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Lawmakers Critical of Maine Mining Bill Unenroll From Democratic Party

A.J. Higgins
Maine Public/file
Rep. Ralph Chapman, of Brooksville, one of two Democrats to unenroll from the party, at a legislative hearing in March.

The Democratic majority in the Maine House of Representatives now totals just four votes following a decision by two members to unenroll from the party.

Representatives Denise Harlow, of Portland, and Ralph Chapman, of Brooksville, announced Friday that they're unenrolling from the party.

Harlow wouldn't go into specifics about her decision, saying only that she's become increasingly frustrated that independent voices often go unheard in the Democratic caucus.

"I feel there's a long term, systematic problem in the building, where independent thinkers are oftentimes marginalized," Harlow said.

Harlow also worries about lobbyist influence on bills crafted by lawmakers. "I truly believe that how we do things matters."

Harlow and Chapman have been outspoken opponents of a bill that would ban open-pit mines, as well as mining, on state-owned lands or under lakes and rivers. Harlow and Chapman have pushed for an outright ban on metallic mining.

They were two of 14 House members to vote against a proposal backed by environmental groups as well as those who have previously supported changing state law to allow mining.

The compromise bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a margin of 126-14.

The House now has 75 Democrats, 71 Republicans and five unaffiliated representatives

"I'm disappointed that Rep. Harlow and Rep. Chapman have unenrolled from the Democratic Party, but I respect their decision and value their friendship," House Speaker Sara Gideon said in a written statement. "I have always admired their progressive values and the passion they bring to their work. Democrats will continue to staff them and our door is always open to them. I look forward to continuing to work with them on issues that matter to all of us."