AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - The biggest surprise of election night may have been the massive shift in the balance of power in the Maine legislature. Two years ago Republicans took control. But now Democrats have won solid majorities in both the House and Senate.
Final counts are in for every race, but as of Wednesday afternoon Democrats were looking at holding as many as 21 seats in the Senate, compared to just 13 for Republicans. In the House, Democrats could wind up with as many as 87 seats, compared to a maximum of 60 for Republicans.
It's a dramatic turnaround from just two years ago, when republicans swept into power on the coat-tails of Governor Paul LePage. Democratic leaders say they won because of widespread unhappiness with what they call the "extreme policies" of the Governor and GOP majority. Republicans say democrats used several million dollars in campaign money to launch attack ads and mailings against key Republican candidates. The GOP, however, says it also spent more than a million dollars on legislative campaigns.
Now that the election is over, both parties are promising to work together to solve the state's financial problems. Democratic leaders say they will work with Governor LePage as much as possible. In a written statement, the Governor said "...we must come together to find solutions to our fiscal challenges that will lead to the recovery of our economy and improve prosperity for hardworking families and businesses. I stand ready to work with those who will put Mainers first and won't allow the political rhetoric to continue."
But there may well be battles over some major parts of the GOP agenda from the past two years. Democrats say they want to make changes to the Republican health insurance reform law, and change some parts of a tax reform package passed as part of the fire two-year budget. Besides those issues, the Governor will be proposing a new, two-year budget and a number of bills dealing with energy, education and other issues where he may clash with Democrats.
The new Legislature will be sworn in the first week of December. The two parties in the House and Senate will choose their new leaders during the next two weeks. In the Senate, Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland appears the likely candidate to be the next Senate President. In the House, Democrats say there are at least four people already lining up to run for Speaker of the House.
Democrats will also get to elect a new Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer.