2 Bath candidates square off again in House District 52

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BATH — To secure a fourth and final term representing House District 52 in Augusta, Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, must fend off a second challenge from Republican Bil Weidner.

Weidner, of Washington Street, is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on a destroyer built in Bath. He is a member of VFW Post 7738, and on the executive board of American Legion Post No. 21.

Owner of Mr. Bil Handyman Service, Weidner has also worked in medical sales with Five Star Surgical. His 2016 race against DeChant was his first campaign for an elected political office.

DeChant became executive director of the Chocolate Church Arts Center in 2013, following time as public relations manager for Sea Bags, a manufacturing company in Portland.

DeChant was also chairwoman of the Sagadahoc County Democrats from 2000-04 and has served as treasurer of the Maine Democratic Party. She was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 2004-08 and one of Maine’s eight Democratic superdelegates in 2008.

DeChant has also served on the board of Elmhurst, an organization that supports people with disabilities, and as a member of the Cosmopolitan Club and the Bath Parks and Recreation Commission.

DeChant is a Clean Elections candidate and had raised nearly $6,000 toward her campaign as of Sept. 6, according to the Maine Ethics Commission.

Weidner had raised no funds, the commission reported. He said he has chosen not to accept funding, and has directed donors to the Bath Republican Committee.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Divisiveness

Both candidates spoke to the need to curb the divisiveness among Democrats and Republicans that has plagued Augusta in recent years.

DeChant has witnessed partisanship become more divisive during her latest term, “which is evidenced by the government shutdown, which is evidenced by this elongated (current) session” due to a failure to negotiate, “which is another example of the breakdown of the cooperation,” she explained.

She said has been able to work one-on-one with Republicans on bills in which she has been involved. But when work occurs collectively between the caucuses, divisions are still evident, DeChant added.

With the next biennial budget coming up for discussion in 2019, polarization between parties is a concern for Weidner.

“I think that’s only gotten worse … it’s like a fiasco between legislators up there, all representing their special interests,” he said. “… There needs to be some moderation involved in discussing the budget.”

“Reaching across the aisle and finding some people that I can work with is going to be key,” as well as pushing back against extreme rhetoric in both major parties, Weidner added.

Issues to tackle

Rising taxes and affordable housing for the elderly are important issues in Bath and throughout Maine for Weidner.

“We are an aging state, and more and more we have people who are relying on Social Security and their small fixed income to find a place that’s decent … to live,” he said. “There should be a lot of planning being done, so this all doesn’t hit us at once eventually.”

DeChant has been busy in Augusta the past two years with issues close to home. She sponsored a controversial $45 million tax break for Bath Iron Works that became law in April, and provides the shipyard an income-tax incentive in return for making investments in facilities and preserving jobs.

Renewable energy is a focus for DeChant, who would like to transition Bath’s landfill to a solar farm. Expansion of natural gas in the city is another goal.

She also foresees a time, not too long from now, when water will become a commodity. Bath sits on the Kennebec River, “and Maine is very well-positioned with its natural resources, yet we don’t have very good laws and regulations on how to moderate that, so I’ve been doing some research around that,” she said.

Opioid crisis

Both candidates agreed that Maine has made strides in addressing its opioid problem, but that much work lies ahead.

“I think (the situation) has gotten better, because there’s been a focus on it,” Weidner said. “Once the focus goes away, it’s going to get worse.”

The added attention has placed greater pressure on physicians to be more careful when prescribing medicine, and increased law enforcement has helped as well, he noted.

Research and development into alternatives to opiates needs to happen, Weidner added.

A lot more work must be done, DeChant said, noting the formation of a legislative opioid task force that has produced recommendations that could go into law, or rules and regulations.

“There’s still the debate on criminalization and prevention, and I still am on the side that prevention is worth the investment,” DeChant said. “There are few people who have not had opiate abuse impact in their lives … you just can’t overemphasize it.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Age: 50

Residence: Bath

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Family: Married, two children

Occupation: Executive director, Chocolate Church Arts Center

Education: Heidelburg University, Ohio, B.S. in English and communications; Franklin University, Ohio, MBA

Political/Civic Experience: House District 52 representative, three terms; chairwoman, Sagadahoc County Democrats; treasurer, Maine Democratic Party; member, Democratic National Committee; Maine Democratic superdelegate

Website/Social Media: facebook.com/DeChantforBath

Age: 56

Residence: Bath

Party Affiliation: Republican

Family: Divorced, two children

Occupation: Owner of Mr. Bil Handyman Service

Education: University of Maine, B.S. in Microbiology

Political/Civic Experience: University of Maine General Student Senate, American Legion Post 21 Executive Board member

Website/Social Media: facebook.com/groups/243764435961911 (Bath Republican City Committee)

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.