LEWISTON — After Republican state House candidate Jason Lavoie dropped out of a four-way race for the 61st District seat that’s been held by Democrat Heidi Brooks for two terms, he walked into City Hall on Friday and switched his party affiliation to join the Democrats.
Lavoie, 34, said he is “increasingly frustrated by the way” GOP leaders “victimize the poor.”
As someone who has battled mental health issues, he said, he knows that “people can’t control what happens to them” and deserve to be accepted for who they are.
Republicans, he said, “make people with mental health issues suspects or guilty people” instead of fellow citizens who need a helping hand.
Lavoie, who works two jobs, said he is facing “a lot of personal challenges” and needs to focus on them rather than trying to win a spot in the Legislature.
“It’s more of a timing thing for me,” Lavoie said.
City Republicans have the opportunity to name a new candidate to take Lavoie’s spot on the ballot. There’s no word yet on who they might select.
His departure leaves Brooks and two others in the race: independent Luke Jensen and Green Independent Kimberly Pfusch.
Lavoie said he doesn’t know what the GOP will do next. He said he’s not sure if he will endorse anyone else in the House race.
But, he said, he had no trouble endorsing Democratic congressional contender Jared Golden of Lewiston, who is running for Maine’s 2nd District seat.
Lavoie said he had a terrific conversation with Golden some weeks ago and was deeply affected by something the Democrat told him.
He told me “to reach for my dreams,” Lavoie said. “He’s a great guy.”
Lavoie said Democrats he’s spoken with have “welcomed me with open arms” and he plans to be active with them.
He said he understands his decision is likely to spur some criticism from Republicans, but he didn’t do it lightly.
“I’m a free person. This is America. And I can do what I want,” Lavoie said.
Former allies, he said, “will trash me and put me down” and probably call him a traitor.
Lavoie said he joined the GOP’s ranks years ago in part because “I was a very pro-life person” and quite religious. He was skeptical of gay rights as well.
Now, though, he’s come around on gay rights as the nation has become more accepting.
Lavoie said the Republicans now are too tied to the establishment and too harsh in their policies toward struggling Americans.
“Politics can bring you down,” he said, in large part because of the lack of civility among those involved in campaigns. He said he is “frustrated with the whole process.”
“We’ve got to get back to basic civility,” Lavoie said, rather than this “tit for tat, one person against the other” atmosphere that has sullied the system.
It would be much better, he said, if everyone remembered those running for office “are people first and politicians last.”
Lavoie said he plans to remain involved in the community, particularly on issues related to mental health and consumer advocacy related to mental health.
An educational technician, Lavoie said he loves “serving students throughout Maine and Lewiston and living every day with a mental health disability.”
He said he might even take a crack at politics again someday.
“I don’t know where my destiny will bring me,” he said.
As of their last campaign finance filings with the Maine Ethics Commission, the four contenders had collectively raised less than $700. All are using traditional financing.
Brooks led the pack with $325, while Lavoie had taken in $195, Jensen $100 and Pfusch $40.
The general election is Nov. 6.
Former GOP state House candidate Jason Lavoie in Kennedy Park in Lewiston, shortly after changing his party registration from Republican to Democrat at the clerk’s office across the street. (Steve Collins/Sun Journal)