Dems open Lewiston convention with Baldacci tribute

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LEWISTON – It took some time for the energy to build during the first night of Maine’s Democratic Party convention, but by the time Gov. John Baldacci took the stage, the party faithful were on their feet at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

The convention floor, with seats enough for 1,000, was about half full on Friday, as party business officially began and the state’s top Democrats made their speeches. Ted Small, chairman of the Androscoggin County Democratic Party, served as an ambassador for Lewiston and welcomed the Democratic party delegates.

“What you might not know, but what we hope to show you tonight and for the rest of this weekend, is that Lewiston-Auburn is back, and it’s better than ever,” Small said. “The message of our revitalization is that we are best as a community when we harness the strength of all of our members of our community. This is Lewiston-Auburn’s story and is the organizing principle of the Democratic party.”

U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree used their speeches to highlight the work completed by the sitting Congress and the tasks still before it.

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“We haven’t fixed everything and the damage of the previous eight years is very hard to undo,” Pingree said. “We have our work cut out for us in this election year and we can’t take anything for granted.”

Several speakers introduced Baldacci, including Hannah Pingree, who praised him for his efforts on expanding access to health care for Mainers, including the Dirigo Health program; Betsy Smith of EqualityMaine; Dr. Habib Dagher of the University of Maine, who spoke of Baldacci’s efforts to develop offshore wind power; a top official from the United Steelworkers of Maine, who thanked Baldacci for his efforts to find work for laid-off millworkers; and his son Jack Baldacci, who praised his father for his hard work on behalf of all Mainers.

“Early on, (Gov. Baldacci) was challenged by his father with the question, ‘What have you done for the people today?’” Jack Baldacci said. “I know he has had an answer for that the last 30 years. He has never forgotten the question his father asked him. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever known. He cares about this state and its people.”

When Baldacci finally took the stage, the Democrat who served as a Bangor city councilor, then as a state senator and then as a U.S. House representative, and finally as a two-term governor, received a standing ovation, the first of the convention.

“Lewiston’s always been a very special place for me and the politics of Maine,” Baldacci said. “This year, the road to the Blaine House travels through Lewiston.”

Baldacci used his time at the podium to stump for the tax-reform law facing a people’s veto on the June 8 primary ballot and the four bond questions going before Maine voters.

“Today, we are a stronger state for the work that we’ve done, the challenges we’ve overcome and the problems we solved,” he said. “The election for governor matters. We can’t go back to those failed policies, not in Washington and not in Augusta.”

The convention is scheduled to continue today, when the Democrats will adopt their party platform and hear from the four gubernatorial candidates. Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee chairman, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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