NORTH YARMOUTH — Two candidates who have twice previously faced each other at the polls to represent state House District 109 are challenging each other again in next month’s election.
Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, who was elected in 2010, must defeat former Rep. Susan Austin – a Gray Republican who was termed out of office in 2010 – to win a second term.
Austin, 63, is married and has four children and nine grandchildren. She said she has remained active in the community after serving in the House, and has been involved in organizations in Gray and in her church. She is also helping with a survey of walking and biking paths in Gray.
She said she previously worked for St. Mary’s Hospital and the University of Maine, and started a small decorating business. She was also as a management assistant for Marden’s for 10 years until being elected to the Legislature.
Austin was elected in 2002 in former House District 41, which had included Gray and part of New Gloucester. After redistricting, she represented House 109, which includes portions of Gray, North Yarmouth and Pownal, from 2004 to 2010.
She served five terms on the Gray-New Gloucester School Board in the 1980s and 1990s, and later on the Pineland Conversion Committee and the Gray Town Council. She served on both the council and in the House for about seven months.
Austin said she has life-long engagement not just in Gray, but in all the towns she has represented, giving her close ties to those communities.
She defeated Graham in the House 109 elections in 2006 and 2008.
Graham, 53, is married and has three sons. She is a pediatric nurse practitioner and served on the North Yarmouth Board of Selectmen from 2007-2010.
Graham also started the North Yarmouth North Yarmouth Economic Development and Sustainability Committee, represented North Yarmouth on a school consolidation committee and was president of Foundation 51, the educational foundation for Cumberland and North Yarmouth schools. She also has served on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Health Systems Development.
“I am a moderate … I work to find consensus and agreement across the aisle,” Graham said, noting that she received bipartisan support and had four bills passed in her first term in the Legislature, three of which were signed into law (the fourth, a bill to conduct a study on having high school students learn CPR with automated external defibrilators, was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage).
In trying to make Maine’s business climate friendlier to businesses, Graham said she would encourage investment in this state. “One, by having the bonds released that the governor is holding, that were approved by the entire state of Maine, to build infrastructure, research and development, and education,” she said.
She said she would also actively market Maine to the rest of the country, as a safe and beautiful place to live.
“We have to actively point out the positives of having a business in Maine and raising a family and living in Maine,” Graham said.
Austin said she would be “very thorough in my decisions made about any future regulation that we place on business.”
While regulation has its place, she noted that many times with restrictions there can be regulatory paperwork and filings that she called “nonsensical” to the business for which they are meant. The time it takes to file and comply is expensive and takes important resources away from attention toward and advancement of a product line or service, Austin said.
Regulations that are unnecessary drain the “entrepreneurial focus,” Austin said, create a “burden of expense” shouldered by the business and, in the end, by consumers.
Austin said Maine has historically been a generous state in the welfare area. She noted that she has always sensed that Mainers want to help their neighbors in times of need, but that they would like accountability in receiving assistance.
A date certain to receive benefits, often called a sunset clause, is one method of accountability, Austin said. If at that end point those receiving welfare are still in extreme situations, their needs should be reviewed for a possible extension, she said.
The goal of assistance, Austin said, is to work toward independence, with a greater since of self-worth.
“I think we need to be smarter about how we spend our money,” Graham said. “I agree that cuts need to be made within our social service system, but (they have) to be made with a scalpel and not a hatchet. … We have to be smart, and we have to evaluate programs to see if they’re clearly cost-effective, that the work that they do has … a return on investment.”
She said she supports giving people a hand up, as opposed to a hand out, and helping them to become educated and be able to afford expenses as they gain that education.
“It’s really (about) empowering those people, helping people move out of poverty,” Graham said. “… To get moving to the middle class, and not stay on social services forever, unless they have disabilities that prohibit them from being able to be fully active earners.”
Graham said she supports the development of alternative energy sources. “I’m very excited about tidal power in particular … it’s green, it’s safe,” she said, noting that the tides in Washington County would particularly improve the economy there.
She noted that the state is having “growing pains” with wind power, and that it should do a better job siting its wind projects. She would also like the state to look more into geothermal energy, and said solar energy is a good idea but works better in sunnier locations.
“It’s very reasonable to invest in alternative energy,” Graham said. “It’s a wise investment. … But I also think it can’t be all the state. I think it has to be a public-private partnership.”
Austin said she is open-minded to the idea of developing alternative energy resources and getting away from just using oil. She is open to government subsidization of that development, but it is essential to to know whether “we’re spending within our grasp, or are we reaching beyond our ability?,” she said.
Austin said she plans to vote against state referendum Question 1, which if passed next month will allow the state to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same gender.
“A contract between a same sex couple is something I certainly could support,” she said, but she does not support same-sex marriage as an institution.
She said she has heard much support for traditional marriage from people in the House 109 communities. For many people, Austin said, opposition to same-sex marriage is not meant to target same-sex couples, but is rather a desire to maintain a long-standing tradition of marriage between people of different genders.
Graham said she plans to vote yes on Question 1.
“I believe if two people love each other, they should be able to get a marriage license,” she said. “And this law will not make any religious organization marry two individuals if (it disagrees) with (the law).”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.