Maine Republicans have already decided on who will lead the 13-member Republican caucus in the State Senate, but the contest to decide who will become Minority Leader in the House of Representatives is going to be a bit messier.
Right now, four Reps have thrown their hats in the ring: Billy Bob Faulkingham, Laurel Libby, Mike Lemelin, and Josh Morris.
Faulkingham, a lobsterman from Winter Harbor, has spent much of the last year in the spotlight thanks to the ongoing federal assault on the lobstering industry. He’s a portrait of the Downeast blue-collar guy, a 6th generation lobsterman who got fed up with Augusta and decided to run for office in 2018.
On policy, the bills he’s backed reflect economic and political conservatism. He has introduced legislation that would lower Maine’s income tax incrementally to zero, allow the sale of ethanol-free gas statewide, and protect freedom of expression on college campuses. He has also introduced “Right to Work” legislation that would end the compulsory collection of union dues from non-union paychecks. And he’s been a leading voice on ending civil asset forfeiture in the state.
Libby, a former nurse from Auburn, is best known as a prominent critic of Gov. Janet Mills’ executive mandate on health care workers that led thousands of workers to lose their jobs because they refused to take the experimental COVID-19 injections. In 2019, Libby testified during a hearing in Augusta over the mandate, telling lawmakers that, as a nurse, she would rather leave the state than submit to the mandate. But rather than leave the state, she ran for office, defeating incumbent Democrat Rep. Betty Ann Sheats for the 64th District seat.
During her first term in the legislature, Libby declared war on the vaccine mandate and lobbied to include a religious exemption to the order. Mills’ mandate, unlike mandates elsewhere in the country, did not include an exemption for people who objected to the injections on religious grounds. Libby also objected to mandatory masking and other heavy-handed measures ordered by Augusta.
Other measures Libby sponsored in the legislature include a bill that would have eliminated “certificate of need” in Maine. Certificate of Need is an anti-free market policy that prevents would-be hospital operators from building new medical facilities in the state unless they can demonstrate need. The policy serves as effective monopoly protection for existing health care facilities. She also sponsored bills to expand access to telemedicine.
Morris, a realtor from Turner, first won office in 2018. He has the blessing of the former GOP leadership, including moderate Rep. Kathy R.J. Dillingham (R-Oxford), the outgoing House Minority Leader. A member of the Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance & Financial Services, much of Morris’ legislative work has involved changes to MaineCare policies and health insurance regulations.
Morris, like Libby, was an opponent of vaccine mandates, sponsoring a bill that would have blocked mandates for at least five years. However, in the past election cycle, Morris operated a leadership political action committee — Taking Care of Maine Business PAC — to support fellow Republican candidates for the House, which raised $42,250. Donations he received for that effort will likely draw criticism from conservatives.
Morris’ top donors were the Maine Association of Realtors PAC ($4,500), the Maine Health Care Association ($2,500), ABC PAC ($2,500), and PhRMA ($2,450). Other pharmaceutical companies also chipped in for his PAC, including Johnson & Johnson, Astellas Pharma US, Inc., and Pfizer PAC. Morris also accepted smaller donations from several prominent Maine law firms with strong lobbying presences in Augusta, including DrummondWoodsum and Bernstein Shur.
Morris and Libby have clashed in the past through proxies. Morris ally Dillingham scolded the Libby-aligned Dinner Table PAC this year for denigrating the lackluster fundraising of the House Republican Fund, the official committee formed to help GOP candidates. That committee’s fundraising was dwarfed this cycle by The Dinner Table, which raised more than half a million dollars to back Republican candidates.
Of the four candidates, Lemelin, a businessman from Chelsea, has perhaps the lowest profile. He joined the House of Representatives in 2020 after an unsuccessful bid in 2018. He had a career as a private pilot and operated a number of franchise restaurants in the Augusta area, including Subway and Red Robin locations.
In the past legislative session, Lemelin sponsored a handful of bills, including a measure to make MaineCare cover ostomy bags and a bill to ensure police officers are properly trained to use radar guns. He also backed legislation that you place limits on the governor’s ability to invoke emergency powers by requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature after a period of 90 days.
House Republicans are slated to vote on leadership positions on Monday.