BRUNSWICK — The winner of the state Senate District 24 election Nov. 8 will be someone who has never held elected political office.
Term limits prevent Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, from seeking re-election.
The Democratic candidate, Everett “Brownie” Carson, 68, is the former executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which he led for 27 years.
A native of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, Carson graduated from Bowdoin College in 1972 – after an intermission for military service in Vietnam, an experience that he said politicized him – and campaigned against incumbent Rep. Peter Kyros for the U.S. House of Representatives in Maine’s 1st Congressional District.
Carson was 24 at the time – not yet old enough to serve in the House. Still, he said, he was surprised to collect 37 percent of the vote.
Carson went on to graduate from the University of Maine School of Law, then to practice law at Pine Tree legal services, and eventually the NRCM.
Bailey Island native and Republican Tristam Coffin, 26, is also a military veteran. He joined the Army National Guard as a military police officer at age 17, and said that it was during his service in a protective detail to high-ranking military officials that he took an interest in Maine politics.
Coffin served in the military for six years and is now a full-time lobsterman, and a part-time pyrotechnics supervisor of fireworks shows across New England. He is also working toward an associate’s degree in business administration and political science from Southern Maine Community College.
Coffin resides in Brunswick; Carson, after living in Brunswick from 1983-2011, now lives in Harpswell.
Senate District 24 includes Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, North Yarmouth, and Pownal.
Though he called Gov. Paul LePage’s behavior “unbelievably destructive,” Carson would not advocate next Legislature take any kind of action against LePage for the expletive-laden message he left on the voicemail of Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, and racial comments made about the state’s drug traffickers.
Carson said it is unfortunate the current Legislature failed to take action, but that the decision had been made, and he would rather start the upcoming session fresh, “(even though) based on the governor’s history, I suspect that he would veto” most proposed legislation.
Coffin also said no action is necessary, “because (LePage) already apologized.”
“He clearly misspoke,” Coffin said. “The facts do not support what he says,” Coffin said, referring to LePage’s claim that Maine’s drug problem is perpetrated by mostly non-white drug traffickers.
“But a censure’s not going to make a difference,” he said.
The candidates have opposite opinions about LePage’s overall direction for the state: Carson said he hopes the Legislature will take the state in “a very, very different direction” than the governor has, while Coffin said he “loves the direction (LePage has) taken with the state.”
Coffin and Carson both called for more resources for treatment instead of enforcement against people addicted to opioids.
Coffin would like to see a statewide walk-in program where opioid users can enter a police station and get checked into treatment instead of custody.
He also said that if the statewide referendum to legalize and regulate marijuana as an agricultural product passes – which he thinks and hopes it will – law enforcement could reallocate resources currently associated with marijuana-related arrests toward the reduction and treatment of opioid abuse.
Carson also stressed the cost-savings associated with rerouting opioid users away from hospitals and the criminal justice system and toward treatment programs. He cited Brunswick’s Addiction Resource Center, operated by Mid Coast Hospital, as a model program that provides treatment regardless of a patient’s lack of insurance or ability to pay.
Carson said that deep, partisan divisions “particularly on the far right” are the main problem facing the Legislature, but that he’s “not sure there’s anything I can do about it.”
But that may be because Carson said his voice might not always be “the best voice” – the most persuasive voice – on any given issue.
Like the mother of an asthmatic child he enlisted to advocate for clean air initiatives during his time at the NRCM – she handed out plastic straws to a panel of resistant legislators to breathe through and told them “this is what it’s like for my child to breathe on a dirty-air day” – Carson said he will call on some of the actual entrepreneurs he has met on the campaign trail who are “willing to step up and advocate” for his platform in order to pass bills with bipartisan support.
Coffin said the Legislature’s gridlock is concentrated in the Democratic-majority House’s relationship with LePage; the Senate works well with both the House and the governor, he said.
Even so, Coffin said he is “an open-minded Republican” and that would “give me a foot up in the Senate.” He could not point to an experience in his past that was relevant to solving bipartisan issues in the Senate.
Carson said he will vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in November, while Coffin will vote for Republican Donald Trump.
Carson described Clinton as a lifelong fighter for kids, families, health care, and the environment; “things I care about.”
“Do we have differences? Absolutely,” he added, but said a Trump presidency is a “completely unacceptable notion.”
Coffin said he originally supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but backs Trump in the general election because of his tax and economic policies. He said he disagrees with Trump’s stance on immigration and the implementation of a federal minimum wage.
“This district is going to be hurting,” Coffin said, responding to the news that Bath Iron Works did not win an $11 billion contract from the U.S. Coast Guard that puts a reported 1,200 manufacturing jobs at risk. Coffin said that if elected, he intends to advocate strongly on behalf of BIW for future government contracts.
Carson refrained from citing a specific issue he would take to Augusta.
Instead, he pointed to the recurring themes of his door-to-door campaign: health care, supporting small business, quality education, and the opioid crisis, which he doesn’t see as unique to the Mid Coast.
Carson said he would vote in favor of Question 2 (which establishes a 3 percent tax on household income over $200,000 to aid education), Question 3 (requires specific background checks for gun sales and transfers), and Question 4 (increases the $7.50-per-hour minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020). He also supports Question 5 (statewide ranked-choice voting) and Question 6 (for $100 million in bonds for transportation projects) – although he had to be reminded of what they were.
“I’m not sure of how I’m going to vote on” Question 1 (which would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana as an agricultural product), he said. “I’m just not crazy about the future of recreational marijuana.”
Coffin, on the other hand, and despite what he said is the prevailing opinion of fellow Republicans, supports Question 1. “I’m a small-government person, and that includes marijuana. The state of Maine should not waste resources on it.”
He would also vote for Question 6, he said, but opposes the other four ballot measures.