Topsham House contest pits incumbent against selectman

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TOPSHAM — Two familiar local politicians are competing in this year’s state House 54 election: Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, and Republican Ruth Lyons, a former longtime town clerk who is now a selectman.

Tepler is seeking her second term in the district.

Lyons, who is in her late 60s, is married and has two children. The Jesse Road resident was Topsham’s assistant tax collector and then deputy town clerk before becoming town clerk in 1992. She was named Clerk of the Year in 2013 by the Maine Town & City Clerks Association, retired in 2014 and is now assistant town clerk in Lisbon.

In 2014, she also won a seat on the Board of Selectmen, a position she said she plans to retain if elected to the House.

“I will do just as good a job,” Lyons said in an interview Sept. 9, noting that her performance in the selectman election showed that “(voters) had so much faith in me, and I have so much faith in them, that I will not withdraw from that.”

When asked to respond to Lyons’ decision, Tepler said, “I think the people of Topsham should take a look at how much time is devoted to either job, and whether it’s really possible” to do both.

Tepler, 60, is married and has five children. The 13 Homeplace resident has served on the Topsham Finance Committee and Brunswick Food Shed Advisory Committee, and also has been a local foods advocate, freelance teacher and writer. She was a member of the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors from 1996-2002, where she chaired the policy and curriculum committees.

Action against LePage

Asked whether she would support any action by the Legislature against Gov. Paul LePage following an angry, obscene voicemail he left for Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, Lyons said, “I am not in that position, and by January that should be over, when I would take office.”

But she did add, “I did not like what he said, at all. … There are ways to do things, and ways to say things, and ways to get people to work with you, versus being awful.”

Tepler said she will support action against LePage, noting that his “behavior has reached a point where it’s damaging our state severely.”

She does not, however, want to spend the entire legislative session on the matter. “We have important business to do, that has nothing to do with the Governor, but has to do with the people of Maine,” Tepler said.

Opioid crisis

Lyons said the Legislature needs to “have competent people oversee” the state’s approach to the opioid crisis. She said the goal should be to get people off the drugs completely, “and we need to have doctors stop giving them out so much.”

Tepler advocated a three-pronged approach: prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

“There is no question,” she said, that funding will have to go toward that initiative. “We can’t keep short-term-patching this. Some states have really taken a definitive approach, and we haven’t.”

No. 1 problem

The biggest problem facing the Legislature is divisiveness, Lyons said.

“I will advocate that I am here to do a job for the citizens of Topsham, and Maine,” she said. “And I will not play the political game. I will do what’s right, and if I think something’s wrong, I have no problem speaking up about it.”

Tepler said she feels the Legislature “functions fairly well,” noting that the “worst partisan issues I’ve seen have generally revolved around the governor’s interference.”

Clinton vs. Trump

Not surprisingly, Tepler said she plans to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Lyons declined to say whether she would vote for Republican Donald Trump. But said Trump is “inexperienced,” and referred to Clinton’s “40 years of politics as the ‘same old, same old,'” and said she has not confessed “to acts of which she has been accused.

“Rules should apply to (Clinton) and everybody else that would apply to us,” Lyons said.

Key local issue

Tepler said she would advocate for a bill to increase revenue sharing to local communities. “The original deal was 5 percent of the state’s share of sales tax revenue, and we’re functioning at 2 percent now,” she said.

“We’re too dependent on our local property taxes for school and town funding,” which are particularly hard on people on fixed incomes, Tepler added.

Lyons said she would like to end mandates that fall “back on the towns, and having the towns pay for it.”

She cited homestead exemptions as an example, noting the state only finances half of the $15,000 benefit to each homeowner. The rest of is financed locally, she said, “so how much are taxpayers really getting?”

Citizen initiatives

Tepler declined to discuss her stance on the six statewide referendum questions going to voters in November.

“These are questions for Maine people; they’re not questions for the Legislature,” she said. “The Legislature has either not been able to resolve these problems, or they’ve come up through a referendum process that has gone directly to the Maine people.”

Tepler encouraged her constituents to reach out to her if they would like to discuss the individual questions.

Lyons said she opposes Question 1 (which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product). She is undecided about Question 2 (which would establish a 3 percent tax on household incomes of more than $200,000 to fund education), Question 4 (increasing the hourly minimum wage to $12 by 2020) and Question 5 (establishing ranked-choice voting across the state). But shes said she supports Question 6 (issuing $100 million in bonds for transportation projects).

Concerning Question 3, which would mandate specific background checks for the sale and transfer of guns, Lyons said she supports gun control, but opposes a clause in the proposed law that requires guns passed down in a family to be registered. Consequently, she opposes the initiative.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.




A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.