AUGUSTA – Maine’s 122nd Legislature was formally seated Wednesday and as a first order of business elected presiding officers, who pledged to lead in a spirit of bipartisanship and openness.

“I challenge us to find and attend to the common ground between us,” Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, said in her first remarks from the rostrum in her new role. “My door is open to all of you.”

House Speaker John Richardson told the new representatives that politics is not about power, money or winning. “Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives,” the Brunswick Democrat said. “Politics is about doing well for the people.”

Gov. John Baldacci administered the oath of office to the members of the House and Senate who were elected Nov. 2 and will serve two-year terms. Democrats have a slight majority in both chambers.

As he congratulated the lawmakers and recalled his own election to the Senate in 1982, the governor called it “a day of celebration.” Baldacci served 12 years in the Legislature before winning a congressional seat.

“We’re truly blessed to live in the state of Maine,” said Baldacci, who was elected governor two years ago.

Extra seats were set up for spectators in the Senate, and the House was also packed with an overflow crowd as relatives and friends of the lawmakers witnessed the day’s formalities.

“It’s a big day. I’m excited for Mom,” said Katie Scamman of Saco, a senior at Thornton Academy, after snapping a picture of her mother, freshman Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, in the rear of the chamber.

Another first-time lawmaker, Rep. Darren Hall, R-Holden, said he was “excited about the prospect of working on property tax relief,” an issue singled out by Baldacci and leaders as a priority.

Asked if he expects the promises of bipartisanship to hold throughout the session, Hall said, “So far it appears that’s going to be the case.”

The opening-day talk of cooperation between parties is not unusual. But it took on added significance this year because lawmakers are under pressure from voters to lower property taxes. Voters rejected a tax-cap proposal in November, but two other tax-relief initiative drives have been launched.

The Republicans, who are outnumbered 76-73 by Democrats in the House, chose not to nominate a speaker to compete against Richardson. In a display of bipartisanship, House Republican Leader David Bowles of Sanford seconded Richardson’s nomination.

“There are many serious issues facing us and there will be many opportunities for potential disagreement and conflict,” Bowles told the House. “We can face these issues together in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation or we can allow our differences to disrupt us and render this body ineffective.”

By doing the latter, he said, “we fail not only ourselves, but also the people of Maine.”

In the Senate, however, Sangerville Republican Paul Davis was nominated for the presidency by Sen. Karl Turner, R-Cumberland, who described Davis as “a straight talker, easy to deal with,” and one who “understands the needs and aspirations” of Mainers. Davis had already been selected by his caucus as GOP floor leader for the session.

The final ballot count in Edmonds’ win over Davis was not announced, but the partisan breakdown in the Senate is 18 Democrats and 17 Republicans.



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