Stories about Maine

Maine governor appoints Valerie Stanfill to state supreme court

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) appointed Valerie Stanfill to fill a vacancy on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on May 10. The seat became vacant when former Chief Justice Leigh Saufley retired on April 14, 2020, to become dean of the University of Maine School of Law.

Under Maine law, Stanfill requires confirmation by the Maine State Senate in order to become a justice on the state’s highest court.

Stanfill has served on the Maine Superior Court since February 2020. She served as a judge on the Maine District Court from January 2007 to February 2020. Prior to joining the bench, Stanfill’s career experience included working as an acting director with the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, as a visiting clinical professor of law with the University of Maine School of Law, and as an attorney in private practice.

Stanfill earned a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and a J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law.

If confirmed, Stanfill will join the other six justices on the seven-member court:

  • Catherine Connors – appointed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2020
  • Ellen Gorman – appointed by Gov. John Baldacci (D) in 2007
  • Andrew Horton – appointed by Gov. Mills in 2020
  • Thomas Humphrey – appointed by Gov. Paul LePage (R) in 2015
  • Joseph Jabar – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2009
  • Andrew Mead – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2007

In 2020, there were 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. So far in 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of those 29 states.

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Hickman (D) defeats Guerrette (R) in special election for Maine state Senate District 14

A special general election was held for Maine state Senate District 14 on March 9, 2021. Craig Hickman (D) defeated William Guerrette (R) by a margin of 63% to 37%, according to unofficial election night results.

No special primary election was held, and the filing deadline passed on Jan. 8, 2021.

The special election was called after the Maine state Legislature elected Shenna Bellows (D) as secretary of state in December 2020. Bellows served from 2016 to 2020.

As of March 2021, 29 state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Maine held 15 special elections from 2010 to 2020.

Maine has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Democrats control the Maine state Senate by a margin of 22 to 13.

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Special election to be held in Maine Senate district

A special election is being held on March 9 for District 14 of the Maine State Senate. Small business owners Craig Hickman (D) and William Guerrette (R) are running in the general election.

The seat became vacant on December 2 after Shenna Bellows (D) declined to be sworn in for her new term. The Maine Legislature elected her on December 2 to become the state’s new secretary of state. Bellows had represented District 14 since 2016. She won re-election in 2020 with 56% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Democrats have a 21-13 majority in the Maine Senate with one vacancy. Maine has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of March, 28 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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Maine secretary of state verifies sufficient signatures for ballot initiative to prohibit electric transmission corridors in state’s Upper Kennebec Region

Voters in Maine could decide a ballot initiative designed to stop a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission project, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), that would transmit hydroelectric power from Quebec to utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. The ballot initiative would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve future high-impact (defined) electric transmission corridors and prohibit new transmission corridors in the Upper Kennebec Region.

On February 22, 2021, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced that the initiative’s proponents had collected 80,506 valid signatures—17,439 more than the minimum needed for the initiative to go before voters on November 2, 2021. Proponents filed 95,622 unverified signatures on January 21. As ballot initiatives are indirect in Maine, the state legislature has the option to approve the initiative rather than having the issue placed on the November 2021 ballot.

The ballot initiative is the second attempt by NECEC opponents to stop the project at the ballot box. In 2020, the No CMP Corridor PAC, which is also behind this year’s effort, qualified a ballot initiative to require the state’s public utilities commission to reverse an order granting the project with a needed permit. On August 13, 2020, the Maine Supreme Court issued an opinion that the ballot initiative was not a legislative action and therefore exceeded “the scope of the people’s legislative power.” Ten weeks later, No CMP Corridor’s Thomas Saviello, a former Republican state senator, filed the new proposal.

NECEC was proposed by Central Maine Power (CMP) and Hydro-Québec, a Quebec state-owned enterprise. NECEC received its final federal or state permit from the U.S. Department of Energy on January 15, 2021. However, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the construction of Segment 1 of NECEC, a 54-mile stretch of new corridor in northern Maine, pending a future court decision. Construction was permitted to begin on other segments, which will utilize existing corridors. 

No CMP Corridor, along with the Mainers for Local Power PAC, raised $6.29 million in contributions through December 31, 2021. Most—$6.05 million—was received by Mainers for Local Power. Contributions included $3.78 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine; $1.15 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and $1.12 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Two PACs—Clean Energy Matters and Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership—registered to oppose the ballot measure. Together, the committees have raised $25.68 million, including $16.28 million from Central Maine Power (CMP) and CMP’s parent firm Avangrid and $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec.

