis — and I pledge to keep fighting every day for our shared Maine values.”

In a statement Holbrook said he hopes Pingree improves Maine’s economy and “finds a way to break free from her party’s leadership to work with the Trump administration.”

Democratic Women Win Big in Midcoast House Races

House Democrats have increased their majority by 16 seats and there are now at least 89 Democrats and four independents in the 151-member body, although many races are still being tabulated. In a statement, House Democrats said they had elected 48 women, 54 percent of whom are new to the caucus.

“Maine House Democrats will be focused on an agenda that prioritizes what they heard on the campaign trail from voters across this state,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport). “An agenda that recognizes the choices working families make every day and moves those families closer to prosperity. Conversation after conversation, we pledged to increase access to affordable and quality health care, to alleviate the burden of crippling student debt and to finally make the investments that will build the high-paying, sustainable jobs of both today and tomorrow.”

In no other region of the state was the blue wave more apparent than in the midcoast where there are now only three Republicans left out of 15 House members representing towns in Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties. The new crop of midcoast Democratic women include realtor Victoria Doudera of Camden, retired music teacher Janice Dodge of Belfast, public administrator Ann Matlack of St. George, climate activist Chloe Maxmin of Nobleboro, retired social services director Holly Stover of Boothbay and lobsterwoman Genevieve McDonald of Stonington (who will also represent North Haven and Vinalhaven). Maxmin, who will succeed Rep. Deb Sanderson of Chelsea, and Stover, who defeated Rep. Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay), will take over districts previously held by Republicans.

“This campaign has always been about doing things differently,” said Maxmin in a statement. “It’s about what we can do when we come together with kindness, compassion, respect, listening, and understanding. It’s about what we can accomplish when we focus on our humanity, not our party.”

Other new liberal-leaning legislators include independent Bill Pluecker of Warren, who defeated Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren); Democrat Scott Cuddy of Winterport; and former Rep. Jeff Evangelos, who managed to wrest back control of his old district from Republican Rep. Abden Simmons of Waldoboro. Republican state representative Sherman Hutchins of Penobscot will represent Stockton Springs. In addition to Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, Reps. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville), Jeff Hanley (R-Pittston) and MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) will all return to Augusta.

According to election returns, Democrats have won 21 seats to take control of the Senate. In Waldo County, Democrat Erin Herbig of Belfast defeated Republican Jayne Crosby Giles, and in Knox County Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Camden) easily fended off a challenge from Republican Wendy Pelletier. Over in Lincoln County, Sen. Dana Dow defeated Democrat Laura Fortman. The Dow/Fortman match-up was one of the most expensive in the state, with Democrats along with the Maine State Employees Union and the Maine Education Association pouring in over $140,000 to support the Nobleboro Democrat, while Republican PACs spent just under $42,000 to help Dow.

Irving Elected as First Woman to Hold DA Office

According to the Courier-Gazette, Democrat Natasha Irving has defeated incumbent District Attorney Jonathan Liberman, to become the first Democrat and first woman to be elected as district attorney for Prosecutorial District 6 — which includes Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties. The Bangor Daily News noted that Irving, who works as a defense attorney, is the only candidate elected to a district attorney post in Maine who is not a prosecutor.

At a forum hosted by The Free Press last month, Irving said her priorities as DA will be to focus on treatment rather than jail time for nonviolent drug offenders and using community-based restorative justice — which engages victims, offenders and the broader community in a structured dialogue to hold offenders accountable and allow them to repair the harm they caused — as a substitute for incarceration and fines for all nonviolent misdemeanor crimes. Irving also said she would seek alternatives to cash bail for nonviolent offenders because the current system causes some defendants to plead out even if they’re not guilty to avoid spending more time in jail.

Mainers Reject the Politics of Fear & Hate

While President Donald Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric about a caravan of a few thousand desperate Honduran asylum seekers appears to have helped Republicans expand their seats in the US Senate, it didn’t work in Maine. In the weeks leading up to the campaign, Republican US Senate candidate Eric Brakey led one of the most xenophobic political campaigns since the heyday of Maine Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. In a series of ads, he accused Sen. Angus King of plotting to “replace your kids” with Syrians, Somalis and Latino immigrants, echoing paranoid white nationalist conspiracy theories. He spread false stories that “100 Isis terrorists” in the migrant caravan had been arrested and said that “the left” is supporting the “mass importation of new voters to transform our political culture.” But in the end he garnered less than 35 percent of the vote while King easily cruised to a win with nearly 55 percent of the vote.

“It has been a privilege to serve you in the Senate for the past six years, and it’s an honor to be elected for another term,” said King in a statement. “We must continue our work to protect our environment, Social Security, and Medicare; increase access to healthcare and education; and work to fight for veterans and to end the opioid crisis.”

In his concession speech, Brakey said he got into the race because of “one simple, beautiful idea: liberty.”

“I believe America is a great nation, not because we have the strongest military or the biggest economy, but because we are a nation founded on the idea that government exists to protect the individual liberties of the people,” said Brakey.

Democrat Zak Ringelstein, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, received 10.5 percent of the vote in the race. In a statement, he said his campaign is part of a broader movement that is just beginning.

“Our children don’t have time for politicians who bail out big banks, sell off their future to the war machine, and put Exxon Mobil profits over our earth when there is literally no time to waste on fighting climate change and saving our families from the hazards of our healthcare system,” said Ringelstein. “We need 100% renewable energy, Medicare For All, and higher teacher salaries. Not in 50 years. Now.”

Candidates in down-ticket races were also unsuccessful in translating anti-immigrant fears into victories. Last week, Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren) made headlines for running a misleading, Islamaphobic ad in the Courier-Gazette, which featured a razor and Muslim woman over a crying baby girl, accusing Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center of not protecting girls from female-genital mutilation — a practice that is already illegal. But on Tuesday night, voters rejected the politics of fear and soundly re-elected Beebe-Center and sent Sutton packing. While a narrow majority of voters in conservative Warren supported Sutton, voters in Hope, Appleton and Union delivered a comfortable victory for the mild-mannered organic farmer Bill Pluecker.

Sutton was also one of 11 Republican candidates who signed anti-immigrant legislator Larry Lockman’s (R-Amherst) pledge to cut programs that support immigrants, mandate that employers use the E-Verify system to check immigration status of workers and “end the refugee resettlement racket.” Only six Republican candidates who signed the pledge, including Lockman and Rep. Beth O’Connor (R-Berwick), managed to win their elections. Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester also stove off a challenge from self-described “nationalist” Republican candidate Matt Stone of West Gardiner, who had praised Hungarian autocratic president Viktor Orbán, expressed a desire to “purge all of the cucks from the Republican Party once and for all” and proposed to put people with substance use disorders in forced labor camps. In a statement, Stone said he “took heart” to know that the “powers of the current system” will “one day be felled by the sword of Gen Z,” whom he described as “one of the most right-wing generations in decades.”