Democrats and independents aiming to replace Gov. Paul LePage in January tell 50 States of Blue that their main concerns include the state economy, health care, opioids, and getting big money out of campaigns.
The crucial March 15 filing date for party candidates whittled Maine’s large field of gubernatorial hopefuls down to more manageable figures. The remaining candidates are seeking to gain enough voter support from Maine’s 16 counties to replace Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who took office in 2011 and will vacate his Augusta office in January due to term limits.
The Maine Democratic Party caucus on March 4 produced historic turnout for the party, and Democrats are feeling noticeably confident about their chances given the party’s recent special election victories across the country.
The seven Democrats qualified for a place on the primary ballot in June include Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, attorney Adam Cote, former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion, state Sen. Mark Dion, former state Rep. Diane Russell, and lobbyist Betsy Sweet.
In a state with a strong tradition of leadership from independents, including former governor and current U.S. Sen. Angus King, non-party candidates holding their own in the race include communications consultant Alan Caron and current State Treasurer Terry Hayes.
The Maine Green Independent Party has members vying for other state and municipal races, but did not place a gubernatorial candidate on the ballot.
Candidates qualifying for consideration in the Republican primary include three serving members of the state legislature: House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau. Rounding out the GOP field are former Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew and businessman Shawn Moody.
50 States of Blue spoke to Democratic and independent candidates about the state of their campaigns, and key issues at this point.
Adam Cote explained that his campaign has an agenda of creating jobs and building the economy.
“There are so many important issues we are hearing about, but the one thing that is most clear is – Mainers know this economy is not working for everyone and we need new leadership,” Cote said, adding that he has spread his message to prospective supporters through 430 campaign events, more than 80 house parties, and 32 downtown tours.
“The fact that my hometown was one of the few that built a new high school and vocational center while I served on the school board; the fact that I am the only candidate with 16 years of clean energy experience who knows how to build Maine’s clean energy economy; the fact that my leadership has been tested through 20 years as a combat veteran,” Cote said, “these are all things that are resonating in terms of the type of new leadership we need to get Maine moving in the right direction.”
Eves is a progressive who has gained endorsements from prominent state progressives and Democrats, including 16 current and former state representatives and two other gubernatorial candidates, Sean Faircloth and Patrick Eisenhart, who recently dropped out of contention.
“Our campaign continues to feel strong momentum and support from Democrats across the state,” Eves said. “Together we will bring sanity and civility back to state government in order to ensure health care for every Mainer, make the wealthy pay their fair share to fully fund our schools, and pass effective, common-sense gun safety laws.”
The Eves campaign made news earlier this month when it fired a staffer, Brandon Maheu, due to sexual harassment allegations that surfaced after he was hired but before he had started work on the campaign.
“Mark knows he made the right decision to fire Brandon and was grateful to the brave woman who came forward to share her story,” campaign spokesperson Jodi Quintero told 50 States.
Mills raised more money than her competitors in the past quarter and collected over 4,000 signatures from upwards of 140 communities. Campaign spokesperson Michael Ambler credited the support to Mills’s “track record of standing up for progressive values and getting tangible results.”
Ambler said Maine voters are looking for “someone who shares their values, and someone with the qualifications and know-how to reverse the damage from the LePage administration and get Maine back on track.”
He said Mills’s work on behalf of Mainers fits that bill, and has included “blocking LePage’s attempts to kick thousands of low-income children off healthcare, standing up to Trump’s attempts to undo environmental protections or repeal DACA,” and working to end the state’s deadly opioid crisis.
Sweet was the first Democratic candidate to qualify for the June primary, announcing on March 12 that she had submitted more than 2,300 nomination signatures from over 130 towns. Expecting to qualify next month as a Clean Elections campaign – a program offering state funding after candidates acquire a minimum number of $5 donations to the Maine Clean Election Act – her goal is to become “Maine’s first progressive woman governor in history.”
Sweet said these are “critically important times and we have an historic opportunity to do things very differently.” Her primary focus is universal, single-payer health care, not only for the health of Mainers but also for the state’s economic well-being. Also high on her agenda will be the under-resourcing of the opioid crisis response, dealing with child abuse complaints, Medicaid expansion, and job creation.
“What is most important is … listening to people closest to the problem for effective solutions,” she said. “Those voices are often drowned out now by big money in politics – big donors, PACs, special interests. We have to get money out of politics in order make progress on the most pressing issues for Maine families.”
Dion said she was late arriving to the 2010 gubernatorial race, missing the Democratic signature submission deadline by three minutes. This year she joined late again, announcing her candidacy in January — but was able to amass enough signatures in time to place her name on the ballot.
Dion, a self-described “conservative Democrat,” says she wants to focus on financial issues.
“We must be the most effective with our funds but minimize the burden on the citizens of Maine,” she said. “My message has no political tags, just the need to serve all citizens of Maine.”
Dion says that her six years serving simultaneously as the mayor and school committee chair in Biddeford, as well as her more than 20 years as a finance director of two nonprofits, have provided her extensive budget and financial planning experience. She is also focused on affordable health care services, while looking to ensure job opportunities and a well-trained workforce.
“My satisfaction is to not be connected to PAC or any special interest funds,” said Dion, stressing she will operate under Clean Election guidelines regardless of whether she qualifies for the funding program. “I want my interest to solely be the interest of the citizens in Maine, who are the business owners, the retirees, the workers, students.”
State Sen. Mark Dion
Mark Dion (no relation to Donna Dion) comfortably submitted enough signatures a day before the deadline last week.
“I look forward to meeting many more Maine voters as they consider their choices for the first ranked-choice ballot in a state primary election,” Dion said.
Dion’s most urgent priority is the opioid epidemic, according to campaign Communications Director Doug Rooks, who said other goals include free community college tuition to increase job placement and greater support for the University of Maine system.
“Longer term, expanding Medicaid swiftly and comprehensively, as the voters decided last November, is vital,” Rooks said, adding that Dion also hopes to improve state regulation of hospitals and health care providers to ensure reasonable costs and the availability of crucial services, especially in rural areas.
Russell, a former state representative from Portland, did not respond to a request for comment.
Caron said his campaign is on track to reach the required 4,000-signature threshold for independents to join the general election pool.
“In a race with more than 20 candidates, I have been among the top fundraisers,” Caron said. “At the end of 2017, I had raised $280,000 in contributions, putting me in fourth place.”
He said his focus is on “building an economy that is diverse and resilient and builds on our strengths” in Maine.
“The first step is to spend less time trying to attract jobs from away and more time growing them here, from the ground up,” Caron said. “Jobs that are deeply rooted in Maine communities and driven by innovation and entrepreneurs. We must focus, in particular, on small- and mid-sized manufacturing that can sell Maine-made products to a world that is hungry for authenticity and quality.”
Hayes, the state treasurer, did not respond to a request for comment.