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Record level of women elected in Maine amid liberal spending

December 3, 2018

In this photo taken Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, poses in the House Chamber at the State House. Maine voters sent a record number of women to the Legislature on Election Day as liberal spending boosting female candidates helped Democrats sweep into control of the Statehouse. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine voters sent a record number of women to the Legislature on Election Day as liberal spending boosting female candidates helped Democrats sweep into control of the Statehouse.

A total of 72 female lawmakers will soon be sworn in to the Legislature now dominated by Democrats, including 12 in the Senate and a record-breaking 60 women in the House, according to election results collected by The Associated Press.

The record held by women serving in the Statehouse was 64 in 2017.

Maine has long ranked among the top states in the nation for its share of female legislators. The state’s election results follow a national trend of women who sought and won races for Congress and state seats.

Over 2,000 women will serve nationwide in legislatures in 2019, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

But Maine’s Election Day results represent a successful push by liberals backed by out-of-state donors to elect Democratic women and take control over the Statehouse, which awaits potential fights over sick leave in 2019 and political redistricting in 2021.

“As a working mom, I have issues that are important to me that I want to bring to the table, including funding for early childhood development programs,” said Democratic Rep.-elect Genevieve McDonald, a commercial fishing boat captain with 7-month old twins. She ran her rural campaign for $1,000 without help from any independent or outside groups.

The percentage of women serving in the Legislature is set to jump to about 39 percent next year from nearly 34 percent this year.

Women lawmakers will be serving alongside Maine’s first female governor and current Attorney General Janet Mills, whose win polls suggest was bolstered by women frustrated with President Donald Trump.

“We saw this as a growing wave coming out of 2016, women feel very highly motivated to run, to be a part of government,” said Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon.

Maine liberal groups reported spending $2 million to help fund all Democratic legislative campaigns this year, according to an AP analysis of state campaign finance reports. Such efforts received backing from North Carolina-based not-of-profit State Victory Action and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, two national liberal groups whose biggest donors include unions and former MaineToday Media owner, Donald Sussman.

Women elected to the Maine Legislature benefited from about $667,000 in outside spending by liberal groups. The money spent on Democratic campaigns was about four times more than Republican groups spent on those races.

Of the 134 women that ran for Maine Legislature this year, 90 were Democrats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, located at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

“If the party is pumping money into the state and the women are on the Democratic side, that’s going to benefit these Democratic women,” said Debbie Walsh, the center’s director.

Maine’s term limits law and gender gap likely encourages more women to run in Maine, according to University of New England politics professor Brian Duff.

“A good year for Democrats is more likely going to be a good year for women candidates,” he said.

Gideon credits efforts within the Democratic caucus and through training program Emerge Maine to recruit women. Women will make up a historic 54 percent of House Democrats.

“There still has to be a real purpose on our part to go out into communities and ask women to run, and help them understand how they could get over barriers that seemingly exist,” Gideon said.

Eleven women House Republicans will serve in 2019, compared to 19 when outgoing GOP Gov. Paul LePage took office in 2011. Representative Kathleen Dillingham has been tapped as minority leader.

Maine GOP Chair Demi Kouzounas criticized the influence of out-of-state Democratic donors but said recruitment was a challenge in a tight and costly election year. She said she’s not sure what’s to blame for the drop in House Republican women: gender, politics or lack of enthusiasm from women who aren’t Republican or Democrat in the traditionally independent-leaning state.

“For all the talk of women in politics, you still look at a letter, if there’s a D or R next to the name,” Kouzounas said.

Other conservatives say younger women need to pitch in with recruiting and campaigning for Republican women.

“All the groups I’ve taken part in are led by older women,” said Janet Plausse, vice-president of the Maine Federation of Republican Women.

Besides the normal pressures of running a campaign, female candidates face safety concerns while on the trail. Republican Rep.-elect Amy Bradstreet Ara said she “never really truly felt threatened,” but resorted going door-to-door with a chaperone waiting in the car.

“That’s the real world that we live in,” she said.

Gideon, a mom of three kids who pushed to open the first-ever nursing mothers’ room at the Statehouse this year, said it can feel harder for women to juggle political careers. “It requires a re-balancing of responsibilities at home that is completely achievable but that people need to be able to see and understand they can do,” Gideon said.

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