Azzola again challenges Jorgensen in Portland's House District 41

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PORTLAND — Democratic state Rep. Erik Jorgensen is seeking his third term in House District 41.

Republican Dr. James Azzola is making his second attempt to unseat him.

The race is the same as in 2014, as are the contrasts in the candidates’ beliefs about the role of government.

Jorgensen, 52, lives at 83 Highland St. He is married with a son. Azzola, 47, lives at 33 Florence St. He is single, with no children.

Seats in the Maine House of Representatives have two-year terms. Election day is Nov. 8.

Jorgensen said he expects a tough budget battle in the next legislative session and will focus on getting “a fair state budget and one that does not mistreat Portland too badly.”

Azzola emphasizes a libertarian approach that limits government to its essentials while eliminating unessential programs and corporate “welfare.”

James Azzola

Azzola has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT and works as an energy consultant.

He said he does not support any further actions by legislators against Gov. Paul LePage, following LePage’s comments last month about drug dealing and a profane voicemail left for Westbrook Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine.

“I’m uncomfortable about his remarks, but as far as official censure measures like that, I don’t know if it would be a good precedent to censure that level of free speech. It probably sends the wrong message about dissent people can have,” Azzola said.

Azzola’s choice in the presidential election is Libertarian Gary Johnson.

“I’m a strong supporter (of Johnson). I think he has the right view of where government should head in order to benefit the American people,” Azzola said.

Azzola’s views on the six statewide citizen initiatives show his desire for limited government.

“I’m very much ‘Yes on 1,’” he said of the question to legalize marijuana for use by adults age 21 and older.

To combat opioid use and addiction, Azzola said more decriminalization is needed. Reduced costs to law enforcement, courts and corrections could free up funding for treatment, although government has its limits there, he added.

“I’ve always believed the best level of public funding is as local as possible,” he said. “Your local private charity is the best kind of treatment center you can offer society.”

Azzola opposes the rest of the questions, except for Question 5, which would create a ranked choice voting system for state and federal elections. Here, he is ambivalent.

“I think it is gimmicky, but in some cases it has merit,” he said.

Azzola said Question 2, which would add a 3 percent tax to incomes about $200,000 to fund education, misses the point.

“Public schools are a government-run monopoly and very inefficient one that absorbs a lot of capital,” he said. He prefers improving education by creating more competition through vouchers to make private education more accessible to families.

Azzola opposes Question 3, which would require more background checks for the sale or transfer of firearms.

On Question 4, to increase the $7.50-per-hour state minimum wage to $12 in stages, Azzola said the consequences would harm workers and small business owners without providing new jobs.

“It will also drive businesses on the margin out of business,” he said. “These are exactly the types of small businesses we want to encourage.”

The proposed $100 million highway bond on Question 6 would add unnecessary debt, Azzola said.

“It’s not that Maine doesn’t need it, but I would look to privatize many of these roads,” he said.

Erik Jorgensen

Jorgensen is the former executive director of the Maine Humanities Council and now does consulting work.

He would like to take action against Gov. Paul LePage for his comments made last month about drug trafficking and his profane response to Gattine’s objection to those comments.

“I think (LePage’s) behavior is just so far beyond the pale. Something has to happen,” Jorgensen said.

He supported an attempt to impeach LePage last January, and said the governor’s office has been diminished by LePage’s actions.

“I just think the guy is not behaving in a way that fits the state,” he said.

In the presidential election, Jorgensen likes the Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve been a supporter all along. I think she has been unfairly and terribly maligned,” he said.

To continue the work to stop opioid addiction, Jorgensen said he would like to expand MaineCare with federal funding and emphasize treatment and recovery.

Jorgensen supports passage of five the six referendum questions, but said increasing taxes on annual incomes above $200,000 makes him uneasy.

“Referendums in general are a difficult way to solve problems, but also reflect the inability of the Legislature to do its job,” he said.

As a parent, he remains ambivalent about Question 1 to legalize marijuana.

“I’m not very keen on it. I’m all for decriminalization, but my worry is people think they are going to get Jerrry Garcia and they will get R.J. Reynolds,” he said about the consequences of treating marijuana like alcohol for adults 21 and older.

He is also uncertain Question 2 presents the correct option for funding state education, because the revenue from the 3 percent surcharge may not even be used as it ought to be.

“This is the hardest referendum question we have this session,” he said. “You should fund schools properly and everyone should pay for them.”

Jorgensen supports Question 3, requiring background checks on firearms sales and transfers made by those who are not federally licensed firearms dealers.

“I don’t see it as any kind of infringement on people’s gun rights. If there are certain circumstances that need to be adjusted in the legislature, we can do that,” he said.

Jorgensen also supports Questions 4, 5 and 6, which would increase the state’s minimum wage, enact a ranked choice system for state and federal elections except the presidential elections, and bond $100,000 for transportation infrastructure and roads.

While preferring federal action on a minimum wage, Jorgensen said he likes the approach of Question 4.

“It is incremental and also going to be very clear we are not the only state that is going to have this,” he said.

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

Azzola, Jorgensen

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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.