Election ’14: House District 67

Sue Wilkinson Austin Republican

Susan Wilkinson Austin

District Makeup: In Cumberland County, the municipality of Frye Island; and part of the municipality of Casco south and west of a line described as follows: Beginning at the point where Roosevelt Trail intersects with the Naples-Casco boundary; then southeast along the centerline of Roosevelt Trail until it intersects with Casco-Raymond boundary; and;
Part of the municipality of Gray north, northeast and northwest of a line described as follows: Beginning at the point where Center Road intersects with the Gray boundary; then northeast along the centerline of Center Road until it intersects with the Pleasant River; then northeast along the Pleasant River until it intersects with Hunts Hill Road; then southeast along the centerline of Hunts Hill Road until it intersects with Portland Road; then southeast along the centerline of Portland Road until it intersects with Long Hill Road; then northeast and then southeast along the centerline of Long Hill Road until it intersects with the Gray-North Yarmouth boundary; and
Part of the municipality of Raymond south of a line described as follows: Beginning at the point where Roosevelt Trail intersects with the Casco-Raymond boundary; then southeast along the centerline of Roosevelt Trail until it intersects with Main Street; then northeast and then southeast along the centerline of Main Street until it intersects with Mill Street; then northeast and then southeast along the centerline of Mill Street until it intersects with Webbs Mills Road; then northeast along the centerline of Webbs Mills Road until it intersects with Brown Road; then southeast along the centerline of Brown Road until it intersects with the Raymond-Gray boundary.
Candidates: D-Bonnie Titcomb-Lewis, R-Susan Wilkinson Austin
Background/Political experience:
Austin: Resident of Gray; Maine House of Representatives four terms, 2002–2010; Gray-New Gloucester School Board five terms; Gray Town Council one term; Pineland Conversion Committee two years.
Titcomb-Lewis: Resident of Raymond; graduated from the University of Southern Maine, and worked as a high school and middle school teacher and coach; in 1986, the economic and environmental threat of our Lake Region communities being selected to store the nation’s 80,000 tons of high level nuclear waste propelled me toward community activism; served as chairwoman of Citizens Against Nuclear Trash (CANT) — the successful citizen movement that fought the Federal Department of Energy’s proposal; that eye-opening experience resulted in my testifying in Congress, engaging with the White House, organizing with local and national community businesses and citizens, and launching a career in politics; I had not previously served in political office, but was elected to the Maine Senate in 1988 and went on to serve three terms, representing 17 towns and 43,000 citizens in Cumberland, Oxford and York Counties; I never forgot my roots and “how I got there,” and was proud to be known as a fierce advocate for my constituents and a fighter for the needs of our district; after leaving the legislature, I served as a manager at Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine as Director of Legislative and Community Relations, and then for 10 years, as director of Advancement at the Senator George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute; I raised resources for scholarships awarded each year to students in Maine’s 130 public high schools, and in my advocacy for educational opportunity, helped build support for science and technology programs and scholarships at the University of Southern Maine.

