AUBURN — There’s going to be a wide-open race in an Auburn-centered district this year that may help decide which party winds up in control of the Senate in Augusta.

The incumbent in the district, Democrat Ned Claxton, said he is “stepping aside” but is happy former Rep. Bettyann Sheats of Auburn, a Democrat who lost her seat two years ago, is “stepping up.”

“I feel great about handing it over to Bettyann,” Claxton said, who will be completing his second Senate term this year.

Two Republicans have filed to run in the district: Jerry DeWitt of New Gloucester, who is prominent in the veterans’ community, and Eric Brakey of Auburn, who held Claxton’s seat for two terms before quitting to take aim unsuccessfully at U.S. Sen. Angus King in 2018. If they both remain in the contest, rank-and-file GOP voters will choose one of them in a June 14 primary.

Two years ago, DeWitt strongly endorsed Sheats’ reelection bid after working closely with her on veterans issues, including her success in “obtaining funding for the only female veteran homeless shelter/transitional housing in the state.”

The new 20th District that Sheats, Brakey and DeWitt are eyeing consists of Auburn, Durham, New Gloucester and Poland. It is considered a highly competitive district, one that Senate President Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat, called “a tough one for us.”

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Jackson, who called Claxton “an unbelievably good state senator,” said that while his departure is unfortunate, Sheats’ willingness to run will “give me a hell of a lot of hope.”

“Bettyann has been a strong advocate for the people of Auburn and Androscoggin County for years,” Claxton said.

Bettyann Sheats, Troy Jackson and Ned Claxton spoke during a Zoom session to announce their plans Monday evening. Screenshot from video

Jackson said that “as a legislator, she has been a champion for veterans and working families. No one knows the value and sacrifice of service better than Bettyann, and as a senator, I know that she will continue to fight tirelessly for her constituents.”

Sheats, 60, served two terms in the House, representing Minot and Auburn, before her defeat two years ago at the hands of Rep. Linda Libbey, an Auburn Republican.

In her campaign announcement late Monday, Sheats told voters that she “will work tirelessly to defend you and your families in Augusta.”

“As a small business owner, as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, as a mom, wife and volunteer, I have always followed my motto ‘listen, learn, lead.’ As your senator, I pledge to listen to all of my neighbors — veterans, health care workers, business owners, teachers and more — do my research to learn about the issues, and work with everyone affected to find common ground and common-sense solutions,” she said.

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Jackson called Sheats “a freedom fighter who is passionate about protecting and serving her constituents.”

A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Bettyann spent the first seven years of her adult life serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot,” Jackson said. “After active-duty service, she quickly got to work for her community once again.”

Sheats “volunteered in Auburn schools, helped form and volunteered at the St. Mary’s Food Pantry, and became a vestry member and warden at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church,” according to her campaign. Her husband, the Rev. George Sheats, also a former Army helicopter pilot, is now the priest-in-charge at St. Michael’s.

The former lawmaker also started her own small business, Finishing Touches Shower Doors, and served as the board chair for the Auburn-Lewiston Airport until she stepped down from the board to be interim airport manager while the board searched for a new permanent manager.

After losing to Libby, Sheats was appointed as a member of the board of directors of the Finance Authority of Maine, which seeks to build the state’s economy along with an educated and trained workforce. Sheats is also a member of the Maine Military Community Network and American Legion Post 31.

The general election is Nov. 8. State legislators serve two-year terms.


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