AUGUSTA – A former GOP state lawmaker who switched parties this month to become a Democrat has been named Senate chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the 122nd Legislature.
Sen. Arthur Mayo, D-Bath, was selected by Senate President Beth Edmonds, D-Freeport, to preside over the Health and Human Services Committee. He will share oversight for the Department of Health and Human Services, a state agency with 4,000 employees and an annual budget of $4 billion. The four-term House member and two-term senator will also serve as the second Democratic Senate member on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
When he switched parties, Mayo characterized himself as a “liberal Republican” and explained that he abandoned the Maine Republican Party because Senate GOP members had swung “too far to the right.”
But Senate GOP leader Paul Davis of Sangerville said Monday that Mayo was unhappy when he was informed Davis would not be recommending him for a seat on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. Mayo has been a member of the panel, which deals with banking and insurance matters, each of the previous four terms that he served in the House.
Mayo’s decision to become a Democrat cost the GOP a critical seat in a Senate that formerly had been divided between 18 Democrats and 17 Republicans. With Mayo among their ranks, Senate Democrats will have to worry a little less about absenteeism, which could cost them the majority on any given day.
“So was there a deal made? I guess people can draw their own conclusions,” Davis said Monday. “I do know he’s got to answer for what he’s done.”
Republican leadership presented a suggested list of party members for various committee assignments, but the final word rested with the leading majority Democrats in the House and Senate.
With the possible exception of the slightly sensitive Mayo appointment, Davis said he was happy with Edmonds’ committee assignments. In a prepared statement, the Senate president said she had tried to pair each senator with committee assignments reflecting individual areas of expertise.
“My guiding principle in making these appointments has been to position every member to best utilize their skills to benefit the citizens of Maine,” she said. “This is a team effort and every member has a key role to play. I think we have created committees that will work cooperatively and effectively.”
House Speaker John Richardson of Brunswick emphasized the importance of the committee process, explaining that most bills receive their most thorough review at the committee level.
“With an average of 2,000 bills per session, every legislator has to rely on their colleagues on other committees when a bill comes to the floor,” he said. “Good committee work makes for a great Legislature, and we’ve put together the makings of a great Legislature.”
Senate and House chairmanships for the 17 legislative standing committees were identified as follows:
. Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry: Sen. John M. Nutting, D-Leeds, and Rep. John F. Piotti, D-Unity.
. Appropriations and Financial Affairs: Sen. Margaret Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and Rep. Joseph C. Brannigan, D-Portland.
. Business, Research and Economic Development: Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland, and Rep. Nancy E. Smith, D-Monmouth.
. Criminal Justice and Public Safety: Sen. William G. Diamond, D-Windham, and Rep. Patricia A. Blanchette, D-Bangor.
. Education and Cultural Affairs: Sen. Elizabeth H. Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, and Rep. Jacqueline R. Norton, D-Bangor.
. Health and Human Services: Sen. Arthur F. Mayo III, D-Bath, and Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven.
. Inland Fisheries and Wildlife: Sen. Bruce S. Bryant, D-Dixfield, and Rep. Thomas R. Watson, D-Bath.
. Insurance and Financial Services: Sen. Nancy B. Sullivan, D-Biddeford, and Rep. Anne C. Perry, D-Calais.
. Judiciary: Sen. Barry J. Hobbins, D-Saco, and Rep. Deborah L. Pelletier-Simpson, D-Auburn.
. Labor: Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, and Rep. William J. Smith, D-Van Buren.
. Legal and Veterans Affairs: Sen. Kenneth T. Gagnon, D-Waterville, and Rep. John L. Patrick, D-Rumford.
. Marine Resources: Sen. Dennis S. Damon, D-Trenton, and Rep. Leila J. Percy, D-Phippsburg.
. Natural Resources: Sen. Scott W. Cowger, D-Hallowell, and Rep. Theodore S. Koffman, D-Bar Harbor.
. State and Local Government: Sen. Elizabeth M. Schneider, D-Orono, and Rep. Christopher R. Barstow, D-Gorham.
. Taxation: Sen. Joseph C. Perry, D-Bangor, and Rep. Richard G. Woodbury, unenrolled-Yarmouth.
. Transportation: Sen. Dennis S. Damon, D-Trenton, and Rep. Boyd P. Marley, D-Portland.
. Utilities and Energy: Sen. Philip L. Bartlett II, D-Gorham, and Rep. Lawrence Bliss, D-South Portland.
A complete list of committee appointments can be found online at: http://janus.state.me.us/house/jtcomlst.htm.