FREEPORT — One of Gov. Paul LePage’s wishes is unlikely to be realized after state Rep. Sara Gideon became the Democratic nominee for speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
Gideon, 44, was nominated by House Democrats Nov. 18, and is expected to be elected by the full House Dec. 7, since Democrats in the chamber hold a 77-72 majority over Republicans.
At a Freeport public forum LePage staged in February, the Republican governor and Gideon had a heated exchange in which he said he hopes she, or any other Democrat, would never be elected speaker.
Gideon, the assistant House majority leader, was elected to her third term representing District 48 on Nov. 8. She defeated Republican challenger Paul Benjamin Schulz 3,946 to 1,837.
Gideon will succeed Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, who reached his term limit. She will assume the leadership position immediately and hold it for the entirety of her two-year term.
Gideon, in an interview Monday at Starbucks on Main Street, said she has enjoyed her work in the Legislature and wanted more responsibility, which is why she pursued the role of Speaker.
“My approach is to bring people together and find a way to get things done,” she said. “By doing this I saw a potential in myself to lead.”
Gideon said one of her primary objectives will be focusing on how work is conducted in the House.
“My No. 1 priority is really thinking about how we stop letting politics get in the way of doing work that is good for Maine people,” she said.
Gideon said her ability to work across party lines will make her an effective leader. Following this year’s presidential election, she said it’s important to mend the divide felt by Democrats and Republicans, not only in Maine, but around the country.
“Instead of seeing it as a challenge we can’t overcome, we need to see it as an opportunity to talk to each other,” she said.
Gideon said she has two goals she plans to tackle as quickly as possible.
“The first is making sure that people in this state, no matter where they live, have access to jobs,” she said. “When we figure out how to help that happen, there are so many positive outcomes that cascade from that.”
The second priority involves helping people by providing government services addressing public health and childhood poverty.
“The other thing is making sure we’re looking out for and protecting people in the way that only government can,” Gideon said.
She said her other goals include “focusing on and making sure we’re retaining young people and young families in this state”and understanding “renewable energy potential and how that can help us create jobs and mitigate climate change.”
Addressing the state’s opioid crisis is also a concern, Gideon said, because “clearly what we’ve done has not been enough.”
The first step to reducing the number of people in Maine using drugs and dying from overdoses is to prevent the need for drugs to enter the state, she said.
“In terms of prevention and education, those are the low-hanging fruit that we need to get in place immediately,” Gideon said. “The supply will keep coming if the demand is still there.”
Next, the state needs to address treatment plans and options, Gideon said. She said treatment models in each municipality need to be examined, support needs to be given to addicts seeking treatment, and law enforcement needs to be supported as well.
Achieving the goals Gideon has set out will require cooperation from both Democrats and Republicans, she acknowledged. She said she’s uncertain whether she can count on LePage to play a role in the work she hopes accomplish.
“I don’t have hopes for the governor,” Gideon said. “He’s not been willing to work on policies that help Maine people. If the governor wants to work with Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, that door is always open.”
She said she knows LePage must be displeased with her nomination, especially considering his comment to her in February.
“It was his absolute priority to put the Republicans in the majority and he failed,” she said. “It’ll be a tough pill to swallow.”
If LePage wants to cooperate with her initiatives, Gideon said the governor knows how to reach her.
“He can stay to the side while we do the work and that’s what I envision,” she said. “If he wants to work with us, he knows my phone number and I always pick up when he calls.”
State Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is the presumptive next speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.