Is Maine House Speaker Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell inching closer toward becoming the Democratic party’s nominee for governor?
Sure sounded like it Wednesday during the Vassalboro representative’s “opening remarks” to the second session of the 118th Legislature. Some of her potential opponents have since dubbed the address “State of the State Light.”
What was the tip off? Maybe it was her use of “I,” “me” and “my” more than 20 times during the 11-page speech that lauded the lawmakers’ accomplishments over the last year and set new goals for the months ahead. In addition to the “my hope” and “I believe” expressions repeated Wednesday, Mitchell also held out the promise of sharing even more with Maine residents.
“In the coming weeks, I plan to announce a major new initiative that will transform higher education in Maine and help increase access for young people,” she said. “The time has come for bold action to make college education more affordable for every Maine student.”
Now THAT sounds like a campaign promise.
Displaying the brand of legendary perception that carried House Minority Leader James O. Donnelly to the top of the heap in the GOP caucus, the Presque Isle representative zoned in on the speaker’s signals with laser-like accuracy.
“It was definitely a speech that went beyond your normal `welcome back’ presentation,” he surmised.
You betcha, Jim. In fact, to use your adjective-of-the-week, a lot of Democrats in the House thought Mitchell’s speech was just “dandy.”
Here’s why: Time is running out for the party faithful and all state-wide candidates who must declare their intentions by March 15. Senate President Mark Lawrence, D-Kittery, told reporters Wednesday he expected the party’s candidate to announce “within the next month.”
Maine’s independent Gov. Angus S. King has already started campaigning for a second four-year term. Bill Clarke, an independent from Greene, plans to be on the ballot. The Green Party has yet to name a candidate, but former Bangor resident Pat LaMarche is reportedly considering the nomination. Rep. Henry L. Joy, a very conservative Republican from Crystal, wants the GOP nomination for the Blaine House, but is apt to face a primary challenge from former 1st District Congressman James B. Longley Jr. of Portland.
What about those Dems? They’ve got to put somebody out there to lead The Great State who will get five percent of the vote. Otherwise, they cease to exist as a recognized political party. Besides Mitchell and Lawrence, others mentioned as potential standard bearers for the Democrats include Maine State Treasurer Dale McCormick of Hallowell, Senate Majority Leader Chellie Pingree of North Haven, Rep. George Kerr of Old Orchard Beach and former state Rep. Steven G. Rowe of Portland.
Yet it is only Mitchell, with a political resume that stretches back 23 years in the state, who commands the kind of name recognition a candidate needs to win a state-wide election. The fact she has lost two other state-wide bids has made Mitchell, a tenacious opponent, all the more hungry for a win.
The speaker could exploit King’s perceived vulnerabilities and tepid support in northern and eastern Maine, areas which have yet yet to experience the development surge associated with the governor’s economic policies in southern Maine. She can expect to tie up Democratic support in the heavily populated York and Cumberland counties.
A strong defender of public education and former House Chairwoman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, Mitchell might also hit King hard on his education policies which have been disparaged by some Democrats as everything from “inadequate” to “woefully lacking.”
Mitchell was the chief warm-up act for the First Family during their Maine stumps for Joe Brennan’s Senate campaign in 1996 and her Clinton connection certainly wouldn’t hurt her chances of becoming Maine’s first woman. A careful planner, she seems only to be waiting for guarantees of vital financial support from the deep pockets in Maine’s Democratic hierarchy before making the big announcement.
A. Jay Higgins is the NEWS political editor. He can be reached at State House Station 50, Augusta 04333 or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.