Bath incumbent faces neophyte challenger in House District 52

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BATH — In her bid for a second term in the state House of Representatives, Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, faces a challenge from Republican Ryan Daniels.

The two Bath residents are vying to represent House District 52, which before redistricting was District 62.

Daniels, 35, of York Street, is studying electrical engineering at the University of Southern Maine and is a worm digger. He served in the U.S. Army and is still in the National Guard. This is his first campaign for an elected office.

Daniels said he decided to run because no other Republican stepped up. “It’s not a true democratic process if somebody’s running without an opponent,” he said.

DeChant, 46, is married and has two children. She became executive director of the Chocolate Church Arts Center last year, following time as public relations manager for Sea Bags, a manufacturing company in Portland.

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

She has also served on the board for Elmhurst, an organization that supports people with disabilities, and is a member of the Cosmopolitan Club and the Bath Parks and Recreation Commission. She has also been on the Main Street Bath Promotions Committee.

DeChant said her first term was challenging, presenting issues that she can tackle better in a second term with the legislative experience behind her.

Party politics

Daniels said he does not care for partisan politics, although he understands the premise behind parties and considers them a necessary evil.

“You see these small pockets of Democrats, Republicans … when something absolutely has to happen, they’ve proven out there that they can come together,” he said. “What I don’t like is that is only seems to happen during crisis situations or near-crisis situations.”

Daniels said he would like to see less of a partisan focus in the House, and rather a focus on “what actually needs to happen in order to legislate ourselves to a better place.”

In order to bridge the party gap, Daniels said, he would “stop treating people like they’re defined by these pre-packaged political ideologies. I think that’s what makes me so amenable to working with just about everybody, because I do recognize that everybody has good input.”

“Surprisingly surprising is the politics of politics, and the positioning that goes along with that,” DeChant said, noting that she found legislators more collaborative in the first session, while the second session, with an election on the horizon, revealed more political posturing.

“I think that had an impact on the ultimate productivity of the entire legislative process,” she explained. “And I think that it became more partisan because of that.”

Working together happens on an issue-by-issue basis, DeChant said, noting that “people that you think would not be of same mind and of similar interests on most everything else can find a common ground in an issue. The next issue, they may not be the same collection of folks.”

The key is to take things by issue, create a consensus around that, and build an agenda that works toward moving the collective policy forward, she said.

Economic viability

Daniels said he has looked into a couple of different business ventures, but the initial cost was a deterrent.

“You literally cannot start with nothing and expect to turn that into something, no matter how hard you work,” he said. “You’ve got to have something … substantial in order to get a foothold.”

The problem is confounded by regulation, he said: “We are just mired under mountains of paperwork and red tape. … I would try to cut that down.”

DeChant said a feeder system is needed to make economic development more viable and sustainable in Maine, with greater training provided.

“In the education system there is opportunity for greater training towards (a) skill base that is within our economy, as well as an economy that we want to foster,” she said, adding that it is important to reduce some regulations and barriers that businesses face would.

“I believe that I have been involved in the community and have a pretty good sense of the pulse of Bath, and what our assets are as well as what our challenges are,” DeChant said, noting that she can continue to use that experience to advocate for the city in Augusta.

Daniels said he’s “not prone to the games that people have to play in order to play politics. I’d like to think I’m a straight shooter. If I have an opinion on something, I’ll give it to you, and if I don’t know, then I’ll tell you I don’t know, and I’ll at least try to get back to you (on it).”

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

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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.