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Election 2012: Topsham residents compete for House 60 seat

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Election 2012: Topsham residents compete for House 60 seat

TOPSHAM — Two residents are facing off this November in the race for state House District 60.

Republican Jean Wolkens of Meadow Road, a restaurant manager, and Democrat Andrew Mason, a selectman from Middlesex Road, are running to replace Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, who is not seeking a fourth term. The district covers part of Topsham.

Mason, 46, is married and has one daughter. He is an attorney with Reben, Benjamin & March, a Portland firm. Two years into a three-year term on the Board of Selectmen, Mason said he intends to step down if elected to the House.

Mason previously served on the Topsham Development Board, and before his career in law he was an orientation and mobility specialist.

Mason noted the commitment he has shown to Topsham by serving on the two boards, said he has been active in the community and has volunteered as a youth coach in recreation leagues. He said his background includes working for a decade as a teacher who worked with blind and disabled people, and ownership of a small business. As an attorney, he said, he represents workers who claim they have been disabled, injured, or discriminated against.

"I feel like I've got a good grasp of the issues and concerns that regular, working-class people in Topsham have," Mason said.

Wolkens, 42, is married and has two children. She manages Panera Bread in Augusta, is chairwoman of Topsham's Republican committee, and is a member of the county-level committee. She is also the music leader and clerk at her church.

Wolkens noted that as a business manager for about 20 years, she has experience managing people and costs. She said she has learned how to cut spending when revenue is down, and how to invest incremental income back into the business to boost future sales, she said.

Wolkens said she has also learned to create teams and encourage people to work towards common goals when things are going well, and when the purse strings must be tightened.

Boosting business

In order to improve Maine's climate for business development, Wolkens said she would like to see a reduced time frame for how long it takes a business to be accepted into the state, and the application process streamlined. She also called for tax rates to be lowered, especially on businesses and people able to develop those businesses, so that Maine can attract more and better companies.

Mason said he is focused on what can be done to bring jobs to Topsham and redevelop the town's Navy Annex and the western side of the interchange of Route 196 and Interstate 295. One challenge with the third objective, he said, is satisfying environmental regulations and bringing utilities to that area for development.

Welfare

Mason said he has knocked on about 2,200 Topsham doors since May, and he hears people complain most about property taxes and welfare.

"The biggest issue that we have, concerning welfare, is there is a disincentive (for people) to work," he said. "We need to change that, (so that) the people who are on welfare don't feel the need to not work, because there's a fear of losing their benefits."

He could not say whether the state spends too much or too little on welfare programs, but noted that inefficiencies in the system should be addressed; those who need help the most, and are fighting to escape poverty, should be aided, and not those who are working the system in order to stay in it, he said.

Wolkens said she thinks the state spends too much on welfare programs, and that the most recent Legislature was doing good work to try to amend that issue.

"I would like to continue on with that process," she said. "I think that we need to streamline some of the agencies," to eliminate redundancies, and that funds should be shifted toward trying to get people back into the workforce, and not staying in the welfare system.

Alternative energy

Wolkens said that while she supports development of alternative energy sources, the government should not subsidize that development. Ways should be found to improve existing energy sources, and make them cleaner and greener, she said, and their use should be continued while alternatives are developed for the long run.

Mason said he supports investment in the development of alternative energy, and understands that renewables are generally not able to show immediate cost benefits over traditional energy sources.

But he said he believes that investing in renewable alternative energy is important in the long run, and to help end the reliance on coal and oil, so he favors subsidizing alternative energy in cases where the cost benefit analysis shows a certain path to long-term savings.

Same-sex marriage

Mason said he supports state referendum Question 1, which if passed in November would allow the state to issue marriage licenses to couples of the same gender.

"I don't believe that it's the role of the state to tell people who they can or can't marry," he said.

Wolkens said she does not support same-sex marriage, and that "the word 'marriage' is a very special word ... it's the relationship between a man and a woman. I think that everyone should get the same rights, but not everyone should get to use the term 'marriage.'"

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.