Just two days after his party suffered defeat at the hands of Republicans around the state, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant has announced he will step down.
Grant, a 37-year-old attorney and former Maine Senate staffer from Portland, took over the party in 2011, just months after Democrats suffered a similar thumping as Republicans rode a wave of support into the Blaine House and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
On Tuesday, Democrats failed to reclaim the governorship, and lost its majority in the state Senate. The party also saw its Maine’s 2nd Congressional District go for the GOP for the first time in two decades.
Grant said he had made the decision to step down before Election Day and that his pending departure was “an open secret” among party officials. Still, he said that after a loss at the polls, a change in leadership could be good for the party.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to the other side,” he said. “The governor and [state GOP chairman] Rick Bennett ran a good campaign. We need to take stock in ourselves, and now’s the time for a change in leadership to do that.”
The next chairman will be chosen by the state committee on Nov. 16. Whoever wins will inherit a party in a similar position to the one Grant took over back in 2011.
After the shellacking by Republicans in 2010, Grant and his cohorts rebuilt the Democratic Party machine for big victories in 2012. The state went to President Obama, and Democrats regained control in the Legislature. The party also saw success in passing voter referendums to legalize same-sex marriage and restore same-day voter registration.
Grant said he plans to focus on clients at the Portland law firm McTeague Higbee in Topsham, and his two young children. He said his career and family both needed attention after devoting so much time to politics.
“The day after the election didn’t seem to impact my 2-year-old at all,” he said. “She’s happy as a clam every day.”
One candidate for Grant’s job is Phil Bartlett, a former Senate majority leader and current Democratic National Committeeman. Other candidates for party chairman may make themselves known in the next 10 day, but so far Bartlett is the only one to have confirmed.
“I’d like to continue some of the good work Ben has done, and also try to take it to the next level,” Bartlett said. “We need to work on expanding our party, broadening our base, and supporting Democrats in all level of offices.”
Bartlett is also an attorney, whose work has consisted mostly of workers compensation claims, he said. He was a member of the Maine Senate from 2004 until 2012. While in the Legislature, he served as chairman of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, and was majority leader from 2008 to 2010.