Breen, Manchester battle in open Senate District 25

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FALMOUTH — The race for Senate District 25 will, without a doubt, go to someone named Cathy.

But that’s where most of the similarities end between Democrat Cathy Breen of Falmouth and Republican Cathy Manchester of Gray.

The district, most of which has previously been represented by independent Sen. Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth, includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook.

Cathy Breen

Breen, a former Falmouth town councilor, said she entered the race because the LePage administration has done a poor job, and because Maine’s economy has “unrealized potential.”

“We should be on the front line of renewable energy, given our natural endowment of location next to the Atlantic Ocean. We should be investing in tidal power and offshore wind. We’ve got abundant sun, we’ve got abundant wood,” Breen said. “We should be leading the country in renewable energy.”

Breen said a lot of businesses and homeowners have enormous energy costs, and this creates “a drag on our economy.”

Breen said she believes “health care is a basic human right” and is very important to economy, and wants to “see the Affordable Care Act extended to everybody.”

She said one issue she wants to tackle is figuring out the “higher education puzzle” – for the economic future of the students, who she called “Maine’s future,” but also for the state as a whole.

“It’s a huge priority because Southern Maine Community College is doing a good job, but they don’t have the capacity. They have waiting lists for programs and kids can’t get into them,” Breen said. “And the (UMaine) System is going through a huge convulsion because of dropping enrollment. So we really need to figure that out.”

Breen said mental health is another issue “near and dear” to her heart. She said when large institutions like Pineland were shut, the goal was to end “locking up and “warehousing” individuals with disabilities. But she said this hasn’t happened.

“We don’t have enough providers, we don’t have enough psychiatrists, we don’t have enough housing,” Breen said. “There’s a four-year waiting list for adults with mental illnesses for supported housing. So the new warehouse is the Cumberland County Jail and the prisons. Prisons are full of people with mental illness.”

She said this is “an enormous moral issue,” and “it’s just stupid, just a really poor use of resources and a waste of lives.” Breen said she would advocate for building the “social brick-and-mortar infrastructure” so people with mental illnesses can “function and contribute to our society and our economy.”

Breen also said that, because of her progressive political leaning, there is an assumption that she’s not interested in businesses. She said this is a “stereotype” that people apply to her, even though she grew up in a small-business family.

“I was born and raised in the home of a small business owner,” Breen said. “And there were lots of bad years where we drank powdered milk and didn’t have new clothes for school. We just made do.”

She said this district has a lot of small business owners who are “understandably tired of paying more than any other state in New England for the worst service.” She said small business owners have told her they want to grow their businesses, but can’t find the workforce in Maine.

Breen, who is originally from Vermont, was a town councilor in Falmouth from 2005 until 2011. She was a member of the Spurwink board, is a former middle school teacher, and also worked in domestic violence prevention with nonprofits.

She said she it didn’t take her long to decide she wanted to run when Woodbury, who later endorsed Breen, announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.

“I talked to my husband and my kids and said if I don’t do this now, someone else might lock it up for eight years, and who knows what’s going to happen?” Breen said. 

“I don’t think government can solve everything, but there are things that the legislature can do that would make a difference,” she said.

Cathy Manchester

Manchester said she decided to run because “there comes a time in everybody’s life when it’s time to give back.”

She said she wants to go to Augusta with “no agenda, representing no special-interest groups.” She said she plans to listen to the constituents, find out what their priorities are, and be their voice.

“I would go to Augusta not as a career politician, but as a regular citizen concerned about how we choose priorities on which to spend our taxpayers’ dollars,” Manchester said.

Although the national GOP in August declared Manchester one of 14 Republican women to watch in state-level elections, she said she is troubled by people who vote strictly on party line. She said she has never been a partisan kind of person, and no one is served if the two sides can’t come together and compromise.

Manchester identifies herself as “a middle-of-the-road Republican” who is “extremely conservative on the fiscal side, and very much dedicated to equality and very middles of the road on social issues.” 

Manchester said when a service is needed, government shouldn’t look towards raising taxes to pay for it, but instead look to where spending could be cut back to provide “more services for less.”

She said she doesn’t have any specific ideas about where spending could be cut back, but said that’s an issue to be addressed once she has a better idea of what the voters want after the election.

Manchester said her “wealth of real-world experience” is something that sets her apart; she said her work as a police officer and real estate broker have taught her how to communicate and bring people together.

“I probably have one of the best trainings across the board to be a politician,” she said. “Communication, crisis management, negotiation skills, bringing people together in agreement. But the best part is I truly care.”

Manchester was Norway’s police chief from 1990 to 1995, and served a one-year term on the Gray Town Council from 2009 to 2010.

Manchester said Maine has to become more “business friendly.” She it has no choice but to grow the workforce.

“Growing jobs and growing our economy in Maine is not a choice, it’s an absolute necessity,” Manchester said.

She said it has to be more beneficial for people to start businesses in Maine, but standing in the way of that are high energy costs, high taxes, hoops people have to go through to get approvals, and the need to have the workforce to fill the positions.

She said some of the other things she has been hearing from voters include the need to control taxes, hold spending accountable, care for the elderly, providing for those who can’t provide for themselves, while keeping in mind there are only so many resources to go around.

She said she “can’t pick a priority out of those, they all need to happen.”

“We need to help those that can’t help themselves,” Manchester said. “We need to give a hand-up to those that are in need of a hand-up, as opposed to a hand-out.”

She said this needs to be balanced with keeping spending under control, “because it’s taxpayers’ money, whether it’s funded from the federal government, the state government, or the local government, it still comes out of every one of our paychecks.”

Election Day is Nov. 4.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.