SOUTH PORTLAND — A Republican who became the face of an embattled Cape Elizabeth gun club and a Democrat who has championed renters’ rights are seeking the open seat in House District 32.
Democrat Christopher Kessler and Republican Tammy Walter are vying to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, who did not seek re-election in the district that represents part of South Portland and part of Cape Elizabeth.
Hamann, who said he decided not to run again “to pursue new career options,” also received backlash after what he said was a satirical 2017 Facebook post that suggested he would harm President Donald Trump.
Kessler defeated Richard Rottkov in the June Democratic primary for the House seat.
The candidate said he supports referendum Question 1, to provide in-home care for seniors and the disabled, but only supports taxing individuals, not households.
Kessler, who works as an energy auditor, said he would like to focus on increasing funding for residential energy efficiency and improving the state’s policy on solar power. He said he disagrees in particular with the Public Utilities Commission’s recent decision to reduce compensation for solar power generated by residences.
Although previously an independent, Kessler registered as a Democrat so he could vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary. He said he ultimately stayed in the party because Democrats want to fight for the same issues that matter to him, including access to education, clean energy, affordable housing and universal health care.
Kessler said he supports experience-based learning and free community college, as well as publicly funded health care for all Maine residents.
Kessler has been active in several community issues, including the preservation of public access to Willard Beach; serving on the city’s Energy and Recycling Committee; helping to lay the groundwork for the city’s climate action plan and working to restore Pope Preserve in Mill Creek.
Kessler has also been a leading advocate for affordable housing and renter’s rights, and previously served on the city’s Affordable Housing Committee. He resigned in protest, however, after criticizing the panel’s composition as unrepresentative of the community and said its findings did not include any “meaningful protection for renters.”
He said an investment must be made in programs to develop affordable rental housing for working-class families.
Kessler is a Maine Clean Elections candidate and has raised $8,600 as of the latest filing date from the state.
Walter is making her first foray into politics after leading the Spurwink Rod and Gun club through a dispute between the club and its neighbors in the Cross Hill subdivision. The complaints about safety and noise resulted in a shooting range ordinance.
She said all the people she has met going door to door have been welcoming and encouraging, regardless of their political affiliation.
“It’s been a rewarding experience,” she said of the campaign.
Walter, who grew up in Maine, said she has traveled all over the world, but she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else by her home state.
“I care about the state, about the community and the people, not politics,” she said.
Walter does not support ballot Question 1. She said it is a bad idea that would make Maine the highest taxed state in the nation. She said middle-income families and small businesses would be negatively impacted, and claimed the initiative campaign is being funded by out-of-state groups.
(As of mid-July, the largest contributor to the pro-Question 1 campaign was the Maine Peoples Alliance.)
Walter added that she takes the responsibility of public service seriously and wants to incorporate common-sense principles and engage all parties. “I always keep in mind the seat in Augusta belongs to the people of the district and I represent them,” she said.
Walter said she wants to understand what the people of her district care about, and feels there is a lot of common ground in Augusta, which, she says, is not as divisive as the national political scene.
She said she would like to focus on criminal justice reform, and feels outside-the-box thinking is needed to address the state opioid crisis. She suggested a two-pronged approach – stiffer criminal penalties for drug dealers, and peer-based programs. Walter said programs could be considered at the state level to provide support and counseling.
She said other concerns she has heard by going door-to-door include higher taxes and concerns about the lack of affordable housing.
Walter is a Clean Elections Candidate and raised $5,700 as of the latest filing data from the state.
Residence: South Portland
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Family: Married, two daughters
Occupation: Energy auditor
Education: Bachelor’s degree in music
Political/civic experience: Former candidate for City Council, former House District 122 candidate, South Portland Tenants Association, South Portland Land Trust
Website/social media: www.facebook.com/kesslerforrep
Residence: Cape Elizabeth
Party Affiliation: Republican
Family: Married, three children, three grandchildren
Occupation: Retired with a background in insurance underwriting
Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice
Political/civic experience: First female president of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, volunteer with Portland trauma intervention program.
Website/Social media: www.facebook.com/TammyWalterForStateRep