Topsham House race pits incumbent against political newcomer

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TOPSHAM — In her pursuit of a third term representing state House District 54, Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, must defeat Topsham Fair President Leon Brillant, a Republican new to politics.

Brillant, of Valla Halla Drive, joined the fair as a volunteer in 1972, becoming vice president in 2004 and then president in 2009. Owner of used car dealership Brillant Motors, he is also a member of American Legion Post No. 202.

Tepler, a 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, when she chaired the policy and curriculum committees.

She was elected to District 54, which covers all of Topsham, in 2014.

Both are Clean Election candidates. Tepler had raised about $7,200 toward her campaign as of Sept. 13, and Brillant nearly $5,600 toward his race, according to the Maine Ethics Commission.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Divisiveness

Speaking to the divisiveness between Republicans and Democrats in Augusta, Tepler said there have been some “very obstructionist” legislators, and expressed hope that “since some of them will be leaving us in the coming term, that we can rebuild some of that civility across the aisle.”

Compromise is key to making government work, she added, noting that “even when I don’t love a compromise, I have to sometimes go along with it and accept it to get some of what I want.”

Brillant said as Topsham Fair president, he has experience dealing with people with conflicting opinions – an approach he would like to bring to Augusta.

“If you’re going to get anything done you need to work together and figure out things, and not be enemies,” he noted. “Stuff goes a lot smoother (that way).”

Local issues to tackle

Rising property taxes is one issue Brillant would like to address in Augusta, as well as having jobs available so that graduates can stay in Maine and not have to move elsewhere for good-paying work.

Road infrastructure could also use some work, he added. Tepler agreed.

“The state really hasn’t come up with a great way to pay for road infrastructure, and we’ve really neglected that for a while,” she said, noting that methods that can be taken in Augusta to improve both roads and bridges include tying the gas tax to inflation, “so that hopefully we can get more tax dollars to help improve roads.”

A commercial gas tax, different from the regular gas tax, is used in many states could also be considered in Maine, Tepler said, noting that such vehicles can create the most damage to roads. Some commercial trucking firms are willing to help fund improved road infrastructure.

Tepler also hears many concerns, when talking with constituents, about health care coverage for themselves and their loved ones. “We have to continue to try to work to find some solutions to improve the access and affordability for health care in Maine,” she said.

Opioid crisis

Maine has “a tremendous amount of work” ahead in tackling its opioid abuse problem, Tepler said. The Legislature does not have all the answers, she pointed out, but “I do think there are things we can do to make treatment more accessible to Mainers, and to work with the agencies.

Tepler lauded one of those agencies, the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, for being “a great source for public health policy and work” in the past, and expressed hope that the next governor will focus on rebuilding the agency, “particularly its capacity to help us with something like the opiate epidemic.”

Ways need to be found to obtain more treatment beds and programs in Maine, she added.

Brillant said he would work on stricter laws for prescription painkillers, while fighting heroin usage. He added that he also would like to see increased usage of Narcan, a medication used to battle opioid overdose effects, “because every life is worth saving.”

Noting that the Mid Coast Hospital Addiction Resource Centers in Brunswick and Damariscotta accept walk-in patients, Brillant said he wants to ensure they receive adequate funding to support the community.

“This epidemic is something as a state we need to make a priority, and something I’ll make sure is a priority if I’m elected,” he stated.

Ballot questions

Five ballot questions go before Maine voters Nov. 6. The first would create a 3.8 percent payroll tax, as well as a non-wage income tax, to pay for a home care program to seniors and the disabled. Questions 2-5 would issue the following in bonds: $30 million for wastewater infrastructure, $106 million for transportation infrastructure, $49 million for the University of Maine System, and $15 million for Maine’s seven community colleges.

Brillant said he is opposed to Question 1, since he does not think someone should be penalized for earning more than $128,400 to fund it. He is also voting against 2-4, saying the state’s economy is not strong enough to support them. He favors the fifth question, echoing his interest in investing in education.

Tepler said that as a private citizen, her vote on the first question is private, but that as a legislator she will support the people’s will on the question.

She said she has, as a legislator, already voted to support the four bond initiatives. The Appropriations Committee, on which she serves, whittled those four down from “a very large number of bond issues” that went before that group, before going before the entire Legislature, Tepler noted.

“I believe each of them is important to our state and well within our bonding capacity,” she added.

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

Age: 64

Residence: Topsham

Party Affiliation: Republican

Family: Married, five children and seven grandchildren

Occupation: Owner of Brillant Motors

Education: Brunswick High School graduate

Political/Civic Experience: President of Topsham Fair and member of American Legion Post No. 202

Website/Social Media: None

Age: 62

Residence: Topsham

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Family: Married, three daughters, foster parent to two college-aged immigrants

Occupation: House District 54 representative

Education: B.A., M.A. in anthropology, University of Pennsylvania; studied public policy at University of Southern Maine, Muskie School

Political/Civic Experience: School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors, Topsham Municipal Finance Committee

Website/Social Media: facebook.com/repdenisetepler

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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.