July 23, 2013

Former District 19 senator Benoit named GOP candidate

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

BATH — Phippsburg Republican Paula Benoit is officially in the running to retake the Senate seat she once held.

Paula Benoit

Staff file photo by Jim Evans

Benoit was selected Tuesday as her party's candidate in the Aug. 27 special election to fill the vacancy in Senate District 19, which she represented 2006 to 2008. She was defeated by Seth Goodall, who resigned from the seat this month to become New England regional administrator for the Small Business Association.

The other candidates in the race are the Green Independent Party Daniel Stromgren, a social worker from Topsham and Democrat Eloise Vitelli, a women's business advocate from Arrowsic. The district consists of Sagadahoc County and the Lincoln County town of Dresden.

Benoit, 58, has owned small retail shops and worked as an advocate for adoptee rights. She was supported at the nominating caucus in Bath by several former legislators from Sagadahoc County.

Voters chose Benoit as their nominee over Bowdoin contractor Guy Lebida by a vote of 58–11.

Lebida described himself as a patriot and a conservative and said Republicans lost in 2012 because their voters stayed home, turned off by a party that has become too liberal and too similar to the Democrats.

"I really am sad about what's happening to our country, about the demise of our country," Lebida said. "I really believe that the economic collapse that's happening was preceded by the moral collapse of this country. The Republican base is changing. We used to stand for godly principles, and I think we've let a lot of those go."

When nominating Benoit, former Sen. Mary Small praised her ability to work across the aisle to improve Democratic bills, which Small pointed out will be necessary because Democrats will maintain control of the Senate even if Benoit wins.

The Senate consisted of 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one independent before Goodall's resignation.

Benoit said the special election can be the Republicans' first step to retaking the majority.

She said she's a strong candidate because of her experience as the owner of service-oriented businesses, name recognition in the district and a strong record of constituent service when she was a senator.

Benoit said she was proud of legislation she sponsored or cosponsored to extend solar panel rebates, expand high-speed Internet access around the state, reduce regulatory costs for businesses and give adult adoptees access to their birth records.

Senate District 19 and precursor districts were represented by Republicans for many years. One of them, Arthur Mayo, switched to the Democrats, prompting Benoit to run against him and defeat him by 602 votes in 2006.

Goodall defeated Benoit by 162 votes in 2008, then widened his margins of victory in later elections.

New Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett — whose introduction at the caucus was greeted by loud applause and cheers — described the district as a Democratic one.

"We're going to have to work really, really hard to win this," Bennett said. "But I know we can, and this will be a great down payment for victory in 2014."

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
smcmillan@mainetoday.com

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