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BATH — In her bid to represent Sagadahoc County for another two years, Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, must fend off a challenge from Georgetown Republican Rich Donaldson.
Senate District 23 includes all of Sagadahoc County and the Lincoln County town of Dresden. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Vitelli was elected in a special election in 2013 and defeated in the following year’s regular election, but a victory in 2016 returned her to the Legislature. Now retired, she was director of program and policy at New Ventures Maine (formerly Women, Work and Community), served on the Maine Economic Growth Council for 20 years, and was president of the Midcoast Economic Development District.
Vitelli, who in 2012 served on the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future, also served on the Community Development Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the School Unit 47 board, the Arrowsic School and Regional School Unit 1 Transition committees, and the Maine Human Resources Development Council.
She received the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award in 2006, was named Women’s Business Advocate of the Year in 1997, and was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995. Vitelli was also president of the state Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
Donaldson, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, spent 1983-2014 in the service. He now performs chores like mowing lawns and cleaning gutters for Georgetown’s older residents.
Donaldson was appointed to Georgetown’s Planning Board about four years ago and stepped down in June after being elected to the Board of Selectmen. He would remain on the panel if elected to the Senate.
“My allegiance of course will be to both,” Donaldson said, noting that he would not want to leave the board in November after just five months.
“I didn’t want to leave the town in a weird place,” he added. “So I think I’m going to be busy, but I should be able to handle both jobs.”
Donaldson came under fire this summer for posts, called racist and homophobic by critics, that he shared on his personal Facebook page in 2015 and 2016. Among them were memes depicting Mexicans as sombreroed stereotypes, crafting puns from their accents, and posts ridiculing politicians such as Hillary Clinton.
“The whole thing as far as I’m concerned is ludicrous, and really that’s all I have to say,” Donaldson said.
Both he and Vitelli are Clean Election candidates. Donaldson had raised more than $23,000 toward his campaign as of Sept. 27, according to the Maine Ethics Commission; Vitelli had raised nearly $61,000.
Speaking to the divisiveness between Republicans and Democrats in Augusta, Donaldson said his focus since beginning his campaign is to bring civility to the legislative process.
Harkening to his days in the Navy, he added, “we have a mission to do. We’re getting paid by the taxpayers to represent them in Augusta. Not to call each other names, not to mud-sling. We’re expected to act like adults, to put down our differences and work together for the people.”
Vitelli said while more can be done to make the Senate function better, she has found less divisiveness in that body than in the House, noting that “we were able to come together and have many unanimous votes on issues, including some veto overrides.”
That cooperation may largely be due to the Senate’s smaller size compared to the House, and on particular issues both major parties were able to work together and move initiatives forward, “as they’re intended to, through negotiation, through some give and take.”
Maine’s tackling of its opioid abuse issue is getting “incrementally better,” but given the concerns she hears from constituents that not enough treatment resources are available for those who need it, there is still much to be done, Vitelli said.
“Frankly, I think there’s also a lot more we can do for prevention,” she added.
Vitelli praised the state’s Opioid Task Force for identifying strategies to address the problem, and the recently adopted “hub-and-spoke” addiction treatment model “makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think it’s as widely available to people yet as it needs to be,” she said.
As a first responder on Georgetown’s fire department, “I’ve had friends of my sons that have passed away, so (the issue) is important to me,” Donaldson said. “I would like to have a more concerted effort to tackle it.”
Education to prevent drug abuse from starting in the first place is critical, and “a pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure,” he noted. “Once we get involved in opiates, it’s hard to get away.”
Donaldson said he supports more resources being in place to actively catch and jail those bringing opioids into Maine.
Five ballot questions go before Maine voters Nov. 6. The first would create a 3.8 percent payroll tax, as well as a non-wage income tax, to pay for a home care program for seniors and the disabled. Questions 2-5 would issue the following in bonds: $30 million for wastewater infrastructure, $106 million for transportation infrastructure, $49 million for the University of Maine System, and $15 million for Maine’s seven community colleges.
Neither Donaldson nor Vitelli support the payroll tax, but both favor the four bond questions.
Donaldson recalled a recent report that named Maine the third-highest state in the nation for taxation. The state has a large aging population, while it is losing its graduates to higher-paying jobs in other parts of the country, he noted.
“In order to take care of our older folks that are transitioning from the workforce into retirement, we need to encourage … young professionals to come to Maine,” Donaldson said, noting the payroll tax would instead serve as a deterrent.
He added it is “counterproductive to bringing young workers … to Maine, if we’re going to punish them for being successful.”
“I buy the argument … that it’s often less expensive to keep people in their homes than institutionalize them in some way,” Vitelli said, noting the need to invest in home care workers. “But I don’t think the mechanism that is proposed in this referendum question is the way to do it. And I don’t think it’s had a fair airing, either.”
Party Affiliation: Republican
Family: Wife, two adult sons
Occupation: Retired Navy Lieutenant Commander
Education: Hamden (Connecticut) High School, various college courses
Political/Civic Experience: Current Georgetown selectman; former chairman, Georgetown Planning Board; lieutenant, Georgetown Fire Department; trustee, Patten Free Library Board; board member, Georgetown Community Center.
Website/Social Media: Rich Donaldson for Senate on Facebook
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Family: Married, two adult sons
Education: Master’s in Education, University of Southern Maine
Political/Civic Experience: Served one year of the 126th Legislature, currently serving in 128th; former board member, School Union 47