Democratic primary race for Maine Senate District 5 could get rocky

The 2012 Maine House and Senate races are still a lifetime away, but some candidates are getting an earlier start than others.

Senate District 5 in York County, where term-limited Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins has sat for the last four terms, is a good display of that early start, but it may also be a bad display of intra-party politics.

In late October, Rep. Donald Pilon filed a complaint with the Maine Ethics Comision against his House colleague, Rep. Linda Valentino after Valentino opened an office in Pilon’s district.

Both Pilon and Valentino are Democrats and both represent the community of Saco, but there is a line cutting through Saco separating their districts.

Valentino decided to open a constituent service office on Main Street in Saco that happened to sit just across that line into Pilon’s district. She said she simply wanted a high-profile location for constituents to find her. Pilon suspected a different motivation.

Shouldn’t they be on the same team, you might ask?

Well … they are, at the moment, but there is only room for one of them come next year.

Both Pilon and Valentino are term-limited in the House and both have filed papers to run for the Senate race in 2012. Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, also plans to run, setting up a three-way Democratic primary.

That looming Senate race ultimately is behind Pilon’s complaint. Valentino is calling it a constituent office when it’s really a campaign office, he argued, pointing out that in the seven years she’s been in the House, Valentino has never opened a constituent office.

What’s more, Pilon told ethics commission members on Wednesday, he found no other examples where a Maine lawmaker has opened an office outside his or her district.

Valentino even suspected the office might become an issue because she sought advice from the Maine Ethics Commission before she opened the doors.

On Wednesday, the Ethics Commission affirmed what its executive director, Jonathan Wayne, told Valentino weeks ago: What she’s doing is perfectly legal.

As long as Valentino using her own money and not campaign money to pay the rent, Ethics Commission members said there is no violation.

Member Andre Duchette said he could understand the dispute but concluded that “it’s not a dispute for us.”

It will be interesting to see how Wednesday’s decision enters into the Senate District 5 primary race next year.