Portland-area Democrats are going to see a lot of familiar names on their primary ballots on June 14, and the city’s delegation to Augusta could be dramatically reshuffled as a result.
This bottleneck of high-profile candidates in Maine’s largest city isn’t routine.
Typically, in recent years, the Portland legislative races have been relatively uneventful. The city leans heavily to the left, and Democratic incumbents for the most part have either cruised to victory or hand-picked successors to replace them, over only nominal opposition.
But now, two local Senate seats are being vacated: Minority Leader Justin Alfond is being term-limited out in District 27 and Anne Haskell is opting not to seek re-election in District 28.
For the first time in years, Portland will elect two new members to the Maine Senate at the same time, and the scramble for those seats has reverberated in hotly contested Democratic House primaries as well.
Democratic primary voters could decide they want a fresh slate of candidates representing their party on the November ballots and, by extension, Augusta thereafter. Or they could stick with the horses that have represented the city over much of the last decade or so, albeit with some people changing which seats they’ll be in.
Let’s start with District 27. Seeking to replace Alfond are current state Reps. Diane Russell and Ben Chipman, the latter of whom was an independent until enrolling with the Democrats last fall, as well as political newcomer Dr. Charles Radis.
With Chipman leaving his Bayside/Parkside-area House District 40 seat, the door has opened to a three-way primary race between former eight-term state Rep. Herb Adams, longtime local NAACP president Rachel Talbot Ross and young — but accomplished — clean elections lobbyist Anna Kellar.
Over in Senate District 28, former Cumberland County Sheriff and three-term Rep. Mark Dion is up against former four-term Rep. Ann Peoples of Westbrook, part of which is in the district, and veteran City Councilor Jill Duson, in a race where all three names are well-known to voters.
Andrew Edwards, an attorney, and former Peaks Island Council member Michael Sylvester are squaring off to replace Russell on the Democratic ticket in House District 39, while Rising Tide Brewing Co. owner Heather Sanborn is running unopposed in the party primary for the District 43 seat left empty by Dion.
In House District 42, Benjamin Collings is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, as incumbent Peter Stuckey is wrapping up his fourth term and can’t run for re-election.
So that means if voters go for Duson, Radis and either Ross or Kellar, Portland would be sending at least six new faces to Augusta and rebooting more than half of its delegation to the State House.
(The November legislative races won’t be devoid of incumbents, to be clear. Democratic Reps. Denise Harlow, Richard Farnsworth, Matt Moonen and Erik Jorgensen will all be back on the ballot running for re-election in Districts 36, 37, 38 and 41, respectively.)
On the other hand, voters could send up a slate of candidates that barely changes the delegation at all, mostly just reshuffling the seats a bit. Chipman, Russell and Dion would just be changing chambers, while Adams and Peoples would be returning to the Legislature after term-limit-forced hiatuses.
So what does all this mean?
Does this shakeup on the Democratic side open the door for a Republican or Green to take advantage of party fissures and pull an upset in the fall? After all, there are no challenged primaries in the other two parties in Portland, meaning there won’t be any party-inflicted injuries or hurt feelings to overcome between June and November.
It’s an interesting proposition, but Portland is a Democratic party stronghold like nowhere else in Maine, and you might not find a bluer city in America. Almost half of the city’s registered voters are Dems, compared to about 14 percent who are signed up with the GOP and 6 percent who are Greens.
Even when the rest of Maine was going red two years ago, re-electing Gov. Paul LePage and giving control of the state Senate to Republicans, Portlanders put Democrats in seven of their eight state legislative seats.
The only exception was none other than Chipman, who was an independent at the time.
Of any place in Maine, Portland sends the biggest bloc of lawmakers up to Augusta, so however the primary votes and November elections go, the city’s legislators will play an important role in governing the state for the next two years.