On Tuesday, March 5, 2024, Orono residents will head to the Town Office on Main Street between the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to cast their votes for the Annual Municipal Election and the State Presidential Primary. Orono’s municipal and primary elections can now be held in conjunction after a charter amendment was approved by town voters in 2022.
On this day, known as Super Tuesday, 15 states will hold presidential primary elections. A total of 874 out of 2,429 Republican delegates will be up for grabs, and the results will effectively determine whether presidential hopeful Nikki Haley remains a viable candidate against former President Donald Trump, who is a defendant in multiple legal battles at present. Currently, 62 delegates have been allocated to candidates of both parties, and Trump’s 33 delegates lead Haley’s 17.
The Democratic Party does not appear to have a competitive race, which is not uncommon due to President Joe Biden’s status as an incumbent running for re-election.
Regarding Orono’s Annual Municipal Election, three town council seats and two RSU 26 School Board seats are up for grabs. As only two candidates seeking the available three-year terms on the school board, the University of Maine’s professors Mark Brewer (political science) and Brian McGill (ecology) are likely to succeed in their bids for re-election.
Brewer and McGill are heavily involved in the Orono community through their academic endeavors and volunteering efforts. They are also both parents of past and present RSU 26 students.
The town council race consists of four candidates seeking to fill three open seats for three-year terms. The names on this ballot portion will be Jacob Baker, Robert Laraway, Matthew Powers and Scott Thomas.
If elected, Baker has expressed his goal to strengthen Orono’s partnerships with organizations, including the University of Maine and the Land Trust, and serve as a moderate voice in discussions to create a more sustainable town budget.
Concerning the relationship between Orono and the university, Baker stated, “You have essentially two large entities that operate right across the river from each other: the town of Orono and the university. [There are] a lot of duplicated processes and services that both of these entities provide.”
Baker mentioned that one of the town council’s goals must be to understand “how can we better collaborate and how can we better work with the university to share some of the cost burden of operating a town and an institution.”
Council candidate Robert Laraway has been on the council for the past two years and has extensive experience advocating for progressive policy in areas including affordable housing and Wabanaki rights at the state level. During Orono’s virtual candidates night on Feb. 1, Laraway identified a few of the town’s main focuses moving forward.
“There are two large priorities looming right now…one is that we are in the process of selecting a new town manager. That’s taking up a lot of the time with the current council, and I’d like to continue making sure that we’re making that decision thoughtfully and inclusively,” said Laraway.
The second priority concerns the comprehensive planning process that will aim to create a “far-reaching vision for the town,” according to Laraway. Council candidate Matthew Powers addressed additional issues facing Orono, including his desire to improve the walkability of Orono and Main Street as a whole.
“I think one of our biggest issues right now is a lack of housing…it’s hard to get people [and businesses] to come here if there isn’t housing. I do think that as a council we have to be very serious about development here in town and also determine how we might be able to make affordable houses,” said Laraway.
Final candidate Scott Thomas previously served on the council in the 1990s. As a third-generation resident of Orono, Thomas seeks to play a role in tackling a wide variety of issues facing the town, from a soon-to-be lack of funding to declining enrollment at the university. These issues and additional concerns make finding the right town manager and creating an effective, comprehensive plan crucial to Orono’s future success.
David Chase, the volunteer moderator of Orono’s candidates night, wrapped up the event with some words of encouragement to potential voters who want to see real change on the local government level.
“Democracy only works with participation, and that starts with voting, but it doesn’t end with it…you vote and then continue to participate…if there are things you want to change or be different…you have to bring those to the people that are making those decisions,” Chase said.
Biographies for the candidates in Orono’s Annual Municipal Election can be found at https://orono.org/821/2024-March-Election-Candidate-Bios.
For those unable to vote in person, absentee ballots are available now and can either be retrieved at the Orono Town Office or requested online at https://apps.web.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/AbsenteeBallot/index.pl.