Maine Senate Republican hopefuls on Wednesday launched a Maine Comeback Tour, an effort to retake control of the upper chamber of the state Legislature in November.

About 30 candidates stood behind Maine Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake of Turner as he introduced “business owners, teachers, farmers,” who are running for the Senate.

“We’re seeing huge amounts of energy behind our efforts,” he said during a campaign launch in a conference room at the Senator Inn in Augusta. “We’re hearing from Mainers all across the state who are ready for change.”

Although he didn’t mention the COVID-19 pandemic directly, and none of the candidates wore a face covering, Timberlake said Mainers are tired of “kids being forced to stay home from school.”

The launch marks the unofficial start of the 2022 campaign for the Maine Legislature, which is currently controlled by Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats hold a 21-13 majority with one vacancy and in the House, there are 82 Democrats, 63 Republicans, three independents and one vacancy.

Candidates have until March 15 to turn in signatures to run for the 186 seats in the Legislature. Republicans last controlled the Senate in 2018 and haven’t led both the House and Senate since 2010. 

At Wednesday’s event, the GOP highlighted candidates running in key races, including Rep. Sue Bernard (R-Caribou) who is taking on Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) and three candidates running for open seats: former legislator Brian Langley of Ellsworth; former Rep. Abden Simmons of Waldoboro and Rep. Matt Harrington of Sanford.

Sue Benard
Rep. Sue Bernard (R-Caribou) talks about the need to help small businesses Wednesday during an event for Senate Republican candidates at the Senator Inn in Augusta. (Photo by Susan Cover/Spectrum News Maine)

Bernard, who is serving her first term in the House, emphasized the need to help local business owners.

“Small businesses are such an important part of the backbone of northern Maine and the statewide economy that needs the opportunity to prosper and not be hampered with government overreach,” she said.

Simmons described himself as a clam digger who felt it was his job to listen — something he said most politicians don’t do. He said young people are having a hard time finding affordable housing and older people are struggling to stay in their homes.

“Maine has become unaffordable to live here for the Mainers who have grown up here,” he said. “We need to do something about that.”

Langley, who previously served 10 years in the Legislature, said he wasn’t sure he wanted to come back. But he said Timberlake and Assistant Senate Republican Leader Matt Pouliot of Augusta convinced him they had a strong team of candidates running for office.

He said he’d like to work on strengthening the state’s career and technical education program, something he has championed in the past.

“It’s really about showing our students there’s a bright future for them here in Maine with high-wage, high-demand jobs,” he said.