AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — The leadership lineup for the new Maine Legislature is complete.
Last week, Republicans in the Senate chose Sen. Mike Thibodeau to serve another term as Senate president. On Friday, Democrats in the House of Representatives chose Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to be the next speaker of the House.
Both still need to be elected by the full Senate and House, respectively, but because their parties hold the majority in those chambers, their election on Dec. 7 is all but assured.
Current Speaker Mark Eves presided over Friday’s election, presumably his last official act before he gives up the gavel, due to term limits.
The Democrats will hold a narrow margin in the new Legislature: 77 seats to 72 for Republicans, with two Independents. And partly because of that narrowed advantage, there was a three-way contest for speaker. Rep. Gay Grant of Gardiner, was nominated for the position, as was Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop.
Rep. Hickman was the first African-American ever nominated to be speaker of the House in Maine. Both said House Democrats need to stand up for traditional party values, such as advocating for the poor and for workers, and for the environment. But they also said the Democrats need to be able to work together with Republicans to get things done, despite whatever battles might occur with the governor.
But in the end, Democrats chose Rep. Gideon. She has been assistant Democratic leader for the past two years and was considered the front-runner for the speaker’s job.
Gideon also told the House they need to advocate for policies to protect the environment and workers and take care of people in need. And she, too, said House Democrats need to develop a good working relationship with Republicans. After the election, Gideon told NEWS CENTER she had already had some discussions with House GOP leader Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport. And she said she has a positive relationship with Gov. LePage.
“The good news,” Gideon said, “is the governor and I have a relationship. If he calls me to talk, I pick up the phone. If I go down to his office and ask for a conversation, he opens the door. That’s the kind of relationship I expect us to continue to have.”
Gideon was the sponsor of a controversial solar energy bill earlier this year and had several meetings with the governor to find changes that could win his support. That effort ultimately didn’t succeed, but Gideon said she will continue to try to find middle ground with LePage on policy issues.
Gideon said lawmakers will need to spend time figuring out details of those controversial referendum questions passed by voters, especially Question 1, which legalized marijuana. Beyond those challenges, she said the most important task for lawmakers is finding ways to bring new, high-paying jobs to Maine, to rebuild the economy.