LEWISTON — With his former dog sitter likely to be the city’s next member of Congress, his party soon to control both the state House and state Senate, and a Democratic governor soon to take office, state Sen. Nate Libby is pretty darn happy.

In the wake of Tuesday’s successful election for Democrats in Maine, Libby’s state Senate colleagues chose Libby as the next majority leader, one of the most powerful positions in state government.

For the Lewiston lawmaker, who’s spent his legislative career battling with a combative Republican governor, the days ahead look refreshingly sweet.

He said, though, that he also feels “this enormous responsibility to deliver results” so that Mainers will see that Democrats can focus on pocketbook issues and avoid the sort of fussing and feuding that’s been a hallmark of the eight-year tenure of outgoing Gov. Paul LePage.

Politicians in Augusta, Libby said, need “big, bold things” to show they can lead the state to better times without busting the budget.

Libby said there are three issues right off the bat that he’s confident Gov.-elect Janet Mills and legislative Democrats will be able to address.


One is to ease the burden of property taxes, he said, suggesting that Democrats should focus on the homestead exemption that now slices the taxable assessed value of homes by $20,000 a year.

“We can afford to double it,” Libby said, something that would provide quick relief to families struggling to pay property taxes to municipalities across the state.

Libby said health care costs are another major problem for Maine families. By requiring transparency in prescription drug pricing and opening the door for residents to buy cheaper alternatives from Canada, he said, lawmakers can do something that offers immediate relief for many.

In addition, Libby said, the Legislature can press ahead with plans for student debt relief similar to one that he worked on with LePage that aimed to provide debt forgiveness and refinancing for Maine college students and graduates, including young people willing to move to the state for new employment opportunities.

Libby said the proposals are “not pie-in-the-sky stuff.” They’re practical answers to real difficulties that Maine faces, he said.

Libby said all of these are affordable because the state has budget surpluses it can tap.


Having control of both houses of the Legislature and a Democrat in the Blaine House is “going to be a brand-new experience” for him and most lawmakers, Libby said.

He said he hopes it means an end to the incessant quarreling between partisan factions and across the lines between the executive and legislative branches. It ought to be “a less dysfunctional, (less) toxic legislation process” in the new session, he said.

Libby said he looks forward to being able to negotiate a budget with a governor who won’t throw up her hands and walk out.

Some of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed, he said, are things Mills can handle, including filling long-vacant, badly needed state positions. Too many vacancies in recent years have made it tough for some offices to do the job, Libby said.

He said that Mills can also press ahead with increased payments for health care providers that LePage had stalled despite legislative funding for them.

Libby said he’s looking forward to working with the new Senate president, Troy Jackson of Allagash. He said Jackson “has heart and empathy that’s uncommon,” perhaps the result of his years working in the North Country woods that gave him such a fierce commitment to helping ordinary Mainers.


Under Democratic control, lawmakers are going to search for ways to invest in Mainers rather than cutting “sweetheart deals with corporations” that often don’t pan out.

He said he’s confident Mills will be “a traditionalist” in her approach and ready to cope with workforce issues across the state and to serve as an ambassador for Maine. He said he hopes there are more trade missions to Europe and Asia to try to bolster exports.

Libby said Lewiston stands to do well.

He said it will boost the city if Jared Golden, who won Libby’s former House district when he moved up to the Senate in 2014, is elected the new 2nd District member of Congress.

It also helps, Libby said, that Democrat Ned Claxton won a state Senate seat in Auburn. He said Claxton’s win was more exciting for him than his own.

Lewiston’s own delegation has broad experience, Libby said, that will assist in pushing its longtime goals of helping to protect local hospitals and education funding.


Another goal that Libby aims to promote is to extend passenger rail service to the Lewiston-Auburn area. “There’s definitely a market,” he said, and it would boost the region.

In addition, Libby said, it’s important for community redevelopment to make sure tax credits for historic preservation and affordable housing remain in place.

“We have to just keep our eyes on it,” he said.

The bottom line is that for Democrats to succeed in Augusta, they need “to focus on bread-and-butter issues” and avoid getting caught up in issues that aren’t as important, he said.


State Sen. Nate Libby (File photo)

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