BRUNSWICK — Democrat Ralph Tucker and Republican Mark Holbrook are contesting an open seat in Maine House District 50.
Tucker, a longtime Democrat and former political appointee, secured his candidacy after a bruising primary campaign, which he won by only 10 votes.
This is the first political campaign for Holbrook, an educator and therapist with a private practice.
The two candidates are running to replace Democratic Rep. Charles Priest, who is term limited.
The district covers east Brunswick and includes parts of downtown, Cook’s Corner and Brunswick Landing.
Tucker, 66, is a retired Maine District Court judge. Before being appointed to the bench, he worked for the McTeague Higbee law firm in Topsham.
He held a seat on the Worker’s Compensation Commission for 11 years and was a School Board member for six years.
During the primary campaign Tucker emphasized his connection to party leadership as proof he would be effective in the Legislature.
In a recent interview, Tucker said that his legislative priorities would necessarily depend on how dynamics in Augusta change after the outcome of the gubernatorial election.
“Everything will fall into place after that,” he said.
In general, Tucker said he wants to see the “immediate” expansion of Medicaid in Maine. The state is losing at least $900,000 in daily federal payments that would be spent on medical care, he asserted.
“That would be a big shot in the arm for our communities,” Tucker said.
Another priority is reforming the state’s clean elections system in the face of political campaigns supported by money from anonymous donors, Tucker said.
Changing the rules to allow clean elections candidates to collect additional money after the primaries “would allow them to make a showing” against privately funded candidates, he said.
Protecting public education is one of Tucker’s primary reasons for seeking office.
“The reason I’m running is because my grandchildren are starting school and I want them to have the same quality public education my children had,” he said.
He said he is in favor of a moratorium on new charter schools until existing schools demonstrate how they function on a “pedagogic level.” He said he would support a ban on virtual schools.
“There are different gradations in the way charter schools will destroy the public school system,” Tucker said, noting that for-profit schools are the worst-case examples.
The push for more school choice threatens to degrade the central role that public education plays in community and civic engagement, he added.
Regarding school funding, Tucker said the state should be held to its responsibility to pay for 55 percent of education costs in Maine.
He also said he supports reforming the state’s revenue system to shift the burden from local property taxpayers to progressive state income and sales taxes.
So far, Brunswick Landing has had a good record of redevelopment, especially compared to other shuttered military bases in the country, Tucker said. He is “absolutely opposed” to any proposals that would give special exemptions to businesses in the redevelopment zone that were not afforded to other businesses in the state, Tucker said.
“I’m concerned about special giveaways that don’t benefit anything to the taxpayers,” he said.
Tucker admitted that he is not an expert in marine resources, but said that the state should continue to foster research into conservation and resource management methods.
“I think that has as much a call on the state’s attention as Brunswick Landing,” he said.
Despite supporting clean elections, Tucker is running with private donations and is one of the few Brunswick-area candidates, along with Holbrook, who is not clean-election qualified.
So far, his campaign has spent more than $12,000, which includes about $2,300 in in-kind donations, according to his most recent campaign filing. More than $11,000 was spent to defeat Jackie Sartoris, his primary opponent, but Tucker spent another $457 between July and September.
In comparison, Holbrook has only spent $64.77 on his entire campaign.
Tucker said he did not expect to spend as heavily in the general election, but he wanted to be prepared if the Republican Party decided to invest in defeating him.
“There’s always a danger of outside campaign money coming in at the last minute,” he said. “I’ll be ready to match that.”
Holbrook, who calls himself “probably the most reluctant candidate in the state,” was recruited to run by the Brunswick Republican Committee last year with the expectation of being a placeholder until another candidate emerged.
“It’s not that I don’t want to win,” Holbrook said, “it’s just that I would have preferred for someone else to have stepped forward.”
Holbrook, 56, holds advanced degrees in psychology and has worked in law enforcement, as a social worker with nonprofit mental health agencies, and as a lobsterman.
He teaches at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, designs online training courses, and maintains a private clinical practice at his home on the New Meadows River, where he lives with his wife and daughter.
Holbrook said has been a political independent, but registered as a Republican because its policy direction aligns with his values. However, he said he “loathes” labels and feels politics has become too divisive and uncivil.
If elected, he said, promising a specific legislative agenda would be “pie in the sky,” he said since his position on committees will be dictated by the leadership.
Rather, he said, his position is to bring “common sense” to the lawmaking process in Augusta. He said the legislation he proposes will reflect “family, faith and food,” Holbrook said.
“I’m not an ideologue,” Holbrook said. “The only people I’m sure to agree with 100 percent of the time are the guy staring back at me in the mirror, and my wife.”
Generally, he said, he is concerned with the “pervasive” misuse of government entitlement programs.
“I firmly believe we we need to help people that need it, but we can’t do a better job with all the fraud, waste and abuse going on,” Holbrook said, adding that there is a “culture” in the state that supports the misuse of taxpayer money.
The size of government bureaucracy also concerns Holbrook, and he said that many burdensome regulations are developed to cover scenarios, without taking into account the likelihood they will occur.
Legislators should also be doing more to support family farms and help keep generations of farmers working the land in Maine, by cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations, he said.
Redevelopment at Brunswick Landing has not been progressing as quickly as it should, Holbrook said. He supported Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to establish an “open for business” zone at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, where employees would not have to pay union fees.
Holbrook was disappointed the proposal did not succeed and said he would support similar “right-to-work” legislation statewide.
“I think that ought to be a personal choice,” he said. “No one should be forced to join a union.”
If elected, Holbrook said he would outline a list of companies that could relocate to Brunswick Landing and personally contact them to ask what they need to bring their business to the area.
In contrast to Tucker, Holbrook said he is in favor of more charter schools, which, he claimed, have been shown to have better education outcomes.
The schools also create “meaningful competition” for public schools that forces them to do a better job, Holbrook said.
Commercial fishing in the Brunswick area appears to be doing well, Holbrook said. If water quality declines in the area and the state can pinpoint the reason, it should take action, but otherwise not interfere, he said.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Holbrook said.
In general, he said, he feels more people in town agree with his approach than oppose it. He paraphrased one of his heroes, famed former U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.
“There are a lot of areas where we can do a lot better,” Holbrook said. “People are talking too much and not thinking enough.”