Published Date Written by David CarkhuffAUGUSTA — Rep. Mark Eves, D-Berwick, will fill the position of Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, beating out three challengers Tuesday, including Portland Rep. Diane Russell, who gave an impassioned plea for "economic security" in her nomination speech.
Maine Democrats, awarded a new majority in the Maine Legislature in the Nov. 6 election, caucused Wednesday to select their leaders. Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield; and Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, also sought the House Speaker position.
Eves thanked Emily Cain of Orono, formerly the minority leader in the House, for her leadership in the party, and vowed to challenge Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who for the first time faces an opposing majority in the legislature.
Eves, the lead House Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, praised his colleagues for persevering to wrest control of the House from Republicans.
"It takes courage to put yourself out there and ask people for their support to send you to Augusta, so I thank you for taking the risk and congratulate you on being part of a strong, working majority," he said in his nomination speech.
"You told me that you were ready to take on Governor LePage so that we could change the direction of this city," he said.
The governor was the target in many of the nomination appeals.
"We need to draw a clear distinction between what the governor stands for and what we are fighting for as Democrats, and that is a Maine where we are all provided the opportunities and the necessary tools to succeed," Eves said. "But we can't be satisfied just with highlighting our differences and holding our ground. We will have to look for opportunities to forge alliances with our Republican allies and colleagues to get them to break with the governor in order to do what is right for the Maine people."
Russell, representing District 120, which includes part of Portland, told her peers at the State House that legislators should be mindful of the voters that elected them.
"The seats that you're sitting in, you're going to feel like they're yours, and you're going to guard the stationery, but these seats belong to the people of Maine," Russell said. "Last week, for the first time in quite some time, people dared to dream again. They stood in long lines, some stood in long lines to vote, and some stood in long lines to register to vote."
Russell highlighted a people's push to preserve same-day voter registration in Maine, and told a story about efforts to weatherize homes for hard-hit residents who could not afford their heating bills. She pointed to families that work late hours, often in multiple jobs.
The challenge ahead, she said, "means we need to have a razor-sharp focus on economic security over the next two years, and that means we are going to have to have some difficult conversations over how we pay for things, what people can afford to pay, and what priorities we need to invest in," Russell said.
"We campaigned on the idea that Maine families should be climbing into the middle class, not falling out of it. We told people that we all do better when we all play by the same set of rules. And they believed in us," she said.
Tuesday afternoon, Russell posted on her Facebook page: "Congratulations to Mark Eves, the new Speaker-Elect for the Maine House. Thank you for all your support and encouragement. Now it's time to ensure Maine families are are climbing into the Middle Class, not falling out of it."
The First Regular Session of the 126th Maine Legislature will convene on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 10 a.m. Eves will become the 101st Maine Speaker of the House, succeeding Republican Robert Nutting.
The Democratic Party also chose Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham as House Majority Leader, over Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland.
In the Maine Senate, Assistant Democratic Leader Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland was poised to become Senate President-elect.
"I am honored and humbled to have been unanimously nominated by my Democratic colleagues to serve as the 115th President of the Maine Senate. We have many challenges before us, but I stand ready to work with my Senate colleagues, Speaker Mark Eves, my Republican colleagues and Governor LePage to meet them. Thank you again to all of my supporters for your trust and confidence," Alfond wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday night.