Political newcomer challenges Bath incumbent in House District 52

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BATH — State Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, must turn back a challenge from Republican Bil Weidner to win a third term representing House District 52.

Weidner, 54, of Washington Street, has two children and works in medical sales with Five Star Surgical. A U.S. Navy veteran, he served on a destroyer built in Bath, is a member of VFW Post 7738, and is chaplain at American Legion Post No. 21.

This is Weidner’s first campaign for an elected office.

DeChant, 48, is married and has two children. She became executive director of the Chocolate Church Arts Center in 2013, following time as public relations manager for Sea Bags, a manufacturing company in Portland.

DeChant was also chairwoman of the Sagadahoc County Democrats from 2000-2004 and has served as treasurer of the Maine Democratic Party. She was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 2004-2008 and one of Maine’s eight Democratic superdelegates in 2008.

DeChant has also served on the board of Elmhurst, an organization that supports people with disabilities, and as a member of the Cosmopolitan Club and the Bath Parks and Recreation Commission.

Her current service includes Bath’s Parks and Recreation Commission, the Bath Area Food Bank, the Main Street Bath Promotions Committee. She served on the Judiciary Committee in her first House term, and the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee in her second term.

Action against LePage

Asked whether he would support any action by the Legislature against Gov. Paul LePage following an angry, obscene voicemail LePage left for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, Weidner said, “specific to the voicemail, no. Not that I wouldn’t take action on someone in my party if I felt that it was needed. But I think this is more of a personal issue.”

“It was definitely inappropriate of the governor to use those words” with someone who is essentially a constituent, Weidner continued, although he added it was also not right for Gattine to make the message public – even though LePage invited him to do so.

DeChant said she would support action, but noted that “the action has to be clearly defined, and fit within the parameters of the (Maine) Constitution.

Opioid crisis

A multi-pronged approach must be taken to Maine’s opioid problem, DeChant said.

“Not just criminally based,” she said, but through intervention within drug treatment programs.

Weidner noted his experience in pharmaceutical sales when discussing what Maine should do about its drug problem. “I have a very good understanding of the need for treatment, and the potential for abuse,” he said.

He said there are two parts to the problem – people taking their grandparents’ medications, and the illegal drugs coming into the state that are increasing in demand – and they are issues that both the medical community and law enforcement need to tackle.

No. 1 problem

Speaking on the chief issue facing the Legislature, Weidner said, “it’s essentially the extremes of both parties, (who are) not willing to find middle road on a lot of different issues.”

He said there is polarization in the country and Maine, but he can “talk with people I disagree with, put my point forward with my values, and still respect their opinion.”

“The challenge is, there are so many competing priorities,” DeChant said. “And so it’s difficult to come up with a shared vision or a shared approach,” as well as an agreement of which matters take top priority.

“And that’s just inherent from a citizen legislature,” she added, noting that “it would be helpful to have an economic development plan for the state of Maine, that, regardless of party affiliation or who’s in the administration … has been vetted,” so that approaches and strategies around them are common knowledge.

Clinton vs. Trump

DeChant said she supports Hillary Clinton, also a Democrat, for president.

Weidner said he favors fellow Republican Donald Trump, although he initially supported Ted Cruz as “a more dependable conservative.”

“Trump was sort of sketchy,” Weidner said. “But Cruz stepped aside, Trump is the Republican choice, and I believe that all of the things that line up definitely make him the better choice versus Hillary.”

Key local issue

“Local issues are really the wheelhouse of the local … government, your councilmen and councilwomen,” Weidner said, adding that in Augusta he would represent “the Republican (constituents) and middle-of-the-road Independents in Bath, who he believes haven’t had representation in several years.

Given Bath’s attraction to tourists, issues that revolve around that industry statewide will be significant to his city, Weidner said. He expressed opposition to state referendum Question No. 4 – one of six statewide citizen initiatives going to voters in November – which would increase the $7.50-per-hour minimum wage to $12 by 2020. 

“I think it’ll hurt the private business owner that relies on tourism for business, and also the small businesses that rely on kids working in the store,” he said.

DeChant said revenue sharing and the education funding formula are issues that continue to have a significant impact in Bath and across the state.

“To help keep property taxes down and assist with funding services, I will continue to support keeping and strengthening revenue sharing that has been threatened,” she said, adding that she will also support the state finally reaching its intended 55 percent education funding threshold.

“The reduction of these two aspects directly impacts homeowners in Bath,” DeChant noted.

Citizen initiatives

DeChant said she is undecided about Question 1, which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product. She supports Question 2 (establishing a 3 percent tax on household incomes of more than $200,000 to fund education), and Question 6 (issuing $100 million in bonds for transportation projects).

She is undecided about Question 5, which would establish ranked-choice voting across the state.

DeChant also said she supports Question 3 (mandating specific background checks for the sale and transfer of guns), but that she had already submitted a bill to tighten the language.

Weidner said he will vote no on all six questions. He noted that he does support the prescribed use of medical marijuana, but is concerned about legalizing recreational use.

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

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.
  • AW1Tim

    It’s about time we got someone like Bill up to Augusta. Bath, especially, has been poorly served by Ms. DeChant who has acted not in our collective interest, but almost solely on behalf of the democrat party and their enablers and special interests.

    Bill Weidner is someone who will work hard for ALL of our citizens, and help to keep down feckless and reckless spending in Augusta.

    Help make a REAL difference this year and vote for Bill Weidner.