Election 2016: Democrats to choose from 3 potential successors to Alfond

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PORTLAND — Three Democrats, including two now serving in the Legislature, are competing to be the party candidate to replace state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, in Senate District 27.

District 39 state Rep. Diane Russell and District 40 Rep. Ben Chipman are joined by Dr. Charles Radis on the June 14 primary election ballot.

Republican Mark Lockman and Seth Baker of the Green Independent Party are unopposed for their party nominations.

Alfond cannot seek a fifth consecutive term because of term limits. Russell also is term-limited in her House district.

Senate District 27 includes the city peninsula and Casco Bay islands, and extends to Forest and Allen avenues.

Diane Russell

Concluding her fourth term in House District 39, Russell, 39, of 128R North St., does not lack for firm opinions, and said she will continue to work for consensus.

“I’m the one who says the things no one wants to hear,” Russell said.

An early advocate for the legalization of marijuana, Russell said she would like medical marijuana to be allowed for use in relieving withdrawal sickness for opioid users.

Russell said she will also continue to work to help veterans, and to develop an energy plan for the state that would include solar power generation.

“It is time to look at the whole energy policy because that is how we create jobs,” she said.

Much of what she would like to achieve, including expansion of MaineCare, has been tried in other legislative sessions, but Russell said now is not the time to give up the fight.

“I’ve been a leader since I have walked through the door, I have been one of the folks able to move policies forward,” she said.

Russell also said she knows how to work with legislators from rural areas.

“You have to be able to craft a compelling narrative that pulls people over,” she said.

Russell defended the “Working Families” PAC she set up in 2013, but conceded its stated purpose to “support Democrats in winning seats in the Maine House” needs revision. The PAC was the subject of critical report in March by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

“I own that,” she said. “When I first opened it, I was asked about the mission statement. I do need to change it.”

Financial records filed with the Maine Ethics Commission show the PAC has raised almost $41,500, and contributed $1,750 to Democratic candidates and causes. The most recent listed contribution was $200 to Henry John Bear, a nonvoting representative of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

Russell said PAC contributions have paid for trips and conferences that help spread democracy and empower women, including a conference in Morocco. She preferred a PAC as opposed to a tax-exempt, social welfare organization because it requires more transparency.

“I believe very strongly in the public’s right to know, and people can make their decisions about how they feel,” she said.

Russell also promised a focus on the nuts and bolts of what she supports and what the city needs from Augusta.

“When you chart a vision, you have to be able to methodically do the work to get there,” she said.

Ben Chipman

Chipman, 40, of 5 Mayo St., is completing his third term in House District 39. He ran each time as an independent, but re-enrolled as a Democrat last summer.

“I was elected by a good margin each time with broad support from Democrats in my district. It just made sense,” he said, adding he had always caucused with Democrats.

Chipman was a leader of the failed effort to impeach Gov. Paul LePage last winter, and said he is ready to step forward and lead the city’s legislative delegation in Augusta.

“Portland voters want, expect, deserve a state senator who is going to focus on the issues that are important to them and be effective. My track record shows I am best qualified for the role,” he said.

Chipman pledged to continue the fight to expand MaineCare for low-income families and individuals, to advocate for state funding for universities, including the University of Southern Maine, and to build on the bill passed in January that allocates $3.7 million to fight opioid use.

“I’d like to break down all the barriers between treatment and the people that need it,” Chipman said.

By advocating for more state aid for primary education, Chipman said he can help reduce the local burden.

“If we don’t do well in education funding, we feel it back home,” he said, adding a lack of state aid leads to “short-changing students and teachers.”

Chipman said his primary loyalty is to Portland voters.

“I am the only candidate who is a clean elections candidate, with no contributions from corporations or (political action committees),” he said. “I think it is significant because I will only be beholden to those who elected me.”

Chipman declined comment on the PAC operated by Russell and its spending, but said he does not like PACs in general.

“They are one of the biggest problems in politics today, and they are undermining our political process,” Chipman said.

Chipman has been endorsed by City Councilor Belinda Ray, House District 36 Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, and five city School Board members (one of them, Anna Trevorrow, has a personal relationship with him).

Charles Radis

Peaks Island resident Radis, 63, of 334 Island Ave., lacks the legislative experience his opponents have.

But he said his experience operating his own practices serving Casco Bay island residents and his perspective from the medical profession are needed in Augusta.

“Our Legislature needs more physicians at the Statehouse,” he said. “People who live and breathe many of the issues that are being decided.”

Radis said his primary goal is to expand MaineCare funding, although bills promoting expansion have been repeatedly vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, and those vetoes have not been overturned.

“I’ve seen what happens when people don’t have health insurance,” Radis said. “They put off their health problems until things become an emergency.”

Should his approach to build a veto-proof coalition fail, Radis said he will then try and take the question directly to the people through a referendum.

This carrot-and-stick approach is one he hopes will get the Legislature on board, and he promised a broad appeal to colleagues.

“I know much of what Diane and Ben believe in, I believe in; my approach will be to look for allies who can support this, perhaps Republicans in districts hurt by the non-expansion of MaineCare,” he said.

Public health and access to insurance are a big emphasis, but Radis said he is not a single-issue candidate. Continued expansion of the economy is also critical, he said.

“We are developing a very healthy economy on the waterfront,” Radis said. “I’d like to make that grow. If you don’t make a living wage, you are not going to have good public health.”

Radis, the father of two children educated at city schools, also promised support for public education.

“I would like to expand, rather than contract, the (funding) formula for public schools, and limit the number of charter schools,” he said.

While seeking consensus and compromise on key issues, Radis said he is also ready to challenge LePage for usurping the powers of the legislative branch.

“I’ve knocked on about 1,600 doors so far, and I think the electorate is hopeful that Gov. LePage’s last two years in office will be met with more and more resistance to his policies,” he said. “I think there is a sense in the Legislature they need to exert their powers even more or those powers will be absorbed by the executive.”

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

Rep. Ben Chipman, left, Dr. John Radis and Rep. Diane Russell.

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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.