Thibodeau gets a raw deal as 128th Legislature finally comes to a close

Five months beyond the April 18 statutory adjournment date, the 128th Legislature finally called it quits. But they could not avoid letting the door hit them on the way out. Governor Paul LePage accused departing legislators of everything from “shifty financing” to “insouciant oversight.” He reserved special ire for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, whose efforts to put legislative process above partisan bickering earned him the undying animosity of the Governor.

It may also have been Thibodeau’s undoing in his bid for the Blaine House. He got into the gubernatorial race in October 2017 but dropped out in March of 2018, citing his responsibilities as Senate president and his work outside the Legislature as competing demands on his time and attention. But it was more likely his unwillingness to be a partisan flame-thrower that caused Republicans to give his race the cold shoulder.

Adding insult to injury, Thibodeau, praised by his Senate Democratic colleagues for his fair-minded leadership in the Senate, was trashed by those same Senate Democrats in this fundraising email of Aug. 31: “We’ve already endured eight years of an unstable Governor, unchecked by a Republican Senate who always falls in line with their leader.”

Grammatically inelegant, the statement is also patently unfair. Far from always falling in line with the Governor, Thibodeau endured the slings and arrows of a petulant chief executive as he led the Senate toward bipartisan compromise on many important issues, persisting through a firestorm of anger from LePage.

Now, with Labor Day behind us and the 128th Legislature finally adjourned, it is time to turn to the November elections. Hancock County has a big class of graduates this year, current legislators who are term-limited and ineligible for re-election. Five of the eight races in the county are for open seats.

Two of those contests pit three-term incumbents against opponents who have not yet served in state office. Though we are learning never to call a race too soon these days, if you have an irresistible desire to bet your Bean boots on a race or two, those in House districts 130 and 135 would be good choices.

District 130 includes Bucksport and Orrington. Republican Rep. Richard Campbell is seeking a fourth term in office. Prior to his current service he served for four terms in the House (1992-2000), then had a 12-year hiatus, returning to run again in 2012. In his three elections in his current stint in office, his winning percentage increased from 53 percent in 2012, to 58 percent in 2014, to 65 percent in 2016.

He had less success when he looked to broaden his horizons, losing two bids for U.S. Congress and one for state senator in a primary election against the current incumbent, Sen. Kimberley Rosen. Still, he has proven himself a popular representative in his current position and will be hard to oust.

His opponent, Michael Reynolds, is a Maine native inspired by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to get involved in politics. A longtime independent voter, Reynolds joined the Democratic Party and served as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic convention. The experience persuaded him to run for office. His enthusiasm for public service is welcome, but he will have an uphill battle.

The other county race with a popular incumbent facing a long-shot challenger is House District 135 (Bar Harbor, Lamoine and Mount Desert). This one is déjà vu all over again, as the ubiquitously popular Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor, a Democrat, takes on Republican Maurice “Joe” Marshall of Lamoine — again.

Hubbell is well known for his meticulous work as a legislator, digging deeply into issues, particularly when it comes to education. A former school board member, he is committed to proficiency-based education. In the current Legislature, he was appointed to the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Perhaps the strength of his candidacy lies in his meticulous constituent work. He is highly responsive to his electorate and regularly produces some of the most informative legislative updates coming out of Augusta.

Hubbell is looking for a fourth and final term, while Marshall tries for the third time to unseat him. Hubbell pulled almost 65 percent of the vote against Marshall in 2014 and over 71 percent against him in 2016. What compels Marshall to try again?

He acknowledges that his chances “are not any better” this time around, but feels it is important to “give people a choice.” A left-leaning base in his two MDI towns drives him to “speak up for people who feel like they need to stay under the radar,” meaning local conservatives. “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a Republican on the ballot.”

That’s the spirit. A desire to serve has propelled Michael Reynolds and Joe Marshall to jump into challenging races. Brian Hubbell and Dick Campbell were once newcomers, too. That’s what makes it a citizens’ legislature.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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