PORTLAND — State Senate President Justin Alfond is opposed by a pair of familiar faces in his campaign for a fourth, two-year term.
The Senate District 27 Democrat is challenged by Republican Peter Doyle and Green Independent Asher Platts. Doyle ran unsuccessfully against Alfond in 2010; Alfond defeated Platts in 2012.
“I have enjoyed being Senate president, it is a fascinating role to play,” said Alfond, 39.
Doyle, 49, said he is running to continue policies and philosophies established in Gov. Paul LePage’s first term, while keeping a practical perspective.
“We need a vital middle class in Maine and we need to have people in the legislature who will move policies to make that come to fruition,” he said.
Platts, 31, one of the most vocal leaders of the city Green Independents, said he represents an alternative choice to candidates whose allegiances are to corporations.
“The reason why Greens run generally is not because we want to be in charge of a hierarchical system of power,” he said. “We look to transform it.”
District 27 covers the city’s peninsula and Casco Bay islands, and extends beyond Back Cove through Libbytown and portions of North and East Deering.
Election Day is Nov. 4.
Alfond, a resident of 143 Vaughan St., is a real estate developer and owner of Bayside Bowl. He said his last term before term limits force him from the Senate will have a clear aim.
“Without question my focus will continue on strengthening the economy,” Alfond said. “It is growing, but much too slowly. We have yet to harness all the potential, and we have made some real unforced errors.”
He promised his first initiative would be to again try to expand MaineCare using federal funding. LePage has repeatedly vetoed the expansion, citing the eventual cost to the state.
“That is going to be day one. It is such a missed opportunity, it is hard to understand,” Alfond said.
Alfond also supports increasing the state minimum wage, noting he already pays above the minimum to his employees. But the increase should come in stages, he said.
“I don’t think you can ask the minimum wage to double and think there will not be unintended consequences,” he said.
Alfond said he would also like to tackle tax reform, noting property taxes are a constant topic in conversations with constituents.
“There needs to be a major push on a tax-reform package led by the business community,” Alfond said. “The business community now more than ever realizes there is a need of tax reform, because their priorities are targeted every two years.”
The process may create some “small Band-Aids,” he said, in the form of local-option taxes that could reduce the burden on property owners.
Alfond disputed the idea Democrats are beholden to business interests because the party accepts corporate contributions, and said the political action committee he formed is necessary because of increased campaign costs throughout the state.
“First and foremost, I think every single Democrat who runs for office, their priority is their constituents. In six years, I have never thought before a vote, ‘do I need to do this because someone has given money to my PAC?'” he said.
Alfond said he supports legalization of marijuana, but said it should not be a rushed process.
“I believe marijuana should be legal, but it has to be done well and right,” he said. “I want to learn from the experiences in legalizing, be sure we are doing it in a safe way for the entire population.”
Alfond said he wants to fund pre-kindergarten programs throughout the state and said it is time to restore funding for the University of Maine system at least to 2008 levels.
There should also be a conversation about the roles each college should play in the system, he said.
“I don’t think USM or any schools in the system have branded themselves,” he said.
Doyle, a software developer for Aetna, said his candidacy is rooted in his upbringing on Long Island in New York.
“I’m basically someone who comes from a very middle-class background,” Doyle said. “I’m one of seven children. I learned very early to get out and do the paper route or lawn cutting.”
He praised the work LePage has done, especially in terms of reducing the size and scope of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Not really an ideological thing, it is math,” he said of fiscal responsibility in government.
He said he opposes expansion of MaineCare with federal funding.
“It is a nice sound bite, it sounds like you are helping, but ultimately it is creating a huge liability for the state,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything.”
He suggested looking to Tennessee and Indiana to see how health care is administered in those states, and what can be adapted here.
A former math teacher who has also volunteered at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, Doyle said he has reservations about legalizing marijuana.
“My natural inclination is to put it off until we see how it plays out in Colorado and Washington,” he said. “The downside may be a lagging indicator. The social costs have yet to be measured.”
Doyle said municipalities should be making more decisions about reducing spending than looking to the Legislature for funding, although he would consider some tax reform if elected.
“I’d be open to looking to any kind of reform. (But) the question is, is it really reform or another stalking horse?” he said. “You have to get to the point where you don’t rely on the state.”
He said he is wary of local-option taxes.
“They never go away,” Doyle said.
He is also wary of increasing the state minimum wage.
“I’d rather get the supports through in a way that doesn’t hurt business,” he said.
A supporter of charter schools, Doyle said it is critical to offer choices and vocational training to sustain the middle class and train the workforce needed for economic growth.
“I like the idea of coming at things from all different angles, it is beneficial to your problem solving skills,” he said.
If elected, he said he would like to serve on the Health and Human Services or Insurance and Financial Services committees, because those may be best suited to serving his district.
Doyle said he is enjoying his second campaign for office.
“It is always great to get out and talk to people,” he said. “Finding out what people are passionate about is always interesting.”
Platts, of 34 Congress St., works a variety of jobs while pushing the Green Independent platform of a $15-per-hour minimum wage, an end to corporate influence in politics, and legalized marijuana.
“The Green Party is the one party with ballot access that refuses to take corporate money as a matter of principle,” he said. “We don’t have to check with donors to see if a certain policy is OK with them.”
While supporting what would double the state minimum wage, Platts also called for tax reform specifically targeting wealthy earners and large corporations. He said the higher minimum wage should be introduced gradually, first at companies employing more than 200 people.
At smaller companies, Platts said, the wages could be increased 50 cents an hour each six months. Ultimately, he said, the economy will benefit from people having more disposable income.
Platts also called for more state investment in alternative energy development, as opposed to simply expanding natural gas lines.
“We are dealing with the economic and environmental crisis,” he said. “We have tons of work to be done and the private sector isn’t doing anything about it. It would be a huge boost to Maine’s economy by jobs it creates and preventing money from leaving the state.”
The legalization of marijuana could also produce revenue for the state, but Platts said he wants to be sure it is not over-taxed and small farmers are given the chance to grow it for distribution as well.
“If we want to get it out of the black market, we have to have the legal rate to get it out of there,” he said.
A graduate of USM, Platts said he saw the first signs of financial stress at the school a decade ago.
“What we have is a lack of accountability and oversight (by trustees and administrators),” he said. “It is disgusting, arrogant, like they are thumbing their noses at the protesters and teachers.”
He was also critical of an education approach based on the marketplace and workforce training.
“I think it is important to have a liberal arts college, to teach people to think, to have the skills philosophically to figure things out.” he said “Science needs communicators, policy needs communicators.”
Platts said he would also like to increase funding for public infrastructure, including rail service and safe routes for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Bike lanes should not be “just some paint on the road where people may open their car doors and hit you,” he said.
Platts said electoral reform could be elusive for now.
“Until then, vote for candidates who refuse corporate money,” he said, “and (for) a party that refuses corporate money.”
Maine Senate District 27