Bonnie Titcomb-Lewis Democrat

Bonnie Titcomb-Lewis

Q. Why did you become interested in seeking political office?
Austin: It was my commitment to family that inspired my community service in the interest of helping create a brighter future for our youth. Step by step, whether it was helping babies and mothers bond while naturally feeding their newborns, the 13 years on the Gray-New Gloucester School Board, Gray Town Council, one elected position to another may have sealed the pattern of community involvement. After 18 years of being engaged locally, I made the decision to run for a State House seat. In Augusta, I realized that caring, engaged interest, interwoven into focused attention in state policy, made a difference for Maine people. Being a part of that forward motion drives me to want to join the ranks again to assist and represent our district.
Titcomb-Lewis: Through CANT and the grassroots community experience it represented, I learned a great deal personally about the character, dedication and power of the citizens in our shared Lake Region community. It was the need for leadership, then coupled with the love and absolute respect I had gained for the people in my community, that led to the Maine Senate. I continue to believe in the power of grassroots action and the process of representative democracy. It is my desire to return to public service to continue working in support and partnership with all members of my district. I am prepared to stand up, speak out and to lead on current issues that challenge us, proactively addressing much that lies ahead. With six years of productive experience in Augusta, working cooperatively in a bipartisan way, I am ready to return to be part of a much-needed solution. Those who know me will be mindful that my commitment to Maine and our citizens is unwavering, and that well beyond party politics or self-interest — I will know what I am there for. My dedication to the Lake Region and the communities in District #67 is local and unwavering.
Q. What experiences (life, business, etc.) do you believe make you a strong candidate to serve area residents in Augusta?
Austin: I honestly enjoy engaging with people.  I listen, I hear, and I process what is important to them. I am completely accountable to the commitments I take on and see them through. I bring over 30 years of community involvement, civic leadership, and elected/appointed experience. My background ranges greatly from the details of school district budgets, school building projects, superintendent hiring and multi-level school association negotiations to town-level policy work, enhancement of town services and local road/bridge construction oversight to Augusta with intricate analysis of bills, bond issues, state budget, committee work, referendums and constituent service responsibilities.
Titcomb-Lewis: Through years of service and engagement, I have come to understand the complexity of the challenges facing the state, our towns and schools, local businesses and, above all else, our citizens who hope to have a real voice speaking on their behalf. I have extensive leadership experience in the legislature, sponsoring purposeful legislation, fighting for it, and seeing issues addressed. I have chaired numerous legislative committees and served on the appropriations committee, exercising thoughtful fiscal responsibility. My record of service is open for public review and my history is one of integrity, representation and commitment to stand and lead.
Q. There is always talk about politicians being able to “work both sides of the aisle” to tackle various issues. Speak specifically as to what you believe it takes to be successful in this area.
Austin: I have felt that Augusta is what we each bring to it, share and contribute in the process and then make of it. If legislators enter service with an attitude of what can be facilitated, nourished and enriched for the betterment of their district and this state while honestly working for that goal above all others, then there is more success in the actual experience and the outcome. I felt fortunate in experiencing open discussion of bills back and forth with my peers in both parties and in both chambers with respect and decency.
Titcomb-Lewis: I will go to Augusta to represent the needs of my constituents and communities rather than the ideology of a political party or special interest. When I become involved in an issue, it will be my commitment to inform myself fully, to welcome good information and new ideas, and to aggressively lead. I will be cooperative and seek opportunities to work constructively with all legislators who seek solutions first and political gain last. A hallmark of my prior service was cooperation, respect for the process, and informed decision-making. I will hold strong on issues that are in the best interests of my constituents, and be ready to engage at every opportunity to ensure a positive result.
Q. What do you believe are the three major, pressing issues facing Maine and local communities, and specifically address how you would propose to address them?
Austin: During my four terms in Augusta, one thing became very apparent. The state budget is the foundation of all that transpires within state government. A well-formulated and rock-solid balanced budget document is an invaluable tool to steer the ship of state. If the budget were set and adhered to with a strong rainy day fund for emergencies and as a contingency set aside as a matter of practice, there would be more discipline to make top priority decisions on spending and a mantra of living within our taxpayers’ means.
From information I am gathering within this new district there are several important educational issues that may need to rise to the state level for consideration and possible assistance. First is the possible consideration of one town initiating withdrawal proceedings from a RSU; second is the present educational funding formula for Charter Schools; third is a unique law that requires one town in Maine, that has no student population, to be a member of a specific school district and the school funding equation.
Titcomb-Lewis: The issues facing Maine are not totally unlike those we dealt with in my prior service, but some have escalated to new levels. The old expression, “everything is local,” has real meaning economically. At a time when the economy is still wavering, local property taxes are crippling families and our schools are struggling to afford state reductions in General Purpose Aid (GPA) to education. Add to that the current situation that the direct cost of students attending charter schools is being funded from allocated GPA, not in addition to it. Municipal Revenue Sharing is in a death spiral, and simultaneously the state budgeting process continues to meet its needs by shifting mandates and costs back to towns onto the most regressive tax of all — the property tax. At the same time, tax relief programs for citizens are being eliminated and the state is affording generous disproportionate tax breaks and exemptions to the very highest income earners. Local needs are getting lost in the mix.
