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Republicans elect new State House leaders while Senate Dems keep status quo

billy bob.jpg
Troy R. Bennett
Maine Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, looks through papers at his desk in the State House in Augusta in this August 2019 file photo.

Republican state lawmakers have chosen new leaders less than one week after Democrats retained control of both the Maine House and Senate.

On Monday, House Republicans elected Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor as minority leader while Rep. Amy Arata of New Gloucester was chosen to serve as assistant minority leader. Faulkingham is a lobsterman and a political conservative who will lead the caucus following an election where Republicans had hoped to potentially win control of the chamber but ended up losing ground slightly to Democrats. Faulkingham beat three other contenders – Reps. Laurel Libby of Auburn, Josh Morris of Turner and Jack Ducharme of Madison – to secure the leadership position.

Faulkingham has become a prominent voice in the current fight by the lobstering community against new federal fishing regulations aimed at reducing the risks of endangered North Atlantic right whales from becoming entangled in fishing gear. He has also been involved in several attempts to get citizen’s initiatives on the ballot and was involved in a successful court challenge that overturned Maine’s residency and voter registration requirements for individuals who circulate ballot measure petitions for signatures.

Speaking to reporters briefly afterward, Faulkingham said he was pleased with the support from his caucus vote but declined to outline specific priorities for Republicans in the upcoming legislative session.

"The Republican Party has been branded by our opposition and now it is time to brand ourselves,” he said. “We are the party of family values and workers. And the caucus has chosen a lobsterman, a family man – and that's the direction we are going."

Susan Sharon
Maine Public
Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, whose district includes part of Washington County, loads up with bait before going fishing for the day.

In a statement released later by the House Republican Office, Faulkingham said last Tuesday’s election results “were not enough” and that Mainers “expect Republicans to provide alternatives, work together, and be included in decisions that affect their lives.”

Arata, who runs a property investment company and a mechanical engineering business with her husband, echoed those sentiments in a statement.

“House Republicans are unified in their desire to play a larger role in the policies and decisions governing Mainers,” said Rep. Arata. “Mainers from all walks of life and occupations can expect us to fight for them and to have their voices heard.”

Democrats will hold an 82-67 majority over Republicans in the House during the session that begins next month. Two independents were also re-elected last Tuesday. And House Democrats will choose their leaders later this week.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrats will outnumber Republicans 22 to 13. That is the same party dynamics as existed in the current Legislature, although each party managed to flip one seat during last week’s elections.

Last week, Republicans selected Sen. Trey Stewart of Presque Isle and Sen. Lisa Keim of Dixfield as the minority leader and the assistant minority leader. The pair succeeded two returning lawmakers, Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner and Sen. Matt Pouliot of Augusta, who chose not to seek re-election to caucus leadership positions following last Tuesday’s elections.

Democrats, meanwhile, re-elected Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash, Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic and Sen. Matty Daughtry of Brunswick to lead that caucus. The full Senate will vote on Jackson serving another term as Senate President – the second highest-ranking elected office in state government – when the Legislature is sworn in next month. A professional logger who has led the chamber for four years, Jackson defeated a freshman Republican lawmaker, Rep. Sue Bernard of Caribou, last week in an election that drew more than $1 million in spending, which is a new record for a legislative race in Maine.

“Throughout this campaign season, one thing remained constant: Maine people are worried not just about the future but about what is going to happen tomorrow — how they are going to make ends meet, provide for their families and afford to retire,” Jackson said in a statement last week. “ And they’ve entrusted us to do everything we can to help. Whether it’s the rising cost of energy, corporate greed or out-of-control prescription drug prices, Mainers are counting on us to do something about it. Solving the challenges that lay before us won’t be easy, but it is the job we were elected to do.”