Clear distinctions between candidates in Portland House District 39

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PORTLAND — State term limits require state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, to step aside after serving four terms in House District 39.

Republican Peter Doyle and Democrat Michael Sylvester are competing to replace her.

Sylvester, 47, of 159 Central Ave., Peaks Island, is married with three children. He is a co-founder of the Southern Maine Worker’s Center, a golf cart rental business on the island, and has also been a union organizer. He has served on the Peaks Island Council and defeated Andrew Edwards in the June 14 Democratic primary.

Doyle, 52, of 49 Cumberland Ave., is a software developer for Aetna Insurance in his fourth campaign for the Legislature. In 2014, he ran unsuccessfully against state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland. He is single and has no children.

House District 39 covers the city’s East End and Casco Bay Islands. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Sylvester supports taking action against Gov. Paul LePage over his comments about alleged drug dealers and race, following the profane voicemail LePage left for a Democratic lawmaker.

“He has absolutely failed in his role as leader of the state; I would seek action,” Sylvester said. “He has broken the compact between the people and their leaders.”

Doyle would not expect to take any action against LePage.

“I am not aware of any constitutional remedy to deal with this kind of issue,” he said. “I think that the focus on the racial and ethnic background is a diversion from the real issue. Somebody can make statements that are wrongheaded, is that impeachable?”

While speaking with voters, Sylvester said he has learned housing and jobs are top priorities.

“It is all housing and the secondary issue behind that, the ability to find jobs to pay for housing,” he said. “It is all intertwined.”

Doyle said the electorate is frustrated.

“The general atmosphere is one of anger,” he said. “Government is not responsive to us; it is the populist anger.”

Sylvester supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, during the Democratic Party primaries. Both candidates say they are ambivalent about the presidential election.

“I will probably make up my mind when I go in,” Sylvester said. “Both major candidates have flaws that concern me.”

Doyle said he will not be voting for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

“I have not made up my mind on the ticket I will support,” he added.

Sylvester and Doyle agree more treatment options are needed to fight opioid use and overdoses in Maine. Sylvester said he wants the state to move forward on a promised treatment center in Bangor and supports single-payer health care coverage, or the expansion of MaineCare coverage using federal funding.

“Where is the problem going to be in five years? he asked. “We should not try to treat where it was two years ago.”

Doyle wants measurable results while evaluating how other states have handled substance use disorders.

“I think the problem is, it is very hard to get treatment programs that have really good success rates,” he said. “The thing you have to do is keep trying different stuff to see what works, sometimes the money just goes down the sieve.”

The candidates both support Question 6, a proposed $100 million bond for highway, bridge and infrastructure projects. They disagree on the other five state referendum questions.

Doyle opposes Question 1, to legalize use and sale of marijuana for adults 21 and older, citing problems with legalization in Colorado, and local opposition by medical marijuana growers.

Sylvester supports legalization, saying it would reduce the strain on the justice and corrections systems, while providing tax revenue.

He also supports the 3 percent surcharge on incomes of $200,000 or more proposed by Question 2 to fund education.

“I helped support the bill originally that brought us to 55 percent,” he said of the required amount of state aid to school districts, adding the 3 percent surcharge would get the state closer to that commitment.

Doyle said the surcharge would be an unneeded drain.

“It will just drive more people who are high-income earners out of the state,” he said. “It is not a reliable way to fund education. You are not going to guarantee that steady stream (of revenue).”

The candidates also have opposing views on Question 3, which would require background checks for private firearms sales and transfers.

“I support the background checks, I always have,” Sylvester said.

Doyle opposes the question.

“The devil is in the details, the transfer aspects are really problematic,” he said.

Question 4 proposes increasing the state minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $12 by 2020, while also eliminating hourly tipped wages paid to workers earning more than $30 per month in tips.

Sylvester said he would like even more.

“Studies show (a higher minimum wage) boosts local economies,” he said. “I am a big ‘spend local’ guy. I support a $15 minimum wage; there are cities that have passed it and doing very, very well.”

Doyle said his research shows the opposite.

“I still don’t see evidence it is going to economically improve things for people,” he said. “As far as I know, the data suggests small business owners will be hurt by it. It is another one of those ‘good intention, bad execution-type things.’”

Doyle questioned the legality and cost of ranked choice voting proposed in Question 5.

“The first thing that strikes me, it is unconstitutional,” he said, because it cannot be applied to the gubernatorial or federal elections as written.

Sylvester supports the question, and has worked for a ranked choice system with Common Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan lobbying organization.

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


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.