AUGUSTA – A Biddeford legislator’s decision to quit the Democratic Party trims its already razor-thin House margin over the Republicans just weeks before lawmakers return to the State House for their 2006 session.
Rep. Joanne Twomey said she’ll finish her fourth term as an independent. Twomey said the Democrats’ failure to deliver major tax reform and provide more Mainers with health care were factors in her decision.
She is barred by the state’s term limits law from seeking another consecutive House term next November.
“I don’t know what being a Democrat means anymore. This is not what I signed up for,” Twomey said after announcing her decision to leaders and Gov. John Baldacci. “I call myself a Democrat in exile. I have to stand up and tell the people that our party has lost its roots.”
Twomey is the second Democrat to bolt from party ranks since July, when Rep. Thomas Saviello of Wilton dropped his Democratic affiliation and went independent.
The latest defection leaves the House Democrats with a 74-73 edge over the Republicans, with one Green party and three unenrolled, or independent, members. It leaves those unconnected to major parties as swing votes in the chamber.
The Senate remains under the control of Democrats, 19 to 16 Republicans.
House Speaker John Richardson said that although he doesn’t completely understand Twomey’s decision, he respects it.
“This is a decision she has to account for with her constituents,” said Richardson, D-Brunswick.
House Democratic leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said Twomey’s move “isn’t a huge surprise. She has suggested she might move in this direction most of the past four sessions.”
The House Republican leader, Rep. David Bowles of Sanford, said Twomey “generally marches to the beat of her own drum, and we respect her for that.”
“Rep. Twomey has always voted her conscience, and I don’t know if [the switch] is going to change matters,” said Bowles.