More women want to serve in the Maine Legislature than ever before

Good morning from Augusta, where more women than ever are running in Maine’s 2018 legislative elections. It follows a national trend toward more female political participation attributed to many different reasons depending on which party you’re talking about.

In Maine, 137 women were nominated — 91 Democrats and 46 Republicans — for legislative seats in the June primaries, according to Rutgers University data. That beat Maine’s past record set in 2006 of 116 female nominees in both chambers and contributed to a national record number of female legislative nominees that was also broken in 2018.

Maine has a relatively strong tradition of electing women. Democrats are well ahead on the state level. Some of the biggest names in Maine political history are Republican women: Margaret Chase Smith was the first one to serve in both houses of Congress, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins made Maine the third state with two female U.S. senators in 1997.

But Maine Democrats have done far better at getting women elected at the state level. Now, they have 42 women in the Legislature to Republicans’ 22. That total of 64 women elected to the Legislature in 2016 is the highest figure on record in Maine, but it’s likely to increase in 2018 given the record numbers of female nominees in both parties.

There has never been a female governor, but that could change in November. Democrats nominated Attorney General Janet Mills, and Maine State Treasurer Terry Hayes, an independent, is also running to replace the term-limited Gov. Paul LePage against Republican nominee Shawn Moody and independent Alan Caron.

Democrats have a well-oiled training program for female candidates-in-waiting and Republicans are trying to catch up. Emerge Maine, which began in 2006, does six-month training sessions by recruiting and training Democratic women to run for office. The program is a force within the party, with Executive Director Sarah Skillin Woodard saying Emerge has 38 alumnae on municipal or state ballots in 2018 — 30 of whom are legislative candidates.

Woodard said the program had a record number of applicants for programming in 2017 after the election of President Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton — which she termed as “an unrepentant misogynist triumphing over what would have been our first woman president.”

The Maine Republican Party has the She Leads program, which is less intensive and was spearheaded in 2012 by Assistant Maine House Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, who is running against Democrat Ned Claxton for an open Senate seat this year.

It’s based around an annual conference and run by a steering committee of female officeholders who aim to get women interested in running for office. Espling said it can often take years for women to actually take that step. There were no Republican women elected to the Senate in the 2012 election and now there are four, which she said was an encouraging step.

“I’m hopeful that we can always build that number,” she said.

On the individual level, female candidates cite lots of unique reasons to run for office. Two candidates who are running against two incumbent women in the 2018 election — Republican Cathy Nichols of Falmouth and Democrat April Turner of Freedom — had much different paths to the November ballot.

Nichols, who is running against Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said her experience in two male-dominated industries — waste management and oil and gas — taught her that men can find “a woman who has brains intimidating.” But she said it provided an opportunity to learn from the men who were often doing the blue-collar work.

She wondered if more women are running because certain levels of politics seem “more approachable and relevant to families” and said that women are “braver today” than before.

Turner, who is facing Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, for the second straight time in 2018, said her run two years ago began with her “sitting on her couch grumbling” about politics. Her son asked, “What are you going to do about it?”

The social worker said before then, running for office was “never part of the picture.” But she went through Emerge Maine and is now looking to flip the rural district she lost last time.

Reading list

  • Read about how two Maine mothers won back custody of their children. Two mothers who regained custody of their children shared their stories with the Bangor Daily News. “Angela” was living with an abusive partner who had just been arrested when a state caseworker determined that she failed to protect her two preschool-age children from an unsafe person. “Jessica” was hospitalized when a caseworker began looking into allegations that her baby might be at risk because of exposure to substance use and mental health conditions. Both regained custody of their kids years ago. It underscores Maine’s policy of family reunification in child welfare cases, which LePage tried to weaken slightly after the recent deaths of two girls.
  • Backers of a failed Maine casino referendum may settle with the state to pay a fifth of their record Maine ethics fines. The Maine Ethics Commission will vote on Wednesday to accept a $100,000 settlement agreement with four political committees that backed the failed 2017 referendum that asked Maine voters to give a company run by Northern Mariana Islands developer Shawn Scott the rights to a York County casino. The committees are run by his sister, Lisa Scott, who lives in the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Commission staff say her offshore residence will make it “extremely challenging” to get the full $500,000 that the commission fined them in November.
  • The company building a land-based salmon farm in Belfast plans to expand it by 14 acres, angering an opponent who has sued the city over it. Nordic Aquafarms is planning to build one of the world’s largest salmon farms in the coastal city, producing about 33,000 tons of Atlantic salmon. The company initially planned to do it on 40 acres, but it now has an agreement to acquire 14 more acres that it said “will make this a better project, not a bigger one.” But one of the residents who has sued the city over zoning changes said she was “speechless” at the announcement. Permitting hearings for the facility will begin in September..

Don’t make my Moxie cocktail

Moxie, Maine’s official state beverage, hit the big-time yesterday when it was sold to Coca-Cola by a bottling company that will continue to make the soft drink in New Hampshire. Some mourned the brand’s loss of independence; I took the opportunity to make a celebratory cocktail.

I feel the same way about Moxie as I do lobster — I can take it or leave it. I don’t like it; I don’t dislike it. But months ago, someone left a can in my fridge. I’m also trying to save money right now by cooking using things I’ve been saving for a while in my cupboards or fridge, so I figured that I’d do that for this gag.

I was inspired by a Moxie-endorsed drink that the BDN flagged in 2015 — The New Englander. I had no gin, so I made it with 2 parts Moxie, 1 part tequila, a twist of lime, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a dash of worcestershire sauce (for some reason).

Don’t make it. It was bad — like spicy, expired cough medicine. But I think I’ll call it The Downwester. Here’s my soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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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.