2 challengers hope to unseat South Portland incumbent in House District 122

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SOUTH PORTLAND — As he seeks his third term in Maine House District 122, Democratic Rep. Terry Morrison is challenged by a “traditional conservative” Republican and an independent candidate.

Morrison, 41, is an unmarried manager of a Portland inn who defeated Republican Howard Farr in 2010 in the district that includes the Knightville, Willard Square and Ferry Village neighborhoods. Morrison serves on the Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee.

Farr withdrew from the 2012 race after the June 12 primary. He was replaced by Republican Thomas Sarbanis, who described himself as “a traditional conservative or classic liberal.”

Sarbanis was an alternate delegate for Texas Rep. Ron Paul at the Republican National Convention this year, and is making his first run for public office.

Also in the race is Chris Kessler, running as an unenrolled independent. Kessler, 30, ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2009. He works in sales and performs energy audits for Revision Heating.

“I have responded to the needs of my district,” Morrison said. “My values match the values of the district, and I will only submit legislation that will benefit, not polarize my district.”

Sarbanis, 31, who works in patient transportation at Mercy Hospital in Portland,  said he is distinctive as a voice for fiscal conservatism and limiting the role of government.

“I believe I would be more oriented to civil liberties and their protection,” he said.

Kessler emphasized his independence and willingness to consider all ideas.

“I’m not beholden to one specific group,” he said. “I am open to anyone who wants to discuss things in a civil manner.”

The three agree on legalizing same-sex marriages, but Sarbanis said he favors a different approach by eliminating the requirement for a state marriage license and allowing religious denominations to decide who they will marry.

Kessler said he is “just amazed people are still trying to deny people the right to love who they want and partner with who they wish.”

Morrison co-sponsored the same-sex marriage bill passed by the Legislature in 2010, but eventually defeated by a referendum vote that fall.

“My core values are about equality,” he said. “Love makes a family.”

Kessler said it is “too easy to put a vague blanket” on discussions about Maine’s business environment, adding the state role in regulation is only a part of economic development. He said available capital for expansion is also critical to success.

“It takes more than government to say ‘let’s create jobs,'” Kessler said. “But I do give credit to the recent efforts to streamline and consolidate.”

Sarbanis favors a laissez faire approach.

“I don’t believe government has much of a role in economic development,” he said. “Free markets are the most efficient, and government should make sure corporations are legally run.”

Sarbanis said it is time to view the larger picture at the federal level, eliminating the Federal Reserve and Internal Revenue Service to inject “honest dollars in a growing economy.”

Morrison said his job gives him perspective on the needs of small businesses and the need for state government to encourage and protect them.

“Some rules and regulations could be changed. Not deregulated, but changed,” he said.

Morrison said permitting procedures for businesses should be streamlined and regulations need constant re-evaluation to help businesses thrive.

Spending and administering social welfare programs is also in need of improvement, the candidates said. Kessler criticized Morrison’s vote in favor of MaineCare coverage reductions.

“That is an area where I would not have compromised,” he said.

Morrison said he will work to implement elements of the federal Affordable Health Care Act if it remains law, but defended his budget vote involving MaineCare reductions because the overall budget “was the best we could do.”

Kessler is wary of program reductions in public assistance, but favors time limits and requiring volunteer work from recipients.

Morrison agreed, and called for continued work to root out fraud and abuse so aid can get to people truly in need. He said an audit of the state’s 211 assistance phone line is a good place to determine true needs by seeing who has called and who is still waiting for help.

Sarbanis said he does not believe the government should be providing health care, but said overall social welfare spending needs to remain “status quo” for now.

“Dealing with the condition of our state right now, (more cuts are) not feasible,” he said.

Solutions to helping less fortunate people should also be considered in the bigger picture, Sarbanis said. Inflated costs for health care are affecting state budgets everywhere, requiring a national effort at reforms to reopen the free market and create more wealth for all.

Sarbanis said he does see a role for government subsidies to develop alternative sources of energy, in the form of tax breaks for research and development. He is particularly interested in looking at biomass and waste to energy sources in the future.

Kessler said state government “should be a catalyst for getting Maine off oil,” while also stepping forward to restore heating assistance and conservation programs cut at the federal level.

Concentrating on developing wood products and weatherization programs would provide economic benefits too, Kessler said. The rebates and loans provided by Efficiency Maine are an approach Kessler said he favors.

“It is a happy medium that can help the free market do its work,” he said.

Morrison said he prefers tidal to wind power.

“(Wind power) is eroding our mountaintops and destroying our landscapes,” Morrison said.

Conservation and energy efficiency remain primary objectives to making energy more affordable, Morrison said, adding that additional incentives and subsidies will be hard to fund.

He also said it is unrealistic to think oil can be completely eliminated from the energy mix.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.