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Former congressional staffer faces off against small businessman in House District 107

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Former congressional staffer faces off against small businessman in House District 107

YARMOUTH — Voters in state House District 107 will see two first-time candidates square off on the Nov. 6 ballot.

State Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, D-Yarmouth, annouced in February that she will not seek re-election, a position she has held since 2008. Democrat Janice Cooper will face Republican Mark Hough for the vacated seat, in a race that pits federal government expertise against municipal experience. 

Cooper was a staffer for former Democratic Congressman Tom Allen, and worked for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee as legal counsel. She said skills she learned at the federal level have prepared her for the role of state representative.

"I know (being an elected official) is a different perspective than a staffer's, but what you do learn as a staffer is how things get done," she said.

"How you build coalitions, how you find common ground, how you learn to compromise without giving in on important principles or effectiveness of the legislation ... I think those skills would serve me well in Augusta."

Hough has been a small-business owner in Yarmouth for 30 years, working as a contractor and co-owner of Huffy's Sandwich Shop. He has also worked on the Town Council and various boards and committees, including the Cumberland County Advisory Committee.

"It's given me the experience of going through and voting on 10 major budgets," he said. "Also in that world of local politics, it's nonpartisan. I've always worked across the line, so to speak; there is no line.

"It's part of my training. My upbringing in politics is not to have party affiliation," he said, noting that he will continue that way of working if elected to the Legislature.

One of the most striking differences between the two candidates is their positions on the referendum question about same-sex marriage.

Hough is strictly against same-sex marriage and said he will vote against it.

"I don't want to say it, but (the referendum) is like the dumbing down of America," he said. "It takes the specialness away from marriage, I think. That's a man and woman, and that's what I believe.

"Marriage was established for the results of a marriage, which are children and the family; being raised with a father and a mother is an important thing."

Hough could not be more specific about why he is against passage of the referendum, but said he can't support it.

"I don't know if it really makes a difference or not," he said.

Initially, Cooper said she was in support of civil unions for same-sex couples, but not necessarily marriage, and later changed her mind.

"The difference is how society and a couple view the union. Marriage is of a different quality, a different significance, than a civil union," she said.

"It's really a statement and commitment to the world at large and to each other. I don't see any good reason why same-sex couples should not have that same right."

Business

The candidates also approach Maine's ability to attract businesses differently. Hough said he is focused on minimizing regulation, seeing it as detrimental to the growth of small business.

"We need to do what's necessary for them, without the hindrances of regulations that are sometimes well-conceived, but harmful in the long run to Maine's economy," he said.

Hough looks to alter land-use regulations and changes to recycling policies, which cost small businesses thousands of dollars every year, but do little to help the environment, he said.

Cooper said Maine needs to focus on its ability to attract businesses and workers with its high standard of living and strong education system.

"Kids should have the kind of training they need, particularly in math, science and technology, from teachers who have earned their degree in those areas," she said.

"We've got to have better connections with businesses in the community so we are training people for jobs that already exist. We have to train our students to think critically and creatively so that if there is not a job waiting for them, they'll know how to start one themselves."

Cooper said schools should challenge students with advanced placement and trade-oriented classes, and courses that include community-service projects.

Welfare

Although the candidates had different views about how to improve Maine's social welfare programs, both said the money being spent now is not being used in the most effective manner.

Health care is an area where Cooper thinks cost-cutting measures could be employed to spend dollars more wisely.

"Our system of health care is the most expensive in the world. But compared to other industrialized countries, it has some of the poorest results, so we're doing something wrong," she said, noting high administrative costs and costly unnecessary testing.

"All these things are very expensive, and when people are poor, the taxpayer is paying for that," she said. "If we got a handle on that, I think that would lower the costs of social welfare programs enormously."

Drug abuse and mental illness are at the heart of much of the poverty in the state, Cooper said, although the economy has aggravated the problems.

Maine's spending on welfare programs has been too much for Hough, who said the money is spread too thin. 

"Historically, we've been too lenient with our social welfare dollars," he said. "Clearly the changes we need (are) to have it run more efficiently for the people truly in need. Because what happens is, if you take your dollars, spread them out too thin, you're not going to be able to help the people (who) are truly in need."

Hough suggests better enforcement of timeframes on temporary programs, such as housing, except for the disabled and elderly. But he said support needs to be tapered off instead of abruptly stopped, discouraging people from earning too much. 

"We've hired people at the sandwich shop and they come in and work for a week, then discover that they're going to lose their housing supplements, because they've taken a job," he said.

"They do want to work, but the system hinders them from working. Once you cross the threshold, all of a sudden, all your support stops, which is not really the right way to do it."

Energy

Both candidates support the development of alternative energy in Maine, but disagree about how that should be encouraged.

Hough said the market should dictate which energy sources survive.

"I support all types if they are able to stand on their own," he said. "If the market is there for them, they will succeed."

Hough said he is particularly interested in the potential of geothermal and tidal power, seeing wind and solar as not economically viable on their own.

Although Cooper supports the development of alternative energy sources and thinks they have potential, there are problems with all of them, she said. She said one example was the negative effects of wind turbines on nearby residents.

But to get these technologies off the ground, they will need government support, she said.

"There needs to be support. It doesn't necessarily have to be state," she said. "This is a national problem. I would hope the national government would provide those kinds of subsidies for the most part."

Her focus for energy development an the state level would be to encourage research and development among Maine universities and businesses, she said.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.