As everyone who reads a newspaper or watches TV knows, a huge blue wave swept through Maine Nov. 6, giving Democrats control of the Maine House and Senate by wide margins. Debate, discussion and downright arguments will continue to swirl around the election, but the big question is how will all this affect the Maine’s forest products industr
Strauch, lobbyist Michele MacLean and Bill Ferdinand of Eaton Peabody talked this all out with the MFPC Board on Nov. 9th, encouraging all members to weigh in on the most important policy objectives for the Council and for the industry in the new administration and upcoming 129th Maine Legislature.
The House will have 90 Democrats, 57 Republicans and four independents. In the Senate, there will be 21 Democrats and 14 Republicans – the Democrats largest majority in more than a decade. To put that in perspective, Senate Republicans will have to fill their seats on 17 legislative committees with just 14 members. Maine House election results. Maine Senate election results.
“That’s a pretty significant win for Democrats,” MacLean said. “And of course, Janet Mills took the Blaine House, So Democrats had a great day.”
Mills was the first governor-elect to win with a majority since 1970, when Kenneth Curtis won with 50.14 percent of the vote, according to the Press Herald. Mills named campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy, who also will be her chief of staff, and former Maine Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant to lead her transition team.
“I think you’ll see a lot of people competing to be either a commissioner or on staff,” Ferdinand said. “There will be a lot of people wanting positions.”
Strauch and other members of FOR/Maine, including Steve Schley and Yellow Light Breen, met with Mills during the campaign.
Jim Contino, past MFPC president, said “I think our opportunity is to show Gov.-elect Mills how forestry can be a good thing for Maine’s environment.”
Strauch agreed, adding, “We need to capitalize on southern Maine’s growing awareness of wood and its role in a green economy. And we need to demonstrate that growth will come on the backs of established industries that provide the horsepower to keep a community going.”
Foresty issues included in Mills’ platform include:
- Enhance working forest land by once again seeking federal Forest Legacy funding to support timber-sector jobs, ensure sustainable forestry, conserve wildlife habitat, and guarantee recreational access.
- Help lead an ambitious effort to diversify the Maine’s rural communities and the state’s forest economy by attracting capital investments, and developing greater, more diverse economic prosperity for communities impacted by recent mill closures.
“We have a relationship with Janet,” Strauch said. “She graciously spoke to our board and has been very approachable over the years. As a governor, I think she’ll understand that the forest products industry is one of our state’s biggest economic engines.”
Board member John Cashwell agreed, saying, “We ought to get very active throughout the industry to find the right people.”
In the Maine Senate, Troy Jackson of Allagash will serve as president with Nate Libby of Lewiston as majority leader and Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic as assistant majority leader. On the Republican side, Dana Dow of Waldoboro was elected minority leader and Jeff Timberlake of Turner, assistant minority leader.
“Obviously, Democrats will be in charge of committee chairmanships for the House and the Senate,” MacLean said. “Governor-elect Mills is going to be pulling together a new cabinet. She will appoint all new commissioners and significant positions within various agencies that we work with. So we’ll have a whole new cast of characters to work with. It will take some time to make these appointments, but having said that I’m amazed by the speed at which the caucuses are getting organized.”
In the House, Sara Gideon will be back as speaker, but all of the Democratic leadership in the House left, running for the Senate or Congress. So there’s going to be a new shakeup on that end. There will be new leadership on the Republican side of the aisle, since majority leader Ken Fredette termed out and assistant minority leader Ellie Espling ran her race for the Senate. House Republicans are caucusing Wednesday to elect their leadership. House Democrats are meeting Thursday.
Workforce development and other labor issues are likely to be significant in the coming session, MacLean said. Ferdinand added that other “issues that are top of mind right now are more healthcare, education, opioids, energy. The workforce issue goes beyond forestry.”
Another important area, Strauch said, will be committee assignments and “we’ll be watching that closely.”
Drew Gattine is expected to be back as House chair of Appropriations. With 21 Democratic senators and 17 committee, “not everyone is going to get a chair position,” Ferdinand said. “What typically happens is that the new people don’t unless they have very special expertise in something. It’s been a sort of seniority type of approach seen in the past. Everyone will get a committee because Democrats will get two seats, but it also will allow a chair, such as Appropriations, to just be on Appropriations — they don’t have to do anything else. And two people, in this case, could be chosen for Appropriations and nothing else which is actually better for them.”
According to the Maine House, there are 47 new House members, so another likely development, MacLean said, is that cloture, the deadline for submitting completed requests for bills, resolves and constitutional resolutions to be considered in a legislative session, is likely to be moved back to January, rather than the third week in December. “They’ll probably push it back to allow some extra time for all the incoming legislators, she said. “So that gives us a little more time to have conversations about bills or any issue we might want to advance.”
“There are some things we need to do to be as effective as we can,” Strauch said. “That transition team for the administration is important and having names that we can throw in is going to be important and the extent to which we can have an effect on committee assignments as well. That’s what we’ll be working on and if any of you are interested in a state position or have insights to share, I’d like to hear them.”