Maine House Democrats meet to pick leaders amid wrangling over constitutional officers

Good morning from Augusta, where we’ll see the biggest group of lawmakers that we’ve seen in awhile on Friday, when Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives meet to select leaders.

Republicans gained three House seats in the November election, but it wasn’t enough to wrest the majority from Democrats, who will have a 77-72 majority with two independents — one who beat a Democrat, one who beat a Republican.

On Friday, Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is expected to be nominated as the next House speaker, replacing the outgoing Mark Eves of North Berwick. But she’s being challenged by Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner in the elections, which are set to kick off at 10 a.m.

The race for the majority leader spot is expected to be between the co-chairs of the Legislature’s labor and transportation committees: Rep. Erin Herbig of Belfast and Rep. Andrew McLean of Gorham, respectively. Rep. Jared Golden of Lewiston is expected to become assistant leader.

That completes the leadership picture for this year’s Legislature, which will set the tone for key negotiations and priorities in the 2017 session.

Things were status quo for Republicans, who re-elected Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and their teams. Troy Jackson of Allagash will be Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate and Nate Libby of Lewiston will assist him.

The caucuses will have their first scrapes on Dec. 7 — swearing-in day for the new Legislature —  when they’ll also elect constitutional officers, including the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.

Democrats Janet Mills and Matthew Dunlap have held the first two posts since 2013, but independent Terry Hayes — a former Democratic lawmaker — won the treasurer’s office in 2015 with support from Republicans over a Democrat. The elections are done by an aggregate vote of all members of the Legislature.

With four-member Democratic majority, the parties are wrangling behind the scenes to contest the races, although the odds seem stacked in favor of the status quo.

Republican lobbyist Josh Tardy, a former legislative leader, said he’s been asked to consider running for attorney general. Outgoing Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, is rumored to be considering a run against Hayes.

Tardy called it “a great honor to be part of that discussion,” but he wasn’t too optimistic about the odds, saying “unless there’s a change based on a recount, the Democrats will have barely, but enough to elect constitutional officers if the caucus holds.”

Those recounts haven’t done Republicans a favor yet: Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, beat Republican Benjamin Twitchell of Winslow by 150 votes after Thursday’s recount in House District 78.

On Friday, Dunlap’s office will do a recount in House District 121, a seat held by Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Hudson, who apparently beat Republican Gary Drinkwater of Milford by 22 votes.

Things probably aren’t likely to change, but if they do, we’ll have a day of intrigue on our hands at the State House. — Michael Shepherd

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Where’s Poliquin?

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, didn’t endorse his party’s presidential nominee during the 2016 campaign and hasn’t commented on Trump’s much-maligned selection of Stephen Bannon to a top position.

But he doesn’t look disappointed by the outcome in this selfie snapped by Vice President-elect Mike Pence with the House Republican caucus. However, it’s hard to find Poliquin. I couldn’t at first glance. Can you?

Having trouble? Here’s the answer and here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.