WOOLWICH — Rep. Peter Kent, D-Woolwich, faces a challenge from fellow resident Jason Warnke, a Republican, in his run for a third term in House District 65.
The district includes parts of Bath, Brunswick, Topsham, West Bath and Woolwich.
Kent, 60, lives on Montsweag Road and is a furniture maker and contractor. Prior to his election in 2008, he created public art for the state.
Warnke, 45, is a U.S. Navy reservist who lives on Hedge Bridge Road. Like Kent, he is married with two children. Warnke has no prior political experience.
Kent acknowledged Monday that he did not know his opponent or had heard him discuss his views. Warnke said he thought his vision of how to move Maine forward is “probably fairly different” from that of Kent.
Warnke said he would likely be more aggressive in trying to bolster Maine’s economy.
In discussing ways to make Maine more attractive for business development, Kent he would “have a conversation with (existing) businesses, and see what … they feel is keeping them from being able to expand in a way that is both advantageous to them and the state, and other aspects that are important to the state, like tourism.”
Kent said he does not see businesses friendliness as a cure-all for everything ailing Maine. He noted that conservation is a business itself, a key force in the state’s tourism industry.
“Do we want to be business-friendly to big construction?,” he asked. “Do we want a big construction project all over Maine? Not necessarily. That conflicts with Maine’s identity, and what it is to a lot of other people.”
Kent said business regulations could be examined to see if they are still useful, or are outdated and could be eliminated. “Regulations were put in place for a reason, and we need to look at the reasons,” he said.
Warnke said the issue must be viewed from the perspective of a business owner, either a current one in Maine who wants to expand, a Mainer who would like to own a business, or someone outside the state who would like to start or expand a venture in Maine.
“For a long, long time we haven’t been … known on the street as a business-friendly state,” Warnke said. “And I think that’s changing, with the leadership in Augusta having changed in 2010, but we need to do more.”
Maine’s high cost of energy is one obstacle to business growth, he said, and the state is not doing enough to expand its energy sources. Excessive regulation and taxation on businesses should also be reduced, Warnke said.
“We need to increase our standing,” he said. “We need to be more competitive with other states to try to attract business.”
Warnke said Maine is producing many educated youths, who ultimately leave the state for other job opportunities, which is another reason to make Maine more business-friendly.
While it would be difficult for him to say definitively whether Maine is spending too much or too little on social welfare programs, Warnke said his “knee-jerk reaction” is that too much is being spent.
“This isn’t from a point of view of ‘hey, I want to put the boot down on people who can’t afford to make it in this world,” he said. “But I think any reasonable person would admit that almost everybody in the state of Maine knows somebody who’s doing some type of fraud, or maybe stretching the rules a little bit, or maybe they’re making life decisions so that they can stay on some sort of assistance, rather than making a … decision that would be good for them career-wise.”
Warnke said there are people not getting married because they get better benefits when single, and employees who resist taking raises, because it can erode some state benefits.
The welfare system as created is flawed, he said, and encourages what he called “ill behavior.” He said it “doesn’t motivate (people) to move on and do what most people would generally consider to be the American dream, which is not taking from the government, but … helping society, and helping the economy.”
The system should encourage people to move beyond aid, and not be entrenched in it, Warnke said.
Kent said he thinks the welfare services being provided are important, but that less money could probably be spent on them. “It’s an expansive system with many facets, and I think that like any business or bureaucracy, it probably has its inefficiencies,” he said.
Those inefficiencies could stand a look, he said, along with areas where people seem not to be moving through the system, and are staying in it.
“We have to be careful, because there are people at the end of any change we make in the system,” Kent said, adding that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Kent said he supports development of alternative energy sources, and that “Maine needs to have its finger in that pie. I don’t think we (should) throw all our eggs into that basket, but renewable resources is the future.”
He said the government should help subsidize those sources to a reasonable degree, noting that “I think the government does a lot to subsidize oil.”
Warnke said he is in favor of finding additional energy sources to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The issue, he said, is how involved the government should be in that endeavor.
“I’m pretty much a free-market capitalist,” he said. “And I’m not big on the government giving subsidies … to help develop additional energy sources. I’m certainly not opposed to trying to help companies that are interested in doing that in giving them some sort of time-limited tax breaks.”
Kent said he will vote in favor of Question 1, which if passed will allow the state to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same gender.
“I think it’s a personal issue,” he said. “… I think a lot of the argument against it is based on the morality that some people feel strongly about, and it’s a religious issue to many people, and I respect that completely.”
“I think it gets very difficult for government to take sides with one group of another,” he said, noting the importance of the separation of church and government, and “that line gets gray when you start basing legislation on a certain morality, or a certain religion.”
Warnke said he would vote no.
“I personally don’t believe in (same-sex marriage),” he said. “I also personally think that the initiative that’s being put forth is not fully fleshed out and vetted, so I think it’s premature.”
Warnke also said he does not think the government should be involved in marriage at all.
“By and large, I’m opposed to having to get a license to get married,” he said.
Election Day is Nov. 6.