AUGUSTA — A new and divided Maine Legislature officially opened its session on Wednesday in Augusta, where Democratic and Republican leaders called on lawmakers to abandon the partisanship of the past and address the serious economic issues challenging the state.
Before administering the oath of office to the newly elected senators, Republican Gov. Paul LePage promised that his door would be open to all 35 members of the body. In the Democratic-controlled House, the governor, who secured a second term last month, said he’s hoping for a productive two years.
“Sharpen your pencils and let’s get to work,” said LePage, who hugged lawmakers as he walked out of the chamber and gave the pin he had been wearing on his jacket to a young girl standing in the aisle.
Republicans, still celebrating after last month’s elections, were jubilant as they formally took the reins of the Senate from Democrats.
Declaring that it’s “time to finally act on some things that are long overdue,” newly-elected Senate president Michael Thibodeau of Winterport, called for “real and meaningful welfare reform” and eliminating the “failed energy policies of the last 30 years.”
But he also struck a bipartisan tone, stressing that it’s clear that the parties must work together to get anything done in divided government.
“In short, the voters said, ‘Work it out.’ They don’t want to hear excuses,” said Thibodeau, who served as Senate minority leader for the last two years. “I look forward to working with the speaker of the House, our chief executive and each one of you as we seek to solve Maine’s biggest challenges.”
Down the hall, Democratic Rep. Mark Eves of North Berwick won a second term as House speaker after Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport withdrew his bid.
He stressed that job creation must be a top priority this session and urged lawmakers to not “allow the partisan battles of the past to dictate our future.”
“All of us, including myself, have a conscious choice to make. Will we work together and put jobs first or will we choose gridlock?” he asked.
Back in the Senate, A still-disputed race raised questions about whether the Democrat or Republican — or no one — should be seated until the issue is resolved.
In a Cumberland County race, Democrat Cathy Breen was viewed as the winner on election night, but after a recount Republican Cathy Manchester took the lead.
Republicans in the majority voted to provisionally seat Manchester even though Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap had said Breen would take the seat. Breen had said that no one should be seated until the dispute is settled.
As Manchester entered the chamber Wednesday to take the seat while Republican applauded, Breen watched from the viewing gallery above.
A special election committee tasked with examining the results of the election and declaring a true winner is scheduled to meet on Tuesday. At issue is why 21 votes ballots Manchester found during the recount weren’t accounted for by the town clerk in Long Island.
Later Wednesday, lawmakers were planning to choose a secretary of State, treasurer and attorney general. Incumbent Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is being challenged by former Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney. Treasurer Neria Douglass is up against former Democratic lawmaker Terry Hayes and Attorney General Janet Mills faces real estate lawyer Bill Logan.