Senate, House candidates square off in Cape Elizabeth as election nears

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Candidates in state Senate District 29 and House District 30 in an Oct. 27 forum discussed the opioid crisis, gun violence, and low-income Mainers. 

The four candidates participated in the annual forum, hosted by Cape Elizabeth High School’s advanced placement government class, less than two weeks before Election Day.

The candidates for Senate disagreed on some issues, while the House 30 candidates had opposing viewpoints across the board.

The forum included two-term incumbent state Sen. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat, and her challenger, Town Council Chairwoman Martha “Molly” MacAuslan, an independent. The Senate District 29 seat represents Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough.

In House District 30, three-term incumbent state Rep. Kim Monaghan, a Democrat, is challenged in the Nov. 8 election by a first-time candidate, Republican George Van Syckel.

Senate District 29

The portion of the forum that covered Senate District 29 was moderated by students Emma Schoonover and Erin Thibeault. Millett and MacAuslan were asked about the opioid crisis, helping Maine residents in poverty, and gridlock in Augusta.

The two candidates agreed on what the Legislature should do to address the drug problem.

“We need to do a lot more,” Millett said. “It needs to be comprehensive. We need to throw every idea, every resource we have at this.”

MacAuslan said Narcan – used in emergencies to reverse an opioid overdose – should be available “anywhere and everywhere.”

“This is a terrible crisis with a huge human toll,” she said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable. We need more comprehensive treatment options.”

Candidates were also asked what they think should be done to help Maine residents who are living below the poverty line.

“The way to bring people out of poverty, I think, is not to increase the minimum wage,” MacAuslan said. “It is to expand the pie so we have more jobs, more higher-paying jobs, and, as that happens, there is more demand for infill at the lower level and wages rise accordingly.”

Millett, who supports raising the minimum wage, said Maine residents need to be better trained for higher-paying jobs, but she training and education can be difficult for low-income residents.

“College affordability is a huge issue for more and more Mainers,” she said. “Higher education is not within their reach.”

She said access to secondary education should be addressed by establishing grant programs and keeping tuition rates flat.

MacAuslan and Millett also discussed gridlock in Augusta and what can be done to make the Legislature more productive.

MacAuslan said she’s not running as a Democrat or Republican because she’s tired of the fighting between the two parties.

“I’m running as an independent because I think we can do better,” she said. “I’m tired of partisan gridlock and I’m not willing to put up with it anymore.”

Millett challenged the idea that the Legislature has a problem with partisan politics.

“We spend hours and days having conversations about thousands of bills,” she said. “We’re respectful, we’re professional, we like each other.”

House District 30

The discussion between Monaghan and Van Syckel was moderated by students Jack O’Kelly and Natalie Gale. When the students asked the candidates how they think the Legislature should address the state’s opioid crisis, they got two very different answers.

“I emphasize personal responsibility,” Van Syckel said. “We have to realize that drug abuse is a choice.”

Monaghan disagreed, and said drug abuse and addiction is a “terrible disease.” She added that it’s not a problem that will be solved by putting drug users in prison.

“You cannot arrest your way out of heroin or out of this addiction,” she said.

Van Syckel referenced referendum Question 1, which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product, and said if it passes, it will harm Maine.

“Some people want to make gateway drugs more available to large populations, and yet at the same time they want to say ‘we’re not doing enough to protect those who are abusive with drugs,'” he said.

Monaghan disagreed.

“I don’t think I can really agree with the notion of drugs like marijuana being the gateway drug to opioid abuse,” she said.

The candidates also discussed gun violence in Maine. Referendum Question 3 would mandate specific background checks for the sale and transfer of guns if passed.

“If it’s meant to stop just one (shooting), if one background check prevents them from buying a gun in this referendum, I’m for it,” Monaghan said.

Van Syckel, a member of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, said he opposes Question 3. He added he doesn’t believe there have been any negative consequences of the the law Maine passed in 2015 allowing people to carry a concealed gun without a permit.

“I believe strongly in the Second Amendment,” Van Syckel said. “We have not had any problems with open carry.”

Monaghan and Van Syckel also discussed ideas for keeping people interested in manufacturing jobs in Maine.

“Continuing funding for our community colleges to support certain training in manufacturing is key,” Monaghan said. “And encouraging schools to really take a strong look at opportunities in STEM – engineering, math and science.”

Van Syckel said people should gain skills and perspective by traveling.

“If we look at well-to-do people, one of the things that they encourage their children to do is to go to Europe, go to Asia,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing when young people go out to different parts of the United States and around the world and bring back what they’ve learned to make Maine even greater than it was when they grew up.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Incumbent state Rep. Kim Monghan, D-Cape Elizabeth, left, Cape Elizabeth High School student moderators Jack O’Kelly and Natalie Gale, and House District 30 Republican candidate George Van Syckel at an Oct. 27 forum at Cape Elizabeth Town Hall.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.