BRUNSWICK — Economic development is a major topic in the political debate, and it’s no different in state Senate District 10, where a retired U.S. Navy captain and construction company manager is challenging incumbent Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick.
Freeport resident Ralph Dean was unopposed for the Republican nomination earlier this year. Gerzosky, who is seeking his third term in the Senate, also ran uncontested in his nomination bid.
The district includes Brunswick, Freeport, Pownal and Harpswell.
Dean, who grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., is married and has two grown children. He said he came to Maine in 1976 for an operational tour at the Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“We fell in love with the place and it’s been real good. We’ve been fortunate,” Dean said. “It’s been one of the best things that’s happened to us.”
Since finishing his 28 years of duty in Brunswick and around the world, Dean has worked in the construction industry. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
During the 2005 closure process of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, Dean said he was on the executive committee for the task force that sought to keep it open, mainly to serve as an expert on the military value of the base.
He was also a member of the Freeport Project Review Board until this spring. Dean said he resigned in order to avoid any conflicts of interest as a Senate candidate.
Dean has never run for public office before.
“It’s a formative election. I don’t think anyone should be on the sidelines,” Dean said. “I would like to help keep the state going in the direction it just started to go down over the last year-and-a-half to two years.”
Gerzofsky is a seasoned politician, having served the maximum four terms in the state House and two terms so far in the state Senate, but he doesn’t call himself a career politician.
“I still consider myself a furniture maker,” he said in 2010. “I made a good living doing that for 38 years.”
While Dean said he wants to fight against an ever-expanding government, Gerzofsky said he believes in the values of the Democratic Party. He opposes major cuts to health care, education and taxes, while admitting that some of them may be necessary.
“I think the government can help level the playing field,” he said.
Gerzofsky said one of his legislative accomplishments includes waiving a plane tax in 2011 for airplanes bought outside the state that stay in Maine for at least 21 different days during the year.
As a result, he said, more pilots were encouraged to land in Maine to improve commerce at the state’s airports.
“You start naming the airports and I can start showing you where they hired people, hundreds of people,” Gerzofsky said.
Dean said he thinks Maine’s direction needs to be turned around for better economic prospects.
“I think the state’s been plagued by decades of expansive government, which has sucked the life out of private sector and reduced economic opportunity for everybody,” he said.
For that reason, Dean said Maine should follow states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and South Carolina – states he said have been doing well in this “miserable economy” – and reduce taxes and shrink the size of government.
Gerzofsky said besides a few issues like the state’s permitting processes and some regulations, he has received few complaints about the business environment in Maine.
“I didn’t hear any business people talking about how Maine is so difficult,” he said.
But to improve what he considers a friendly business environment in Maine, there are a few things Gerzofsky said he would change.
They include making transportation more affordable – especially with rail services – and streamlining different permitting processes, particularly those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“You go build a development and all of a sudden you can get stuck dead in your tracks by one person using the rules,” Gerzofsky said. “We need to have it, but we need to control it a little better.”
Dean said most issues circle back to economic opportunity, including welfare.
He said since Maine is the the state with the third highest percentage of Medicaid recipients, he would like to tighten the qualification level from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent.
“It’s something that the state can afford and it would enable us to focus what we can afford on the neediest,” Dean said.
Maine’s “entitlement culture” needs to be turned around, the Republican said, and that can be done by showing people economic opportunity, something Dean said could be accomplished with reform in taxation, spending and education.
While both candidates said they believe in the social safety net, Gerzofsky said he doesn’t think the government spends too much on programs like Medicaid. In fact, he said he has seen the negative effects of programs that have already been cut.
“When (the Republicans) cut Medicare – MaineCare – they cut my hospital because that’s who’s going to have to pick it up,” he said.
Both candidates said getting people to work by creating more jobs is how they would lift people out of poverty, but Gerzofsky said it should happen with assistance from the government – citing legislation he worked on, including the waiving of the plane sales tax, to create more opportunities.
Dean didn’t mince his words when it came to wind energy.
“I think It’s a scam on the ratepayers. I think it’s a scam on the taxpayers,” he said. “I also think it’s a desecration of the natural environment.”
But Dean said he doesn’t oppose using alternative energy sources, as long as they don’t use government subsidies for economic support.
“If the market supports it, wonderful. If it doesn’t, get out of the way,” he said.
Gerzofsky said he is open to learning more about various kinds of alternative energy sources, wind power included, although “with a few caveats.”
Citing the recent opening of Maine’s first tidal plant in Eastport, he said he originally was skeptical about the idea, but now admits that it works after learning more.
Gerzofsky said subsidizing alternative energy sources wouldn’t be a bad idea.
“Well, we subsidize the oil industry pretty heavily, and I wouldn’t mind seeing some of that subsidy shift to renewable energy,” he said.
Dean said that while he has given the issue much thought, he will most likely vote against the legalization of same-sex marriage this fall.
“The institution of marriage between a man and a woman gives us the best chance for the best ultimate outcome,” he said, “which is to have children growing up with both biological parents. And that is nothing to be taken lightly.”
Dean said the Libertarian side of him considered the constitution’s equal protection, but he believes the protections that civil unions offer is enough, even though he admits they don’t include advantages like state employee benefits, among others.
Gerzofsky said he will “absolutely vote” in favor of same-sex marriage, adding that he co-sponsored legislation in 2009 that almost made it legal before it was repealed by a people’s veto later that fall.
“I signed it like John Hancock with big bold letters,” the incumbent said. “I was the first one on that thing.”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.