Brunswick Democrats wage protracted primary campaign in House District 50
BRUNSWICK — A retired judge and a former town councilor are vying for the Democratic nomination in Maine House District 50.
Ralph Tucker and Jackie Sartoris will be on the June 10 primary ballot to run for what is historically a safe Democratic seat: a Republican candidate hasn't represented the district since the 1990s, according to state election data.
Both candidates are personally close to outgoing Rep. Charlie Priest, who is term-limited and prevented from running again this year. Tucker attended law school with Priest and was the best man for his second marriage; Sartoris said the veteran legislator "inspired" her to seek a law degree.
Tucker, 66, retired from his position as a District Court judge in Wiscasset and West Bath last year. Prior to his judicial appointment, he was a partner with the Topsham-based McTeague Higbee law firm and served on the State Workers' Compensation Commission for 11 years.
His political experience includes six years on the Brunswick School Board and a one-year term on the Town Council. A self-described "strong Democrat," Tucker has been a party member since the early 1970s.
Although she has worked in the public policy field for most of her career and was involved in municipal affairs as a town councilor, Sartoris said she only became active in the local Democratic Party after Gov. Paul LePage's election in 2010.
Now an attorney specializing in elder law, Sartoris was previously employed as a senior planner for the state, focusing on conservation issues. She worked on homelessness and other issues in New York City before moving to Maine in the 1990s.
Sartoris was elected to the Town Council in 2000 and served four terms, championing single-stream recycling and pay-per-bag trash removal, the Teen Center, and the Mere Point boat launch. She is married to Councilor Steve Walker.
Tucker and Sartoris both announced their candidacies early. Tucker filed his nomination paperwork with the state election commission more than a year ago, and Sartoris advertised her run last October, and said she has been planning the campaign for much longer.
Both Tucker and Sartoris stand on a solidly Democratic campaign platform, focused on education, health care and the environment.
They said they would work to repeal the income tax cuts instituted by LePage's administration, saying that the policy has placed too much pressure on local taxpayers, especially in terms of education funding.
Similarly, both candidates said they oppose allowing virtual charter schools in Maine and any expansion of physical charter schools, and support reformulating the charter school funding model to allow regional magnet schools.
On health care, Sartoris and Tucker both said they favor an expansion of MaineCare and instituting a statewide single-payer health-care system, a policy championed by Priest.
The candidates differ, however, in their priorities and how they would push legislation in Augusta.
Tucker said education is his top priority. In particular, he said he wants to reverse the "LePage assault on education."
"The Brunswick schools were good to my kids," Tucker said in an interview at his McKeen Street home. "Public schools are a focus of community, they are a vehicle for social mobility."
In addition to opposing charter schools, Tucker said he is concerned with the federal government's imposition of testing requirements and standards onto local education.
"Maine should have some flexibility" to determine its education priorities, Tucker said.
In an interview in her home office on Bowdoin Street, Sartoris said she intends to balance multiple priorities as a legislator, rather than focus on one issue.
Her experience "juggling a lot of balls in the air" as a councilor will be a valuable asset to promote a diverse agenda, she said.
The need to find sustainable solutions to local issues is a common thread that runs through Sartoris' legislative agenda. Brunswick, and Maine as a whole, are sitting on a wealth of natural and human resources that can be harnessed to make the state "self-sufficient" in energy, food production, economy and education, and to avoid cyclical "boom-bust" periods, she said.
Although education is a priority, Sartoris said developing educational supports, like pre-kindergarten and afternoon programs, and facilities like Brunswick's Teen Center, are just as important as funding public schools.
"To say, 'I support the schools' is not enough," Sartoris said.
The candidates' also differ in their political approach.
Tucker touted his relationship with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, and long Democratic party experience as evidence that he has the pull to be an effective legislator.
"I have the connections of a career in state government," he said, asserting that his relationships are balanced with a calm, reserved temperament.
Sartoris' first experience in partisan politics has been difficult, she said, but she said she intends to bring her skill at building consensus and a focus on policy solutions to issues at the Statehouse.
"I believe in policy before politics," she said.
The long campaign hasn't been without controversy. In March, a flap erupted after Tucker was accused of violating a town ordinance by placing political signs on several lawns during the Democratic Party caucus.
Tucker said he was surprised that the incident generated controversy. The town's ordinance, which prohibits placing signs more than 60 days before an election, is unconstitutional and unenforceable, he said. The Planning Board is reviewing the sign ordinance and may suggest changes.
Campaign financing has also been at issue in the race. Tucker is running with private financing and has so far raised $4,300. According to a January state election filing, he spent almost $2,900 in the first six months of his campaign.
Sartoris has decided to eschew private money and run with public funding as a Maine Clean Elections candidate.
Tucker said he decided not to run with public funding in order to counter unexpected spending by a Republican candidate and attract Democratic votes as part of a statewide strategy to win the Blaine House for gubernatorial candidate Michaud.