November 4, 2010

GOP now controls state House, Senate

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- Republicans rejoiced Wednesday as they celebrated the takeover of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since 1974.

click image to enlarge

Republican Senate and House candidates react to the news Wednesday morning from Maine Republican Party Vice Chairman Charlie Summers, at podium, that independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler conceded defeat to GOP nominee Paul LePage during a victory rally at the State House. The Republicans claimed the House and Senate in Tuesday’s elections.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The new Legislature will be sworn in Dec. 1 at the State House.

"We have the passion, we have the commitment and we will deliver," said Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, leader of House Republicans.

Democrats -- who knew the Senate would likely go Republican but expected to keep the House -- were stunned by Wednesday's GOP sweep.

Republicans packed the State House Hall of Flags for a rowdy reunion Wednesday, hugging and shaking hands after an election that saw voters give them complete control of the state -- starting with Gov.-elect Paul LePage and extending to the Maine Senate and House.

The last time Republicans controlled the Legislature and the governor's office was 1966 -- the final full year of Gov. John Reed's tenure as chief executive, according to records at the Law and Legislative Reference Library.

The crowd erupted with applause and cheers before noon Wednesday when Maine Republican Party Vice Chairman Charlie Summers announced independent Eliot Cutler had conceded the election for governor.

In the back of the hall, someone held a sign referring to Democratic control as a "reign of terror."

The Republicans appear to have control of the Senate with 20 Republicans, 14 Democrats and one unenrolled senator, according to unofficial results. The lone independent is Richard Woodbury, a former state representative who prevailed in a four-way race in Cumberland County.

Over in the House, the split is 77-73-1, although recounts are expected in some districts. There, the independent is Ben Chipman, of Portland.

Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster, credited as the architect behind the Republican sweep, said Maine Democrats "have kind of lost their way."

"They've forgotten that they used to be the party of the working class," he said. "I'm proud of the fact that a lot of people in Maine who drive a truck, work at Wal-Mart, went to the polls and they rewarded us for our opinions, our views and what we will do for them."

Webster, a former state senator from Farmington, said Republicans want to help the truly needy, but that Maine people also want to be left alone by government.

"We're sick and tired of the attitude that government is going to take from those of us who work hard and redistribute it simply because they can do it," he said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, who had hoped to be House speaker, said voters spoke loudly that they wanted change, but pointed out they also re-elected Democrats to Congress.

"The same voters who elected Paul LePage also elected Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree," she said.

She said Democrats at the state level worked well with Republicans for the last few difficult budget cycles.

"The Republicans will now have an opportunity to try and lead in equally difficult times," said Cain, who served as House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.

Republicans last controlled the House in 1974, when Richard Hewes of Cape Elizabeth served as speaker. The following year, Democrats took over, and Rep. John Martin began 19 years presiding over the House.

Martin, who won re-election to the Senate on Tuesday, stepped down from the speakership in 1994 after a year of controversy in which his top aide was convicted of ballot tampering. Since then, eight Democrats have served as speaker.

In the Senate, Republicans last had control in 2002, when there was a power-sharing agreement with Democrats because of a 17-17-1 split in the chamber.

Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, who is likely to be chosen by his peers to be the new Senate president, said Republican wins were a victory for "common sense."

"The people have spoken that they believe it is the Republican Party who is best equipped to lead us into the future," he said.

He said he worked for two years with Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Springvale, to put together a winning team for the elections.

"We've been driven by one thing," he said. "That is the determination to change the culture of state government and make this a state that values prosperity. We face daunting challenges. We have a big mess to clean up."

Susan Cover -- 620-7015

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