No CMP Corridor was the only campaign to filed signatures to get an initiative on the ballot for November 2, 2021. The general election could also feature legislatively referred constitutional amendments and bond issues, as well as citizen-initiated veto referendums proposed after a bill is passed.

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Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators 

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock blocked Maine from enforcing provisions of its state constitution and a 2015 law requiring petition circulators to be registered voters, and, therefore, state residents. Woodcock ruled that “the First Amendment’s free speech protections trump the state’s regulatory authority.” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows could appeal the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling also said, “The Court framed its opinion as a prelude to a challenge to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a more authoritative ruling.”

The ruling makes it possible for proponents of a 2022 ballot initiative that would amend the state’s voter qualification statute to say that a person must be a citizen to vote to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Rep. William Faulkingham (R-136) initially filed the ballot initiative in 2019 and, after suspending the campaign due to a lack of funds that year, relaunched it targeting the 2022 ballot.

Rep. Faulkingham, his political action committee We the People PAC, the Liberty Initiative Fund—which is providing funding for signature gathering—and Nicholas Kowalski—a petition circulator from Michigan—were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “ballot access rules which reduce the pool of available circulators of initiative petitions is a severe impairment” and that residency requirements significantly impede their ability to qualify their measure for the ballot. Plaintiffs also argued that the circulator restrictions prevent them from associating with a large portion of the available professional petition circulators and that requiring out-of-state circulators to register with the state is sufficient to safeguard the integrity of the initiative process.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn were named as defendants. They argued that many other initiatives and veto referendums have successfully qualified for the ballot while adhering to the state’s circulator requirements, proving the requirements are not a severe burden on free speech. The defendants also said that the state’s circulator requirements have been upheld by state courts and that the circulator requirements are necessary for the state’s interests in protecting the integrity of the initiative process and “protecting the initiative’s grassroots nature.”

Proponents used professional out-of-state petition circulators along with volunteers and paid in-state petition circulators starting on Nov. 3 to collect signatures. The plaintiffs also filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Maine’s residency requirement on Dec. 30, 2020.

The plaintiffs said they competed with No CMP Corridor, the campaign behind an initiative concerning approval of certain electric transmission lines, for in-state professional circulators. Plaintiffs said they were able to find no more than six available professional circulators that were Maine residents. The campaign reported gathering 38,000 signatures by Jan. 25, 2021, and said that 90% of the signatures were collected by the 49 out-of-state professional circulators. The remaining 10% were gathered by six in-state professional petition circulators, 24 volunteer circulators, and 42 paid in-state circulators.

As of Feb. 17, Faulkingham said the campaign had gathered 88,000 signatures. A total of 63,067 valid signatures are required by Feb. 26, 2021, to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Woodcock’s ruling, provided it is not appealed or is upheld upon appeal, allows the initiative campaign to use the signatures collected by out-of-state circulators.

Similar measures explicitly requiring citizenship to vote were approved by voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida in 2020 and in North Dakota in 2018.

As of February 2021, seven states—out of the 26 with a statewide initiative or veto referendum process—had residency requirements for ballot initiative petition circulators. An additional three states—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—had requirements in their laws, but federal courts had invalidated or blocked the enforcement of the laws.

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Signatures filed for Maine initiative regarding electric transmission

In Maine, the campaign No CMP Corridor reported filing more than 100,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission lines. The ballot initiative would apply retroactively to September 16, 2020, and apply to any projects in which construction had not yet commenced as of that date. No CMP Corridor designed the ballot initiative to apply to the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project, a joint proposal between Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power (CMP).

Of the signatures submitted, at least 63,067 need to be deemed valid. The initiative process in Maine is indirect, meaning the legislature has the opportunity to approve the initiative itself before it is placed on the ballot. If the legislature does not approve it, the initiative will appear on the ballot for the election on November 2, 2021. 

The NECEC transmission project was designed to cross about 145 miles in Maine, from the state’s border with Quebec to Lewiston, and transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. About 90 miles of the transmission lines would utilize an existing corridor through central Maine. The most northern 54 miles, between the international border and The Forks, would require a new corridor through forested land. While the NECEC project was originally planned to deliver hydroelectric power to Massachusetts, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced that Maine had also secured 500 megawatts from hydroelectric plants at a discounted rate via NECEC on July 10, 2020.

