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Social issues separate candidates in Senate District 11

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Social issues separate candidates in Senate District 11

YARMOUTH — A first-time candidate is challenging a former three-term state representative and first-term incumbent state senator in Senate District 11 on Nov. 6.

Sen. Dick Woodbury, U-Yarmouth, and Republican Chris Tyll, of Cumberland, are competing for the seat that represents Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, North Yarmouth and Yarmouth in the state senate.

Tyll, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and franchise owner of Pat's Pizza in Portland, is seeking his first elected office. He lives in Cumberland with his wife, Jen, and three young children. 

Woodbury is an economist and began his first term in the senate after winning the election in 2010 by unseating Sen. Gerald Davis, R-Falmouth. Woodbury also served in the House of Representatives from 2002-2008. He lives in Yarmouth with his wife, Debbie, and has three sons.

Both candidates agreed there is not much distinguishing them on the economic issues, and agreed on lowering taxes and health-care costs. Where they contrast is on social issues.

One of the clearest distinctions comes on Question 1, the same-sex marriage referendum.

Woodbury said he will vote yes on the question and that marriage is a "human right."

"I think the state should allow it; it's the right thing to do," he said. "Given that marriage is so referenced throughout our legal rights, I think that marriage should be open to any loving couple who want to make a marriage commitment."

Tyll, on the other hand, said he would vote no on the issue.

"My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "There's a lot of confusion about what does this mean going forward. By passing this law would it force a church to conduct something it doesn't believe in? And then vice-versa, does it treat a citizen not equally to someone else? So there's a huge dilemma that surrounds that issue."

In fact, the initiative has specific language exempting religious groups from performing same-sex marriages if the concept violates an institution's religious beliefs.

"This chapter does not require any member of the clergy to perform or any church, religious denomination or other religious institution to host any marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of that member of the clergy, church, religious denomination or other religious institution," according to the language of the proposal (Section 4. 19-A MRSA). "The refusal to perform or host a marriage under this subsection cannot be the basis for a lawsuit or liability and does not affect the tax-exempt status of the church, religious denomination or other religious institution."

Despite saying he will vote no on the issue, Tyll said if the referendum passes, he would not support any attempt to repeal the vote.

"If the voters of Maine choose one way or the other on Question 1, that's what I would support and defend," he said. "That's the law of the land, that's what stands."

Business 

The two candidates largely agreed on economic policy, supporting recent changes to reduce health-care costs for businesses and focusing on keeping money in the state by adjusting tax rates.

Woodbury said he is part of nonpartisan efforts in the Legislature to bolster the economy, citing his work as an adviser to the economic think-tanks GrowSmart Maine and Envision Maine.

"The nonpartisan approach is really looking at the strengths of Maine as a place that sells a quality of life that is unparalleled," he said. "We need to protect those aspects of Maine which are really positive economic drivers and then we need to fix the problems on the other side."

Woodbury said some of the problems with Maine's economy include high health insurance costs, high tax rates and low rates of post-secondary education.

One of the ways he envisions lowering health-care costs is to establish a strong health insurance exchange, which he said the state is moving toward.

"We want to have an exchange that works efficiently, that companies want to come and offer their products, so that we have what we've been missing for sometime, a very competitive health insurance market," he said. "Price competition, I think, will lower the cost of health insurance in Maine over time." 

Tyll agreed with Woodbury on health-care reform, and sees income taxes and estate taxes as the biggest hurdles for economic growth.

"The estate tax has to be removed in the state of Maine," he said. "It was never intended to be a revenue source and in the state of Maine it's been used as a revenue source, and that's flat wrong."

Keeping people with money in the state is vital and it's important to give businesses incentives to want to stay, Tyll said.

"I think if you incentivize local companies it opens up opportunities," he said.

Social welfare

On social spending, both candidates said they would like to create programs that provide incentives for people to stop using social-welfare programs.

Tyll said social welfare reform has been the No. 1 issue he has heard about while canvassing the district.

"Social programs are important because we need to make sure there is a safety net for people in need, however, it can't be a lifestyle," he said. "I think anytime you go in and look at social programs, you can't go in and cut things with hatchet; it has to be done with a scalpel, because a lot of the programs are intertwined."

Social programs should focus on "work-first" initiatives to get people back to work, but there needs to be jobs for people to go to, Tyll said.

"We can't say, 'well, work first initiatives for social programs,' but then there's no jobs," he said. "This has to be a major structural change."

Woodbury said Maine should be spending less on welfare programs, but he said the cuts sought by the governor are too extreme.

"Historically, we have spent more than most of the country and that has been a problem," he said. "The best programs are those that provide incentives and assistance to people to get back to work and off of welfare programs."

Energy

Tyll said he supports the development of alternative energy, but said government shouldn't be supporting any one particular industry.

"We as a next generation have to find ways to ease our dependence on petroleum, period," he said. "It's what's good for the environment, it's what's good for the future. But we can't do it over night and we can't do it by government picking an industry that says this is the golden ticket, because there is no golden ticket."

In addition, Tyll said he is more in favor of incentives than subsidies, such as establishing different rate structures for natural gas.

Woodbury said he also supports multiple approaches to energy creation, without playing favorites to specific types, but thinks that conservation is paramount.

"Conservation is better than any other approach to dealing with our energy problems," he said. "That's one area where I think subsidies should exist, particularly in making conservation possible in the short term when the energy savings take place over the long term."

Installing efficient heating systems and insulating homes are projects where he could see subsidies playing a role, Woodbury said. 

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