PORTLAND — The state Senate District 27 race features three candidates vying to replace Democratic Sen. Justin Alfond, who is not running due to term limits.
State Rep. Ben Chipman won the Democratic nomination June 14 over Rep. Diane Russell and Dr. Chuck Radis. Republican Adam Pontius replaced Mark Lockman on the ballot after the GOP primary, and Green Independent candidate Seth Baker was unopposed in his primary election.
Senate District 27 covers the city peninsula, Casco Bay islands and extends west through the Deering neighborhoods to the Falmouth town line. State senate terms are for two years. Election day is Nov. 8.
Chipman, 41, of 5 Mayo St., is completing his third term in House District 40, where he was elected as an independent candidate before enrolling as a Democrat a year ago.
Chipman, who is unmarried, manages properties he owns and works as a consultant.
In January, he led an unsuccessful House effort to impeach Gov. Paul LePage. He also said he would like legislators to respond to LePage’s comments last month about drug trafficking in Maine and the profane voicemail LePage left for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.
“I think we will need to do something to hold the governor accountable,” he said. “I still think he needs to resign; he is not effective anymore. He has lost a lot of credibility with people from all the parties.”
Though he said his conversations with constituents have largely revolved around LePage, Chipman said passing a bill to develop more solar power in the state is one of his top priorities.
To continue the fight against opioid use and substance use disorders, Chipman said he would first seek to fully expand MaineCare coverage, an effort repeatedly vetoed by LePage.
If MaineCare cannot be expanded for all, Chipman said he would pursue a federal waiver to expand health coverage solely to people needing treatment and after-care services for substance use disorders. More immediately, Chipman wants the state to move forward on building a 10-bed Bangor treatment center funded this year by the Legislature.
Chipman supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, in the presidential election.
“I’m not working on the campaign, but I am going to vote for her. I’ve got a lot of concerns about Donald Trump, so it is a clear choice,” he said.
Pontius, 26, of 79 Bramhall St., is making his first run for public office. He is married and has no children. He grew up in Topsham after moving from Pittsburgh.
“I recognize the difficulty of running as a Republican on the peninsula, but it is important for voters to have a choice,” he said.
Pontius said he will not support any new action against LePage when the new session starts, because it is more important for the Legislature to set public policy.
“It’s a complicated issue,” he said. “For me civility is something that is really important in politics. What the governor ended up saying was completely inappropriate.”
Pontius also said he is uncertain who he will vote for in the presidential election, but is certain it will not be Trump.
“My background in college was political science and foreign policy,” he said. “A lot of what (Trump) says about Russia and what folks in his campaign say make me nervous.”
Pontius said he would approach opioid use and addiction in Maine in several ways.
“Focusing on the supply side is certainly important, but you need to focus on demand by helping people get over (addiction) and back into the community,” he said.
In doing so, he also wants better coordination of services and clearer measurements of the outcomes of programs to determine which steps are best to take in the future. This includes a closer look at the co-occurring factors that can lead to substance use disorders, especially in youth, Pontius said.
If he becomes part of the city’s legislative delegation, Pontius pledged to take a pragmatic approach to economic development in the entire region while advocating for Portland to get more state aid for social services because it is a regional service center.
Like Pontius, Baker is making his first run for public office. He is single, lives at 43 Forest Park, and works as a web developer.
“We need to talk about big ideas, which America is about,” Baker said. “I’ve considered myself a socialist my wholeadult life. Bernie Sanders proved that’s not really a dirty word anymore.”
Baker wants to impeach LePage.
“I think specifically we have the leader of the state of Maine declaring people of color the enemy,” he said. “He has a long track record of xenophobic, homophobic and racist statements.”
Baker supports Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein in the presidential election. She has connected the need for alternative energy and economic growth, he said.
“We need a Green New Deal,” Baker said. “We need a jobs program with the technological changes we are seeing.”
Baker said the entire drug policy needs revision as a start to fight opioid use and addiction.
“It is absurdly irresponsible that someone can have a drug problem and get in legal trouble and have it follow them the rest of their life,” he said.
Baker supports expanding needle exchanges, and a single-payer health insurance system that would expand treatment and recovery opportunities.
“Let’s take away the legal penalties, work on treatment and work on harm reduction in the short term,” he said.
LePage is a focus for voters Baker has met, but housing is also a subject of concern.
“Practically everyone who is not upper middle class is being phased out of Portland,” Baker said.
Overall, he sees an unhappy electorate.
“There is just a real dissatisfaction with politics this year to the point people have a hard time engaging with it in any way,” Baker said.
All three candidates support legaliztion of marijuana, as proposed by Question 1 on the statewide ballot.
“I think there is some benefit to regulating and taxing it and there would be some revenue to the state,” Chipman said, adding he would like the tax revenue to help fund treatment programs.
Pontius took a pragmatic view.
“I’m not enthusiastic about marijuana legalization,” he said, “but it is becoming a cultural norm, especially for my generation.”
Baker said the potential consequences of legalization are troubling.
“I do have concerns about pot shops and marijuana tourism everywhere. I worry about it becoming a free-for-all and a tourist trap,” he said.
Pontius opposes Question 2, which would increase taxes on people with incomes above $200,000 to fund education. The proposal is supported by Chipman and Baker.
Question 3, which would expand required background checks for firearm purchases and transfers made by non-licensed individuals, is supported by Chipman and Baker, although Baker said it is more about fairness than effectiveness.
“I think it is a massive exaggeration that it is going to affect gun violence in this country,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to stop any private sales in which people don’t want to play by the rules.”
Pontius said he was undecided.
“I get the idea of closing the gun show loophole and it seems to make sense to me, but there are no enforcement mechanisms in the measure,” he said.
Baker and Chipman also support increasing the state minimum wage as proposed by Question 4, with Baker seeing it as the first step toward a statewide $15-per-hour minimum.
Pontius opposes the question. He said the $12-per-hour wage would be too much for some rural businesses to bear. He also said the eventual elimination of the lower minimum wage for employees receiving more than $30 per month in tips would be detrimental to owners and staff in the hospitality industry.
Pontius is the coalition coordinator for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, which is behind Question 5. Baker and Chipman also support the question.
“I’ve been on board with that for a long time,” Chipman said, noting he was part of the city committee that wrote Charter revisions that brought ranked choice voting to Portland’s mayoral elections.
Chipman and Baker also support the $100 million bond for funding highway and other infrastructure improvements. Pontius said he has not made up his mind on the question.