South Portland's Eberle reluctant, but ready, to leave Maine Legislature

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Rep. Jane Eberle, D-South Portland, said she knows it is time to move on from politics.

Just don’t expect her to fade away as her last term representing House District 123 concludes.

“I’m not walking away from this gracefully,” Eberle said. “I’ve cleaned out my desk, but that didn’t happen until a couple of weeks ago.”

Maine term limits laws barred Eberle from seeking a fifth consecutive term in the district comprised of the center of South Portland and the northwest portion of Cape Elizabeth. So she did the next best thing by helping Democrat Scott Hamann defeat Republican Kenneth Myrick and independent Roger Bishop for the seat.

“It was the first time in four election cycles I haven’t had a clear direction of what to do,” said Eberle, who first won election in 2004.

Maine term limits laws require a two-year hiatus from seeking the same seat, but not all political options were closed to Eberle.

Last spring it was apparent the Maine Senate District 7 seat comprised of South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and the eastern portion of Scarborough would be open as incumbent Democrat Cynthia Dill decided to seek her party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Eberle said she considered running for the seat when former Maine Sen. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland, resigned in April 2011, but had not wanted to break away from the legislative session in order to run. Dill eventually won a special election to replace Bliss, defeating Republican Louis Maietta Jr.

When it came time to consider a run this year, with Dill focused on the U.S. Senate, Eberle said “the re-engagement and energy needed for a (state) Senate campaign seemed more than I wanted to do.”

Now Eberle, who directs business partnerships for the South Portland School Department, said she does not plan to run again for a legislative or local office.

“I’ve loved what I’ve done,” she said. “It was time to move on.”

Eight years ago, Eberle said she was recruited to run for the seat by Bliss and former Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland. The idea was not an easy sell, because Eberle’s political experience was limited to speaking about education issues at occasional committee hearings and serving as an election ward clerk.

“I came with a set of questions as to why I could not or should not do it,” she recalled. “But that is typical in Maine, you never consider yourself a candidate. Then someone talks to you and you realize you could and should be one.”

Eberle said she came to treasure the personal contact with constituents, even those too young to vote. While serving, she developed a program for fourth-graders in the city and Cape Elizabeth to learn directly about government through a classroom visit and field trips to the Statehouse.

The trips culminated with mock legislative sessions, where students debated issues and voted on bills.

“The Statehouse is a beautiful place and I love to show it to its owners, but also to show you have to do this work,” she said.

Her last legislative session found Eberle serving in the minority party for the first time, a less enjoyable experience for her.

“My last term was personally very difficult because a lot of things I cared about and have worked for were under attack. Being in the minority … you have to be reactive,” she said.

Over the years, Eberle was assigned to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, giving her a deeper appreciation for Maine’s natural resources and a chance to work with legislators from rural areas.

“I really do think I worked outside of a strictly party partisan structure,” Eberle said.

Eberle said Hamann is ready to make the seat his own, and will be better at using the digital world to stay in touch with constituents. He will also learn serving takes a lot of effort.

“You can’t articulate how much you have to work to get something done,” she said. “There is so much care and nurturing you have to do,  it doesn’t start and stop with getting paperwork filed.”

“I won’t miss when a debate turns to bitterness,” Eberle continued. “I learned you can’t take things personally, that when people are upset with something the Legislature did, they will vent. You have to view the whole process, if it turns out in your favor or not in your favor, you have to deal with it.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.