The Future of the Maine Senate

In late October of 2010, Emily Cain was very likely dreaming of a big gavel, and being called “Madam Speaker”.  With the retirement of Hannah Pingree, there were of course several people in line to replace her as Democratic leader, and thus House Speaker.  But the early money was on Cain, and she likely knew that.

Honestly, she should have been confident.  In the days before the election, most of the Republican brain trust in the state of Maine – indeed the very people spearheading the push to make gains in the legislature – believed that the GOP would pick up somewhere between ten and fifteen seats, but still be comfortably in the minority.  When even your opponents don’t think they are going to win, I suppose I wouldn’t blame a person for dreaming of the gavel.

It must have come as quite a surprise, then, when she and the rest of her party saw the early returns, and began to count.  As Eliot Cutler and Paul LePage were trading the lead late into the night, it soon became apparent that the Republicans had likely taken the Maine House of Representatives.  The gavel was gone.

Cain went on to (easily) win the leadership election for her now minority party, but she will never have an opportunity to be speaker.  She is termed out and has nowhere to go but up.

And up is exactly where she is going.  Cain announced yesterday – to the surprise of exactly no one – that she will be running for the Maine Senate.  District 30 will see an open seat with the term-limited retirement of Elizabeth Schneider.

She isn’t the only prominent legislator looking for a promotion.  Today, Rep. Andre Cushing of Hampden also announced that he would be leaving the House and running for Senate.  In his case, however, he is not termed out and is instead running to fill the seat of fellow Hampdenite Debra Plowman, who is termed out of District 33.

Once the Republicans won the House, Cushing was widely thought of as a potential candidate for speaker, though he would later go on to be elected Assistant Majority Leader, or House Whip.

Neither Cain nor Cushing is likely to face any serious primary challenge in their respective races.  As establishment leaders of the highest order, and ideologically satisfying to their respective bases, they should cruise without any trouble.

More than that, both would have to be early favorites to replace their retiring comrades.  Cain’s district is competitive, but leans Democratic.  Cushing’s is competitive, but leans Republican.  Nothing is certain, and strong challengers from the party opposite may emerge, but at this early stage I would expect to be calling both “Senator” this time next year.

This is particularly important, however, because of who these two people are.  Cain is widely liked and respected – by both parties – and has deeply entrenched herself in her party.  Her public service career path is beginning to look an awful lot like that of so many party elders – particularly Libby Mitchell – who rose to prominent leadership in the House and were able to translate that into even higher leadership in the Senate.  If the Democrats are in control of the Senate in an election cycle or two, Cain’s name will undoubtedly be tossed around as a potential Senate President.

Cushing has been involved in Republican politics at the legislative level for ages.  Indeed, Cushing was the man who actually recruited me to run for the Maine House of Representatives in 2004.  In that cycle, I ran next door to Cain, for those interested.  Small world.

Cushing’s connections and involvement with legislative recruitment give him a very solid base to build his own political power center, and give him a legitimate shot at himself becoming Senate President if the Republicans retain control for long enough.

But even if neither gets to that point, these two lawmakers are without a doubt going to be among the heavy hitters in legislative politics for the next eight years or so.  Keep an eye on them.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.