PORTLAND — The race to represent District 119 in the state House is a competition among three candidates with vastly different levels of political experience.
Democrat Herb Adams, the longtime former representative for the district, is trying to reclaim the seat now held by Rep. Ben Chipman, U-Portland, who is seeking his second term. They are challenged by Republican Gwen Tuttle, a libertarian who has never served in elected office.
District 119 is one of the geographically smallest House districts, covering Portland’s Bayside, East Bayside and Parkside neighborhoods.
Chipman, 37, is a self-employed public policy advocate who has worked as a legislative aide to former Rep. Jon Eder.
Chipman said he has “given 110 percent” to his district during his first term. Over the past two years, he has introduced 17 bills, four of which have been passed by the Legislature. “That’s a lot for a first-term legislator,” he said.
He credits his success to being bipartisan.
“Because I’m the only independent in the House, both parties are willing to listen to my ideas,” he said. “And I’m willing to work with people, while … always thinking of what’s best for the neighborhoods I represent.”
Adams, 58, is a political science professor and author who represented District 119 from 2002-2010, when term limits prevented him from seeking re-election. He also served in the House from 1989-1997, and is a former Cumberland County register of probate.
Asked what sets him apart from his opponents, he said, “in a capsule, energy, experience, enthusiasm and accomplishment.”
Tuttle, 27, is a social worker for Catholic Charities who said her experience will serve her well in the Legislature.
“I am not a politician … but my background makes me an incredibly strong candidate, especially in my district,” she said. “I think I’m better equipped to deal with social issues than Ben or Herb.”
All three candidates said they support the use of education to create a more highly skilled workforce that will be highly employable and attract business to Maine.
Chipman advocates offering free, merit-based college education to low-income residents. He admitted that doing so would be expensive, but said, “How can we afford not to do it?”
He noted that some of the costs could be paid by not implementing tax cuts that have been approved, but have not gone into effect.
Adams called education “the best investment in business” that “always pays off.” In the Legislature, he said he would support efforts to keep recent college graduates in the state, such as the Opportunity Maine tax incentive he sponsored in 2007.
Adams also said Maine should do more to promote its tourism industry, especially with visitors who are interested in the state’s thriving arts scene.
While Tuttle supports educating the state’s workforce, she said the state must also look for industries that are best suited to its resources and people. She also said that creating a well-educated workforce begins at in high school.
“We keep injecting more money into school budgets, but not really looking at whether or not the schools are working, or why,” she said. “We really owe it to our children to create schools that are adequately preparing them.”
When it comes to social services, Chipman called recent budget cuts to MaineCare and other programs short-sighted.
“If we deny health care to people, they’re going to wind up in the ER, and it’s going to cost more in the long run,” he said. “And the outcomes are going to be worse.”
“We need to go back and undo the cuts,” he added, and said he believes the state has the financial resources to do so.
Adams said that budget cuts to social welfare programs violate the state’s obligation to the people it serves. “State budgets are moral documents,” he said. “(The budget cuts) show no respect to clients, to towns or to taxpayers.”
He said eliminating state services ultimately shifts their costs to municipalities, which often have little choice but to increase property taxes.
“The needs do not go away; the people do not vanish,” he said.
Tuttle, however, believes the state can do more with the resources it has. While program cuts “just perpetuate the cycle of poverty,” she said that as a social worker she has “experienced inefficiencies in the system first-hand.”
“The Department of Health and Human Services is poorly managed, although they’re trying to do the best they can,” she said, noting that the state should conduct more thorough audits of the department.
She also believes that social programs should do more to cultivate personal responsibility in the people it serves.
“Personal empowerment and responsibility, taking charge and utilizing what you have to be successful … those are qualities I try to develop in my clinical practice, but they’re lacking in Augusta when it comes to our social programs,” Tuttle said.
Chipman said the state must do “whatever it can” to increase its energy independence. And while he’s excited about the potential of tidal power and other alternative energy sources, he said the state should start by investing more in energy conservation programs such as Efficiency Maine.
Home weatherization and other conservation measures produce immediate energy savings, and also “put people to work in our neighborhoods and home towns,” he said.
Adams believes Maine must look for home-grown energy solutions to increase its energy independence. “Mainers are practical people,” he said. “We need to emphasize energy sources that we don’t have to import, and that no one can take from us.”
He is a proponent of alternative energy sources that are “small, numerous, nearby and locally owned,” he said. Tidal power is an especially attractive option, Adams said, and Maine is already using it to generate electricity on a commercial scale.
Like Chipman, Tuttle believes the state should do more to promote home weatherization, she said, especially given the high cost of heating oil in the state.
All three candidates said they will vote yes on Question 1, the state referendum asking if Maine should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.