SOUTH PORTLAND — The two candidates in House District 33 have different party affiliations, but don’t disagree much on the issues.
Incumbent Rep. Kevin Battle, R-South Portland, is a retired police officer-turned-harbor master; Democrat Brad Fox is a first-term city councilor, who has said he will complete his council term if elected to the House.
Battle, who is seeking a second term, calls himself a “middle-of-the-road” Republican.
After moving to Maine in 1980, when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard, Battle, who is married with two children, soon transitioned to law enforcement.
In early 2012, he retired from the South Portland Police Department after a 27-year career as an officer. Two weeks ago, he became Portland’s harbor master.
The Sandy Hill Road resident said the way he has voted in the Legislature is not dictated by party affiliation – his decision to run again as a Republican was only made because the Democrats already had a candidate, and the Republican Party Committee was the first to call him back, he said.
He said his only agenda is to represent the needs of all his constituents.
“I don’t have an ax to grind; I don’t vote on a party line … I’m willing to work with people on both sides,” Battle said.
Fox, of Rollins Way, moved to South Portland nearly a decade ago with his ex-wife and two daughters, after spending summers in southern Maine for nearly 20 years.
In the 1990s Fox was assistant principal at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California, and principal of the Solano County Juvenile Court and Community Schools in Fairfield, California.
As a city councilor Fox played a key role in the city’s decision to charge a 5-cent fee for single-use bags at retail food stores and enact a ban on polystyrene. He also worked successfully helped prevent NGL Supply Terminal Co. from constructing a storage facility for liquefied propane gas at Rigby Rail Yard.
Fox has also violated council rules by using his private email address to conduct city business, and has been chastised for being absent or leaving in the middle of several council meetings.
Battle said the primary problem he wants to address for his constituents is fair-paying jobs.
The state’s economy is growing, he said, “but it seems to be growing at a slower pace than the rest of the country, (and) we need good-paying jobs.”
Residents need to be able to earn a livable wage if they work full time, Battle said. And because that’s not the case, it needs to be addressed through legislation, like the Question 4 statewide referendum, which calls for a graduated increase in the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $12 an hour.
Battle said a gradual increase will make the change easier to absorb. As someone who has always worked more than one job, Battle said he thinks the request is reasonable.
“If you have a job and you want someone to do it, you should pay them a fair enough wage,” he said.
Fox also supports Question 4, and said one of his primary goals will be to help keep the city’s “property tax burden low” while working to attract “innovative businesses and industries with new technology.”
He said he will continue working to strengthen the public school system, and to preserve the environment to protect the health and safety of residents.
Following Gov. Paul LePage’s now-disproved claim that a major cause of the state’s opioid epidemic is out-of-state black or Hispanic drug dealers, and the inflammatory rant LePage leveled at a Democratic legislator, Fox said he continues to think formal action should be taken against the governor.
Fox said LePage displays qualities similar to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, said the people of South Portland “must be protected” from the governor, who should “resign or be removed from office.”
Despite his Republican party affiliation, Battle said he would have no problem taking action against LePage if given the opportunity.
With regard to the expletive-laced voicemail LePage left last month for Rep. Drew Gattin, D-Westbrook, Battle said LePage’s comments were “wrong” and “unprofessional.”
Battle said he was in favor of a special legislative session that House Speaker Mark Eves tried to call earlier this month. Battle said he would have been willing to take formal action against the governor if a choice had been presented and if his fellow legislators could have agreed on what action to take.
“In no way, shape or form can I excuse his behavior,” Battle said.
Both candidates said they support most of the six state referendum questions, with the exception of ranked choice voting; Fox said he supports Question 5, while Battle said he opposes it because it eliminates the concept of “one man, one vote.”
Fox said he supports Question 1, the citizens’ initiative to legalize the use, sale and cultivation of marijuana by those residents over 21, although he is concerned that legalization will increase availability of the drug for teenagers.
“I spent years as an assistant principal and principal, and one of my missions was to keep drugs, alcohol and violence out of schools,” Fox said.
However, he said, the fact that South Portland residents voted to legalize pot in 2014 means constituents must agree with the state ballot initiative, which is why he’ll support it.
“I’m not going to take a position against the initiative when the people of the city want it,” he said.
Battle said he supports Question 3 , which would tighten background checks on unlicensed buyers and sellers of firearms, and said the measure would “actually address a loophole” in the system.
The new requirement wouldn’t prevent a “good guy” from purchasing a gun, but it would institute “one more crink in the step of a bad guy” trying to purchase a firearm, he said.
Fox agreed, and called the need for tighter firearm regulations a “no-brainer.”
Battle and Fox also support Question 2, which would institute a 3 percent tax on Mainers with an annual taxable income of more than $200,000, and earmark those funds for public education.
Both candidates said are likely to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8.
“I see an advantage to both (Clinton and Republican Donald Trump), and both scare me, in a way,” Battle said. “(But) I think I’d vote for Hillary.”
Fox said he gladly supports Clinton, calling Trump an “irrational, bigoted, pathological liar who must never become president.”