A pair of prominent Democrats, including a former Westbrook legislator who once was the focus of an angry outburst by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, were picked Sunday to lead the Maine Democratic Party.

Drew Gattine Chance Viles/American Journal

Former Rep. Drew Gattine, who represented Westbrook in District 34 for four terms before being term-limited out in 2020, was elected chairman of the Maine Democratic State Committee, and Bev Uhlenhake, a former mayor of Brewer, was chosen to serve as vice chair, the party said in a news release. Gattine and Uhlenahake will each serve two-year terms.

“The pandemic has shown us that the work Maine Democrats do matters now more than ever before. With passionate, capable Democrats leading our state, we’ve seen what can be accomplished to keep people safe,” Gattine said in a statement. “But we also know this virus has only increased the urgency in addressing economic inequality, health care and election disparities, and the devastating impact of the climate crisis. We need to keep Democrats at the helm and build a better, more just future for all Mainers.”

Bev Uhlenhake Maine Democratic Party

Uhlenhake also issued a statement, which said in part: “We are grateful for the work our party did in 2020 to hold onto our majorities in the State House, re-elect two Democratic members of Congress, and deliver the state for President Biden, but to create a more prosperous and just Maine, we must accelerate that work in 2021 and  beyond.”

Gattine has butted heads with prominent Republicans in the past. In 2016, he and LePage made headlines when the then-governor left an expletive-laden phone message for Gattine in which he accused Gattine of calling him a racist – a charge Gattine denied making.

LePage sent the message after a television reporter appeared to suggest that the Westbrook legislator was among several people who had called the governor a racist. The exchange followed remarks the governor made in North Berwick about the racial makeup of suspects arrested on drug trafficking charges in Maine. LePage later invited a Portland Press Herald reporter and a two-person television crew from WMTW to the Blaine House, where during a 30-minute interview the governor described his anger with Gattine and others, told them he had left the phone message, and said he wished he and the lawmaker could engage in an armed duel to settle the matter.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who replaced LePage in the Blaine House, praised the election of Gattine, calling him a “compassionate and effective leader.”

“An attorney with expertise in health care, Drew is an outspoken leader with strong Democratic values, who is well respected across the state,” Mills said in a statement that was circulated to members of the Democratic State Committee before Sunday’s election.

During his time in the Legislature, Gattine co-chaired the Health and Human Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee, where he led efforts to preserve clean drinking water, child protection services, public health nursing and programs designed to help the elderly and feed the hungry.

Gattine also served on the Westbrook City Council and chaired the Westbrook Democratic Committee. Currently, Gattine represents Maine Democrats on the Democratic National Committee and is on the board of Emerge Maine. He is a senior policy fellow at the National Academy for State Health Policy. He and wife are the parents of twins and live in Westbrook.

Uhlenhake ran for the Senate District 8 seat last November, but lost to Republican Kimberly Rosen. Uhlenhake previously served on the Brewer City Council, including two terms as mayor. Uhlenhake works as a commercial real estate broker in Bangor and lives in Brewer with her wife and three children.

Gattine and Uhlenhake will replace outgoing Chair Kathleen Marra and Vice Chair Erik Gunderson.

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