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Newcomer seeks to oust 1st-term Scarborough representative in House District 128

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Newcomer seeks to oust 1st-term Scarborough representative in House District 128

SCARBOROUGH — Timing and experience are at the heart of candidacies of the two women running in Maine House District 128.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Heather Sirocki is challenged by Democrat Jean-Marie Caterina. The district covers western Scarborough from the Eastern Trail to the town boundary.

Sirocki defeated former Scarborough School Board member and Chairman Brian Dell'Olio in 2010 to replace former Democratic Rep. Peggy Pendleton. Caterina is in her first campaign for elected office.

"I am known as a hard worker who listens," said Sirocki, who maintained a 100 percent attendance record for votes, role calls and committee hearings in her first, two-year term.

Sirocki, a dental hygienist, and her husband, Stephen Sirocki, are Glendale Circle residents who have three sons.

Caterina is a real estate agent who is married to Scarborough Fire Capt. Geoff MacLean. The couple has a daughter and live on Gorham Road. She said she is running to improve the political tenor in Augusta.

"I felt this was the year to jump in," Caterina said. "This is too small a state to be crabby and mean."

Caterina said her "real-life experience" sets her apart as a candidate.

"I have had to make payroll and budgets," she said.

Sirocki  said her diligence sets her apart.

"Before I cast votes, I listen, I research the issue, and I remember who I am serving," she said.

Caterina said she will vote yes on referendum Question 1, which would legalize same-sex marriages.

"To me, it is a basic equal rights equation. I think people who love each other should be able to marry and the government should stay out of it," she said.

Sirocki declined to say how she would vote.

"This issue will be presented directly to voters, not the Legislature. This is not applicable to the office I am seeking. It is a personal, not political question," she said.

Both candidates said they see room for improvement in Maine's business climate, both in streamlining regulation and the number of agencies enforcing rules.

Sirocki said she will continue her clear and constant communication with business owners and leaders. She cited a recent forum she and Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, hosted at the Scarborough Public Library with Jay Martin, the state's small business advocate.

"I recognize private-sector job growth is the engine that drives the economy," Sirocki said. "It is critical to meet face to face with business owners to understand what they need and what their roadblocks are."

Sirocki said progress was made in the last legislative session by reforming health insurance and business regulations, and tax laws.

Caterina said she has seen "business regulation that is ridiculous," but said reforms should not come at the cost of protecting the environment or fair treatment of the workforce.

"I'm not against reducing red tape, but I don't believe it should be the Wild West out there," she said.

Caterina said she would like to see increased efforts to lure high-tech businesses to the state and renewed bond spending on research and development efforts.

Caterina cited Sirocki's 2011 vote on regulation of bisphenol-A, a chemical additive to plastics commonly known as BPA, as evidence of how the candidates differ on regulations.

Studies have linked BPA exposure to health problems including diabetes, heart disease and reproductive problems. The additive was included in an overall "Kids-Safe Product Act" passed in 2008.

Sirocki said it is untrue that she voted against banning the substance in Maine.

However, she was one of three House members to vote "nay" on LD-412, a legislative resolve allowing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to enforce its regulation of BPA.

Sirocki said her work on the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee shows demands on social spending outpace available funding, and the state should better prioritize who gets assistance and how.

"The welfare budget has been large and difficult to sustain," she said.

Sirocki said ensuring timely delivery of benefits for Mainers with cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities; people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, and those with mental illnesses is a top priority for her.

Adding more beds for patients with traumatic brain injuries, more in-home support services and seeking alternatives to drugs prescribed for children with mental health problems are ways Sirocki said she would like to address health needs for the state's most vulnerable residents.

Sirocki said she grew up poor and still sees and understands the effects of poverty. She said she supports "temporary and targeted assistance," and would like to limit the federal food stamp program and tie it to the Women, Infants and Children program to ensure aid money is spent on "specific nutritional foods."

Caterina said her work as a social worker and advocate convinces her "there is always room for improvement on delivery" of social welfare programs. But she objects to the current political climate around welfare spending.

"This attack on people who are less fortunate is uncalled for," Caterina said.

Properly funded education with equal opportunities for all students is the best way to address chronic poverty, she said.

"The best welfare is a job. But so many factors go into unemployment and chronic underemployment. How do we support people to help them make their lives the best they can be?" she asked.

Sirocki and Caterina agree on the need to develop existing and alternative energy sources, but differ on the need for government subsidies in the effort.

"The role of government should be limited in regard to direct subsidies," Sirocki said.

Caterina said she wants the private sector to take the lead, but subsidies for emerging technologies are a historical tradition.

"Government plays a role in research and development. If you look behind it, the private sector may have had a grant," she said.

Both said their hard work will represent the district well.

"I negotiate all the time, it is my job," Caterina said. "I explain to my clients, you are not going to get everything you want."

Sirocki said her perfect attendance will continue.

"Some legislators leave the room ... known as taking a walk," she said. "I will never take a walk."

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