Will the Sanders faction gain more traction in the Maine Democratic Party?

Good morning from Augusta. We’re watching the upcoming battle this weekend over leadership of the Maine Democratic Party after the election that saw President-elect Donald Trump win the 2nd Congressional District.

That historic split of Maine’s electoral votes has roiled Democrats, whose state committee will vote on Sunday on whether or not to replace party Chairman Phil Bartlett. We had an explainer on the race and the dynamics at play today.

But the field narrowed late Wednesday, when outgoing House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, backed out to endorse Bartlett, saying in an email to Democrats that there’s “a lot of work to do to bring our party together” and no time for “distraction from people’s past actions that are unrelated to party priorities.”

It leaves outgoing state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, and two-time Maine Senate candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe as the only two challengers to Bartlett left in the race.

As supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his primary bid against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, McCabe, Russell and Fulford were occupying some of the same ideological space against Bartlett, who stayed neutral during the Maine caucuses that were easily won by Sanders.

So, McCabe’s endorsement of Bartlett was a bit of an olive branch from the Sanders camp to the party. But it’s not ubiquitous: A Facebook group that supported McCabe is now throwing its weight behind Fulford.

In his letter to the state committee, Fulford said it was “a major problem” that many who supported Sanders “feel that the Maine Democratic Party did not respect their voice and that the system was rigged.”

Russell’s message is similar, telling the BDN yesterday, “It’s pretty clear that Democrats haven’t been listening to the working class in the rural parts of the state.”

It’ll likely be difficult to unseat Bartlett and to most Mainers, it doesn’t much matter who each party’s chair is. But they will set the fundraising and policy tones for the next two, crucial years in Maine politics, leading up to the 2018 governor’s race.

It’s clear that the Sanders faction wants a bigger voice in that conversation. To a point, they already have one.

Troy Jackson of Allagash was perhaps Sanders’ biggest supporter in Maine. Now, he’s headed back to the Maine Senate, leading his party in the minority. In that position, the logger replaced outgoing Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, a Clinton supporter and scion of one of Maine’s richest families.

Regardless of Sunday’s vote, the party is changing. Whether it’ll win more elections for Democrats is another story. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Maine was ranked second-worst on Forbes’ list of the best states to do business. That’s down from 48th-best last year after we were 49th in 2014 and 50th from 2010 to 2013, with the magazine placing blame on “the state’s high corporate tax burden and lousy job and economic growth forecast,” which is exactly what they said last year. Gov. Paul LePage has flagged these ratings as a big problem in the past.
  • Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt was elected president of the group representing all U.S. transportation departments. As head of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 2017, he said in a news release that one of his top priorities will be to work with the incoming Trump administration on transportation legislation. The president-elect has put forth a vague, sweeping infrastructure plan, but USA Today flagged some big concerns with it.
  • U.S. Sen. Angus King will keynote a conference on climate change in Biddeford on Friday. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the University of New England and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby are hosting the event at UNE’s campus— Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • It’s funnier without context: “I saw you dressed as a T-Rex and let me tell you how much that turned me on!” somebody in Portland said in a reference to a trick-or-treater, I think. “I wanted to play with your tail and hopefully have your long talons down my back.”
  • Don’t ask questions, just take the junk: Someone in Bath has left “free random sh*t” on the curb, including racing wheels for an old Honda and “some other random things,” but “don’t ask me for specifics I don’t know and I really don’t care.” Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd
Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.