SCARBOROUGH — The race to represent District 28 in the Maine House pits a two-term incumbent and supporter of Gov. Paul LePage against a political newcomer.
Republican Rep. Heather Sirocki is seeking her third consecutive term in the House, where she serves on the Health and Human Services Committee. Democrat and former School Board member Dwight Ely hopes to win state office for the first time.
District 28 covers more than half of Scarborough, stretching west roughly from U.S. Route 1, except for a small triangle in the northern corner of the town. Election Day is Nov. 4.
Both Sirocki and Ely moved to Scarborough in the early 1980s. Each is married and has three children. But the similarities stop there.
Sirocki, 54, of Glendale Road, is a dental hygienist and receptionist. She credits her personal experience, including an upbringing in poverty, with helping her understand the economic challenges facing many people.
“Job growth and the economy are the prime concerns of my constituents. And the decisions we make as legislators really do affect small businesses, which are the job creators,” she said.
High income taxes and government overregulation are some of the roadblocks to cultivating business and spurring job growth in Maine, according to Sirocki. If elected, she pledges to continue working to remove those obstacles.
In her two terms, Sirocki has supported many of LePage’s efforts to reduce state spending and to reform costly welfare programs. For example, she cosponsored a bill to prevent the use of benefit debit cards in smoke shops, strip clubs and casinos. And she has been a vocal opponent of expanding eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, often known as “Obamacare.”
LePage three times has vetoed attempts by the Legislature to expand MaineCare under the optional provisions, which would provide health insurance to 70,000 low-income Mainers. The federal government would pick up 100 percent of the additional cost for three years, and 90 percent afterward.
Supporters of MaineCare expansion claim the state is missing out on $350 million a year in health care funding, but Sirocki believes Maine’s Medicaid program is already generous enough. Because the federal money wouldn’t fully cover the cost of the new beneficiaries, she said, the state could end up paying an additional $800 million over the next decade.
“Maine is at a disadvantage because we previously expanded (MaineCare),” she said. “I cannot support another expansion in this program.”
Among the public, MaineCare expansion has been a divisive and sometimes poorly understood issue. Such issues may play to what Sirocki claims are her strengths: bipartisanship and hard work.
She touts her perfect attendance record in the Legislature and her ability to collaborate with other representatives.
“I used to be a Democrat and now I’m a Republican … people tell me I’m easy to work with,” she said. “We sit down, we try to find common ground, we try to decide what’s the best thing for the state. I do the work, and I think I’ve become a resource, I’m trusted.
“I look at government as something we can fix. There are a lot of broken parts, but I enjoy looking under the hood and finding what’s not working.”
Ely, 66, of Elysian Way, has held many jobs. A former berry farmer, business consultant and assistant principal at Cape Elizabeth High School, he now hopes to put his experience to work in the Statehouse.
The reason he’s seeking the new role: “I am concerned that the state has gone in the wrong direction so quickly, and that my representative from Scarborough has been pivotal in moving it in that direction.”
Not surprisingly, Ely disagrees with Sirocki on most issues, such as MaineCare expansion. Passing up the federal funds and allowing thousands of Mainers to go without health insurance is one of the LePage administration’s “biggest mistakes,” he said.
“We still have people without insurance getting health care at hospitals. But now, because we don’t have revenue (from expansion), the hospitals are going back into the red again,” he said.
Ely also blames the administration for cutting revenue sharing, the portion of sales and income taxes the state returns to municipalities. LePage’s 2013 state budget plan attempted to do away with revenue sharing, although the Legislature ultimately restored much of the funding cuts.
Still, Scarborough has seen a 50 percent drop in revenue sharing, Ely said, a gap the town can only make up through a higher property tax. The result is a dilemma. Increasing the tax is especially hard for seniors and other people on fixed incomes; not increasing it jeopardizes funding for local schools.
“Seniors and students, those two segments of the population have been really hurt by the shift in taxes,” Ely said.
While Sirocki would look for ways to make Maine more business-friendly, Ely believes one of the best ways to grow the economy is to attract business to the state’s quality of life.
“That’s clearly one of our greatest assets, and we should be doing more to market it,” he said. “While we can’t compete with other states when it comes to tax cuts, we can certainly compete when it comes to quality of life.”
If elected, Ely feels he will be more effective than Sirocki because of the way he works with others.
“I don’t believe Heather is representing the mainstream values that Scarborough stands for,” he said. “Compared to other Republicans, she’s really an outlier. Bill after bill gets passed by bipartisan majority, but not including Heather … The reality is that all she has really been able to do is prevent things from getting done.”