Maine is the grayest of all states in the country and our population of young workers is decreasing and, far too often, they are leaving our state as young adults. If Maine is to prepare for its economic future, we must understand the dynamics of this multifaceted problem and take immediate steps to address it; engage aggressively with the business community; understand their workforce needs; bring them to the table to partner in shaping a solution; and, do all we can to strengthen our educational programs to better ensure that our graduates are prepared after high school — internships, apprenticeships, and quality, affordable postsecondary education. Without the benefit of an adequate and skilled workforce, many important businesses simply cannot flourish here in Maine. Our economic future is tied to our being prepared to support its needs and educating our citizens is a vital part of that picture. In addition to workforce development, I am focused on other ways we can provide a quality environment for Maine to grow its businesses. Small businesses are the traditional foundation of our economy, once rooted they are critical to our economic prosperity and while big corporations employ larger pockets of workers, the local economy is held up by small business.
The health of our community members is an extremely important priority. We are dealing with thousands of Mainers who have been priced out of the insurance market, including our elderly, who struggle to pay the bill to stay or get well. While many families have, by necessity, turned to publicly-funded health care (Medicare), we have an enormous population of hardworking Mainers who cannot afford insurance and do not qualify for help, often because of a few too many dollars of income. A prescription that costs a parent or a senior hundreds of dollars, an uninsured emergency visit that costs thousands, and the resulting uninsured patients burden on hospitals is no way to address health care in this state. For every action, there is a reaction and whether that is the price we pay for inadequately-cared-for seniors and veterans, or children that are sick with no doctor, or addicts returning to the streets, the cost of this outcome is far more dear than prevention. One way or another, we all pay, and often at the price of society’s health.
Q. While campaigning, what issue seems to be at the forefront of most voters’ minds, offer some examples of comments made, and give your opinion on that subject.
Austin: The issue shared most frequently is the concern for rising taxes. I have met some folks who are truly afraid of the latest home tax increases and the vulnerability they face in an uncertain future. Some folks had lost their spouse and face this now alone on a modified income…they fear displacement and the uncertainty is unnerving. Others have shared experiences regarding regulation that has come into play when they decided to make improvements to their buildings/homes and land holdings. They feel squeezed on their freedom to make informed decisions.
Titcomb-Lewis: The most common comment I am hearing has to do with public disgust for the divisive and negative environment in politics, both in campaigns and in the legislative process. Citizens are fed up with partisan ideology and agendas that are designed to win elections rather than solve problems for the people. While there are numerous issues that must be tackled and solutions that will demand the best thinking of government, discussions turn into political battles and policy decisions become the second priority. It is my commitment to working productively toward bipartisan solutions, to be willing to listen to the whole debate, to cooperate and to stand my ground on what I believe is right…but turning problems and disagreements into fuel for a future campaign is not my style.
Q. How do you plan to keep constituents up-to-date with issues that come before you?
Austin: In the past, I wrote a column in one of the local newspapers highlighting state news. I also maintained an e-mail newsletter that came out periodically highlighting pending legislation and current events. I have attended town meetings, engaged with constituents at community functions and always responded in a timely fashion to constituent phone calls and emails.
Titcomb-Lewis: I will utilize all available legislative communications to inform my constituents. In addition, and as I did in the past, I will attend citizen gatherings and community meetings to remain informed, will meet with constituents through local engagement, and inform district media sources of issues that are of importance. I will be available to meet or speak with local organizations and respond to calls and written communications.
Q. Finally, answer the following, “I would be the best candidate for this job because…”
Austin: I am an approachable and highly-interested/engaged person with people, issues of their concern, policy-making and with the well-being of our entire state. I am of a conscientious mind and am accountable to myself and all those around me.
Titcomb-Lewis: The quality of representation I demonstrated in my past service will be a measure of my commitment to work hard, to listen well and to lead on issues that are important to my constituents. My past sponsorship of bills addressed quality of life and environment, advocacy for economic and educational opportunity, property tax relief and protection of our most vulnerable citizens. The impact of bills I sponsored has been substantial, resulting in economic opportunities for families and businesses, an environment that is protected, education that responds to the needs of all children, protection of retirement security, and fiscal responsibility. I do not just attend sessions and meetings — I am committed to fully understanding complex issues and speaking on behalf of my constituents in regard to outcomes. I am a proactive representative, committed to my district and the people I represent. Special interests, partisanship, personal agendas and petty squabbling have never driven my decision-making and they will not now. My priority will always be to make my district proud, and to aggressively represent the needs and goals of those who sent me to Augusta. I will always remember “where I came from.”

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