CUMBERLAND — State funding for the Knight’s Pond preserve was among hot topics discussed at Tuesday’s candidate’s forum, where state House District 45 Rep. Mike Timmons, R-Cumberland, and Democratic challenger Dale Denno faced off.
Senate District 25 incumbent, Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Republican challenger Charles “Bart” Ladd, also of Falmouth, took part as well in the Cumberland Town Hall forum. District 25 includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook.
Chris Hall, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s CEO, moderated the event.
The Nov. 8 election serves as a rematch between the two House candidates. Timmons in 2014 narrowly defeated fellow Cumberland resident Denno, 2,472 to 2,446, to win his first term representing the district, which includes Cumberland and a southern section of Gray. Denno won 2,195 to 2,172 in Cumberland, while Timmons took Gray 300-251.
A hot topic both in 2014 and at Tuesday’s forum has been preservation of the 215-acre Knight’s Pond/Blueberry Hill preserve, of which 50 acres are in North Yarmouth and the rest in Cumberland. Funding for the $1.13 million acquisition came from both Cumberland and North Yarmouth, along with foundations and private individuals, while the remaining $225,000 came from a Land for Maine’s Future grant.
The LMF funding was in danger last year as a result of Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the release bonds, approved by voters in 2012, earmarked for LMF conservation projects.
As the legislative session drew toward a close in June 2015, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, introduced a bill to remove LePage from the bonding process. The Legislature passed that bill, and LePage vetoed it June 30. The Senate voted the next month to override the veto, but the vote to override failed to reach a two-thirds majority in the House, 91-52.
Timmons was criticized by town officials after switching his position and not voting to override LePage’s veto of the release of the bonds. He was one of six lawmakers to reverse positions and uphold the veto.
A bridge loan through local land trusts allowed the land purchase to be completed last October. LePage later released $5 million in LMF bonds, $225,000 of which the land trusts received last week toward Knight’s Pond.
Timmons addressed the issue in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s forum, noting that “I want to clear up my voting record, instead of having it defined by my opponent.”
“I am pleased to show you the check, which is here, which has been delivered, and the project is complete,” he said.
Timmons noted that when he had a conflict with LePage, he discussed it with him face-to-face. Timmons mentioned that Katz’s bill would have taken authority in handling LMF finances away from LePage.
“If that had happened, this item would be in court, and no check would have been issued,” Timmons said.
Denno noted that the LMF funding demonstrated “a huge amount of effort, a huge amount of compromise, a huge amount of community inclusion.”
He added that LePage’s role in the matter was “intended to be primarily ministerial,” and that the governor’s “power was not intended to include using the bond release as a leverage point to get other political things that he wanted done. Which is exactly what he did.”
LePage reasoned that moving forward with the Katz bill would create “legal entanglements,” Denno said. “Well, if you’re a lawyer – and I’ve spent most of my career in that line of work – ‘legal entanglements’ is a meaningless point; you can say that about anything.”
Denno noted in his closing statements that he “won’t be unduly influenced by party leadership. And that’s something that’s hard to do. … But I promise you, I will not forget where I came from, and where my loyalties lie.”
Praising former Cumberland House representatives Meredith Strange Burgess and Steve Moriarty in inspiring him to run for the post, Denno said, “I feel like they exemplified the independent and moderate approach that I think is the tenor of this district. And I believe that I can best represent that tradition.”
He mentioned Maine’s “serious demographic challenge,” noting that the state has to find ways to boost its economy, develop a skilled workforce, and allow seniors to remain in their homes and communities.
“Those are huge challenges; they are not partisan issues,” Denno said.
Noting the challenge of serving in the house, Timmons called it “a great experience; a great learning experience.”
He served on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee during his first term in the House, and decried the more than 300 heroin deaths and 1,085 babies addicted at birth in Maine last year.
“I hope, if I’m re-elected, that I can return to that important work that we have started, as we really and truly need to deal more vigorously with this issue,” Timmons said, also pointing to other significant issues such as welfare, jobs and minimum wage, infrastructure, education, the needs of the elderly, and property taxes.
Absentee ballots are now available at Town Hall, 290 Tuttle Road. Polls will be open there Election Day, Nov. 8, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call the town clerk’s office at 829-5559 for more information.