Democrats Hobbins, Chenette to wrangle over Maine Senate seat

Good morning from Augusta, from which our attention has been diverted by Maine’s brief moment in the sun of presidential politics.

But after the Saturday and Sunday caucus wins from Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic underdog Bernie Sanders, our eyes are back on the Maine Legislature, where there was also weekend political wrangling.

Two Saco Democrats — Rep. Barry Hobbins and Rep. Justin Chenette — announced that they’ll run for the Senate seat now held by Linda Valentino, another Saco Democrat who isn’t running for re-election. As far as their backgrounds go, Hobbins and Chenette couldn’t be much different.

A consummate wheeler-and-dealer, Hobbins is in his 26th year of legislative service, was in the Senate for five terms and once served as minority leader. Chenette, a second-term lawmaker, is 24 years old and has tweaked leaders with proposals to weaken leadership political action committees.

Since Hobbins has held the seat before, he could be the favorite to win. But Chenette touted Valentino’s endorsement in a press release on Saturday, creating local intrigue and one of the most interesting primaries to set up in the 2016 legislative races so far. — Michael Shepherd

What would a return to presidential primaries look like in Maine?

Long lines at Democratic caucuses on Sunday led Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, to say he’ll submit a bill to make Maine a primary state again.

Despite long waits for Democrats — particularly at Portland’s Deering High School — this weekend’s caucuses went well: Both parties reported record turnout, with over 46,000 Democrats and nearly 19,000 Republicans voting.

Maine had a primary 1996 and 2000 before the Legislature placed the state among a handful of those that canceled primaries because of cost to the taxpayers. Caucuses are run by parties, while primaries are run by the state.

Then, an expert warned that caucuses bring “lower turnout” and “more advantage to whoever’s organized” and he was right. In the 2000 presidential primary, 161,000 Mainers voted — 2.5 times more than this year’s total.

But the caucus system has caused bigger problems than long lines: In 2012, the Republican state convention was thrown into disarray when backers of insurgent hopeful Ron Paul took over the convention after eventual nominee Mitt Romney won the state.

Before that debacle, then-Senate President Kevin Raye backed a bill that would have brought back primaries. But it would likely have cost $1 million and after the caucus, it was amended to study the issue and nothing came of it.

So, don’t get too excited about the prospect of hasty change from the Legislature.  — Michael Shepherd

Correction: This post has been updated to correct the time Raye’s bill was introduced, which was before the 2012 Republican state convention.

Reading list

Quick hits

  • Former House Majority Leader Seth Berry, a Democrat from Bowdoinham, will run for his old seat in 2016 after a one-term hiatus. He’ll have to unseat Rep. Brian Hobart, R-Bowdoinham, a freshman lawmaker.
  • Maine is the cheapest state in the country for car insurance with an average annual premium of just over $800, according to The state has been among the three cheapest in all six years of the survey. — Michael Shepherd

Love and betrayal in the caucus line

Leave it to Craigslist to give us a heartbreaking (and unverifiable) story from the Democratic caucuses in Portland on Monday.

A man said he met a woman in line, they “talked for over four hours,” then “fell in love” and “were so passionate and excited.”

But everything changed when the two got into the auditorium to vote: The woman took off her jacket and had a Hillary Clinton sticker on her sweater. “How could you?” the Sanders backer said.

“It was the shortest yet most decisive break up of my life,” he said. “I find myself reflecting on those four hours and wanting them back, but I can never go back knowing now what I know.”

Hey, young lovers, it’s only politics. It doesn’t have to be like this. 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.