Election ’14: House District 71 race

Dennise Whitley Democrat

Dennise Whitley

District Makeup: In Oxford County, the municipalities of Norway, Sweden, Waterford and West Paris.
Candidates: D-Dennise Whitley, R-Tom Winsor
Background/Political experience:
Whitley: Resident of Norway; 30-year career in hospital management starting as a switchboard operator for Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, which is the town I grew up in and now live in; worked my way up in hospital administration at Stephens Memorial; worked at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and ended my hospital career as vice president of Brighton Medical Center in Portland; in mid-career earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Health Management and Policy; served as the Government Relations Director in Maine for the American Heart Association for over 12 years, working with the legislature and administrations to pass health-related legislation.
Winsor: Resident of Norway, incumbent; moved to the Oxford Hills — Lake Region area about 40 years ago; have lived in Harrison, Waterford and Norway; worked as a self-employed real estate broker during most of that time; I am married, have three children and four grandchildren; my children started school in Harrison and graduated from Oxford Hills High School; represented Harrison on the SAD 17 School Board for a number of years,; and the Towns of Waterford, Norway, West Paris and Greenwood in the legislature for eight years between 1994 and 2002; served as Register of Probate for Oxford County between 2002 and 2008; and was reelected to the legislature in 2010 and 2012.
Q. Why did you become interested in seeking political office?
Whitley: One of the major reasons that I am running for the Maine House is to bring common sense and cooperation to the state legislature and to be a strong voice for the residents of my district. There is no time to waste on divisive partisanship.
Winsor: My father was active in elections and involved me as his helper when I was in grade school. I got to meet and know many of the local political leaders while growing up in Pittsfield. I attended Boy’s State. As an adult in Harrison, I volunteered on campaigns and as a school board member saw good and not so good things come out of Augusta. I learned the process works as long as people are willing to put their name on the ballot and serve.
Q. What experiences (life, business, etc.) do you believe make you a strong candidate to serve area residents in Augusta?
Whitley: I have solid experience in healthcare management and policy, which is crucial to the health of Maine’s citizens of all ages and to Maine’s fiscal health. I strongly believe in collaboration, not confrontation and I bring a good dose of common sense. I am able to view issues comprehensively and have the capacity to think and plan strategically.
Winsor: I have 12 years of experience as a legislator, and 10 years as a member of the Appropriations Committee, in addition to serving in local and county elective offices. Experience does matter; it helps you put things in context. I am a frugal person and when I spend my money I am careful and try to live within my means by understanding choices and future costs. I want to get what I pay for and when I vote to spend your money, I apply the same principles.

Tom Winsor Republican

Tom Winsor

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.
Whitley: In my role as the Government Relations Director for the American Heart Association, I have worked with Democrats, Republicans and governors to pass many public health laws, such as the creation and continuance of the Fund for a Healthy Maine and the tobacco control and prevention laws. I believe in collaboration and compromise and I would use these important tools as a state representative.
Winsor: I think you have to be a good listener, and I believe you have to respect the views of other folks. My committee must put a budget together that will achieve a two thirds majority vote in the legislature. Achieving that is difficult, but is the only acceptable 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?
Whitley: 1. Economy and jobs. Maine’s economic crisis is caused by the lack of employment opportunities, especially in western Maine; craft a realistic strategic growth plan with definitive timelines and with the public and private sectors collaborating to create a climate conducive for entrepreneurial, small businesses to get established and thrive. This, in turn, will attract established businesses to locate in Maine. Jobs, jobs, jobs. We must be entrepreneurial and create and/or attract businesses that use our abundant natural resources in western Maine, so that our children and grandchildren who choose to live here can provide for themselves and their families and not have to leave to “make a living.”
2. Education. Maine children must have quality education at all class levels; high school graduates and adults must have access to affordable vocational, technical and college educations; we must not let our public school systems’ funding be drained by diversion to charter schools if we allow education funding to follow each student.
3. Health care access and cost. Accepting federal health care funds to expand MaineCare saves money and strengthens Oxford County’s economy by $20 million annually. 3,810 Oxford County residents would have access to health care to see a regular doctor instead of using the ER, and get preventive health services, saving money and making a healthier workforce. Every $1 invested in preventive health care saves $7.50.
Winsor: The three major issues that I think need to be addressed are rapidly increasing electrical energy costs, out-migration of young people, and education at all levels. These are interrelated and involve many other areas as well.
It has been reported that electric charges could double this winter. In Oxford County, this could cause the loss of thousands of jobs. For example, one convenience store owner told me that he currently pays about $2,300 a month for his electricity. If this increases to $4,000, he will close and six people will be out of work.
We educate our children for the knowledge economy, but we don’t create enough jobs to keep them at home. Traveling to work is expensive in money and family time.
Education from pre-kindergarten to post-graduate college is very expensive. The current state budget for educational spending is 45.1% of our general fund budget, yet many feel we are failing to meet the needs of our children and their future employers.
I know of no single solution, but I do think we need to admit we have these challenges, and face them head on, because to fail will mean our population continues to age, as our young go elsewhere.
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.
Whitley: I agree when voters express disappointment and dismay about the extreme partisanship of both parties and they hold the view that “nothing gets done.”
Winsor: People express to me a love for the area, but because they must drive a long way to work they are sad to miss a lot of community events. People also express frustration with the national gridlock in Washington and are pleased that while we argue in Augusta we do find agreement more than not.
Q. How do you plan to keep constituents up-to-date with issues that come before you?
Whitley: I plan to listen to and respond to my individual constituents by making myself available by telephone, e-mail or in person. I plan to communicate the legislature’s business to my constituents through public meetings, newspaper columns and a website.
Winsor: I started a weekly e-mail bulletin last session, and I hope that as my e-mail list grows people find the information interesting and helpful. I continue to volunteer in a number of community organizations, and I also provide my e-mail address and phone numbers for people to contact me.
Q. Finally, answer the following, “I would be the best candidate for this job because…”
Whitley: I have common sense and 13 years of successful collaborative work with all branches of Maine’s government, including governors and their staffs, senators, representatives and Attorney Generals passing legislation that benefits the education/health of Maine’s children and adults. One example is the creation and protection of the Fund for a Healthy Maine.
Winsor: I have the experience and knowledge of the job, and have been and will continue to be a member of the legislative leadership team. I have the contacts and knowledge to help my constituents with issues and problems with state government. I enjoy working on these puzzles and I am good at it.

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