On January 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy provided a presidential permit for NECEC. The presidential permit was the last of the federal and state permits required to start construction activities. On the same day, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the construction of Segment 1 of NECEC, the 54-mile stretch of new corridor in northern Maine, pending a future court decision. 

No CMP Corridor sought a ballot initiative in 2020, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found the proposal to violate the Maine Constitution. The 2020 ballot initiative would have required the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reverse an order made on May 3, 2019, that provided the NECEC transmission project with a certificate. According to the Supreme Judicial Court, the Maine Constitution “requires that a citizens’ initiative constitute legislative action,” and the ballot initiative’s “effect is to dictate the [Public Utility] Commission’s exercise of its quasi-judicial executive-agency function in a particular proceeding…” No CMP Corridor released a statement saying the new proposal constitutes a general law as it does not single out any specific project.  

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State supreme court vacancies in 2021

So far in 2021, there have been two new state supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have both been caused by retirements. 

In Colorado, Chief Justice Nathan Coats retired on January 1, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) appointed Maria Berkenkotter to the Colorado Supreme Court on November 20, 2020. Berkenkotter is Polis’ first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. In South Dakota, Chief Justice David Gilbertson retired in early January, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appointed Scott P. Myren to the South Dakota Supreme Court on October 28, 2020.

Currently, Maine is the only appointment state which had a vacancy in 2020 which has yet to be filled.

Three more states will see vacancies from retirement on their state supreme courts in 2021:

• Joel Bolger, June 30, 2021, Alaska

• Leslie Stein, June 4, 2021, New York

• Eugene Fahey, December 31, 2021, New York

In Alaska, the vacancy will be filled by Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy. Both of the vacancies on the New York Supreme Court will be filled by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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Three state legislators switch parties in December

Ballotpedia has identified three state legislators who switched their party affiliation in December. One switched from Democrat to independent, one from Republican to Libertarian, and one from Democrat to Republican. 

• On Dec. 7, Georgia Rep. Valencia Stovall announced that she was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Independent party. In a Facebook post, Stovall cited misleading, disruptive behavior from both parties during the Nov. 3, 2020 election as her reasons for switching.

• On Dec. 11, West Virginia Rep. Jason Barrett announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party. After changing his party affiliation at the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, Barrett said, “For me to be able to be the most effective legislator I can be and really move good policy forward in West Virginia, I think that joining the Republican Party in West Virginia is a way to do that.”

• On Dec. 14, Maine Rep. John Andrews announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and joining the Libertarian Party of Maine. In a Facebook post on Dec. 12, Andrews cited House minority leader Kathleen Jackson Dillingham as his reason for leaving the party, saying, “My leaving the Republican party is a direct reflection of Kathleen Dillingham’s lack of leadership and vindictive nature. The House GOP is in severe lack of leadership.”

Ballotpedia also identified two state legislators—David Tomassoni and Thomas Bakk—who switched their partisan affiliation In November. Both are Minnesota state senators who left the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to form an independent caucus. Both senators cited extreme partisanship at the national and state level and a desire to work across the aisle.

Since 1994, Ballotpedia has identified 131 legislators—37 state senators and 94 state representatives—who switched parties. Seventy-two switched from Democrat to Republican, 19 switched from Republican to Democrat, and the remainder switched to or from independent or other parties.

The map below shows the number of party switches by state. The most party switches took place in Mississippi, which had 15 state legislators switch parties since 1994. Thirteen Democrats switched to the Republican party, and two Democrats became independents.

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Sen. Susan Collins re-elected in Maine

Incumbent Susan Collins (R) defeated Sara Gideon (D) and five more candidates for U.S. Senate in Maine. 

Collins was first elected to the Senate in 1996. In October, Roll Call named Collins the fourth-most vulnerable senator up for re-election. The top three on its list—Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.)—lost their re-election bids. 

Collins and Gardner were the two Republican senators up for re-election this year in states Hillary Clinton (D) won in the 2016 presidential election. Joe Biden (D) is the projected winner of Colorado this year. He’s projected to have won Maine’s statewide electoral votes and the 1st Congressional District’s electoral vote, while Maine’s 2nd District electoral vote remains uncalled.

Thirty-five Senate seats were up for election, and four races remain uncalled. Democrats have flipped two seats and Republicans have flipped one. Democrats needed to win a net four seats to win control of the chamber; a net gain of two seats or fewer for Democrats, or a net gain for Republicans, would result in the chamber retaining its Republican majority. A net gain of three seats for Democrats would result in control of the chamber being split 50-50, with the vice president having the tie-breaking vote.

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