ELLSWORTH — Two Republican businessmen and incumbent Democrat Louie Luchini are running for the state Senate seat representing District 7.
Brian Langley, owner of the Union River Lobster Pot in Ellsworth and a former educator and legislator, will face John Linnehan, who is president of Linnehan Homes and for years led local Christian ministries, in the Republican primary July 14.
The candidates fall on different ends of party ideology. Langley said he would describe himself as center right, leaning left on certain issues, such as education, and tending more conservative on economic matters, particularly those affecting small businesses. Linnehan is a conservative Christian whose campaign slogan is “Make America Godly Again.” He said he wants to be part of a “dream team” of conservatives elected to state government in anticipation of former Governor Paul LePage running for re-election in 2022. LePage has endorsed his campaign.
Senate District 7 encompasses much of Hancock County, including Amherst, Aurora, Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Cranberry Isles, Deer Isle, Eastbrook, Ellsworth, Franklin, Frenchboro, Hancock, Lamoine, Mariaville, Mount Desert, Osborn, Otis, Sedgwick, Sorrento, Southwest Harbor, Stonington, Surry, Swan’s Island, Tremont, Trenton, Waltham and parts of the unorganized territory.
Langley said his longtime experience in business, education and state politics will be an asset in drafting policy as Maine looks to the future. He said he is a problem solver with “a lot of experience getting bills across the finish line.”
In the 126th Legislature, while a member of the minority party, 91 percent of bills he sponsored passed. He is particularly proud of legislation supporting the Bridge Academy (he is now executive director), protections for landowners whose land was being harvested without their consent and regulations for long-term care insurance.
This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the Lobster Pot, which he owns with wife, Jane. Langley previously taught for 27 years at Hancock County Technical Center. He was elected to the Maine House in 2008 and to the Senate in 2010, serving until he was term-limited in 2018. He serves on the boards of the Maine Tourism Association, Hospitality Maine’s educational foundation and the Lobster Marketing Collaborative.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on state finances, he said, and legislators will have to “dig and claw our way out of that budget shortfall.”
Of the current approach to mitigating the pandemic, Langley said it is an issue on which “intelligent minds can disagree.” He noted that Mainers, particularly business owners, feel unheard by the current administration.
“You have to live it,” said Langley of what it is like to try to run a business in the current situation.
The pandemic could present opportunities, he noted. Now that many workers and their employers have discovered it is possible to work effectively remotely, Maine could attract those workers to live here, Langley said. Expanding broadband internet to all areas would be critical.
Langley said as a legislator he took care to listen to all constituents as well as to opposing sides on controversial issues. He has partnered with Democrats to offer trainings on civil discourse.
“We need more people who kind of live more toward the center,” Langley said. “But it’s a hard place to be.”
Langley is too moderate, according to former Governor LePage, who paid a visit to Ellsworth June 3 to endorse Linnehan’s candidacy.
LePage said he is endorsing Linnehan because “he’s a businessman, he’s a strong Christian and a conservative.”
LePage and Linnehan said a conservative approach will be necessary to get Maine’s budget back on track in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Hancock County should never have been shut down and the 14-day quarantine for visitors to the state, as well as other regulations limiting business activity, are unconstitutional, Linnehan and LePage said.
“The vast majority of people are healthy, there’s no reason to quarantine,” Linnehan said.
Instead of widespread shutdowns to prevent cases, the state should be reacting to outbreaks as they occur, they said.
LePage advocated for slashing government spending and instituting tax holidays to bolster business owners.
Linnehan hopes to be one of 20 fiscally conservative senators and 80 representatives elected this year to “stop the bleeding” until the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“We could correct a lot of situations that the government is just putting on us like a dictator right now,” he said.
This is not his first campaign for public office. In 2004, Linnehan ran for what was then State Senate District 28. He was defeated by incumbent Democrat Dennis Damon of Trenton. In that race, he set a new record in Maine for the amount spent by a candidate for a legislative seat.
Linnehan also lost a 2016 bid for a seat on Ellsworth City Council. Linnehan’s name was on the primary ballot in June the same year to run as a Republican against Luchini in House District 132. Linnehan said he was serving as a placeholder candidate.
Linnehan is known in the community for his former auto dealership business and his ministries, which once operated out of The Good News Center on Bar Harbor Road in Trenton.
A few years ago, he went into the real estate business, founding Linnehan Homes. At Linnehan Homes, Linnehan said he “pioneered and invented an innovative Path to Home Ownership Plan, creating a ‘bridge’ financial plan for a person to obtain a mortgage.”
That plan ran into trouble with the state. Last year, Linnehan Homes agreed to refund $18,326 and change its business practices as part of a settlement with the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
At the time, Attorney General Aaron M. Frey said some of those who enrolled in the plan “believed that they were buying a home instead of renting with an option to purchase.”
Linnehan said he was falsely accused of deceptive business practices and denied violating any Maine laws.
State Sen. Luchini of Ellsworth is the only Democrat candidate on the ballot for the Senate 7 race. He served four terms as a state representative before being elected to the Senate in 2018.