Voters’ Guide 2008: State Senate District 8
By Chris Busby
When three-term Democratic State Senator Ethan King Strimling decided to seek his party’s nomination for a Congressional run, rather than another two years in Augusta, no shortage of contenders emerged to vie for his throne.
The same day Strimling tanked in the Democratic primary for Congress, party voters chose Justin Alfond to carry the torch in the race for the senator’s District 8 seat (encompassing Portland’s peninsula and islands, and the southern half of off-peninsula Portland — roughly from Brighton Ave. down). Alfond bested longtime state legislator Anne Rand and Opportunity Maine colleague Cliff Ginn in that race. He now squares off against Green Independent Bill Linnell and Republican Eric Lusk.
Alfond may be a first-time candidate, but his name (at least his last name) is familiar to many Mainers — he’s a grandson of Dexter Shoe Co. founder and legendary philanthropist Harold Alfond, who passed away last year at age 93. Alfond’s further recognized in Portland as the former head and founder of the Maine chapter of the League of Pissed Off Voters (now the League of Young Voters), a national political education and activism organization. He resigned from that position last year to pursue this campaign.
The 33-year-old first-time candidate is now a real estate developer. He recently completed a 21-unit condo project on Munjoy Hill (which includes two units designed as affordable housing). Alfond is single, but has been in a serious relationship for the past three years. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Tulane University. In addition to four years with the League, Alfond’s one of the founders (and a board member) of Opportunity Maine, the program that provides student-loan tax credits to Maine college graduates who stay and work in the state. Alfond also sits on the boards of the Kennebec Valley Community College Foundation and Maine Initiatives, a foundation that gives grants to support grassroots efforts to organize for social change.
Capt. Linnell, 53, is a lobsterman and substitute teacher at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. He lost a four-way race for the District 3 Portland City Council seat last year to Dan Skolnik, but was twice elected to the Cape Elizabeth Town Council in the early 1990s, and has served two years as president of the Stroudwater Neighborhood Association.
The captain — who’s drawn attention for his quirky, sea-themed campaign signs (several of which have suspiciously disappeared this year, he said) — has a domestic partner of 19 years and no children. He earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Colby College, and several certificates from boat-building schools.
Lusk, 44, is a financial advisor with Harborview Investments. He graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, and is divorced, with no children. This is his first run for public office. Lusk’s been involved with the Rotary Club and the Children’s Museum of Maine’s development committee.
Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. For additional notes on some questions, see the bottom of this guide.
Do you support a ban or any further restrictions on assault weapons?
Justin Alfond: “I would look at further restrictions on private sales of assault weapons… waiting periods [and] background checks on assault weapons.”
Bill Linnell: Would consider restrictions, but is undecided on a ban. “Even in the Old West, people’d request [that] you turn your gun in to the sheriff and you’d get your gun when you left town. I’d be willing to look at that.”
Eric Lusk: “Let’s stick with the laws we have on the books.”
Do you support the proposal to allow a casino to operate in Oxford County?
Linnell: No. Specifically opposes proposal to extend house credit to gamblers and be granted a 10 year “monopoly” on the casino business in Maine.
Lusk: No. “I do not like casinos, in general, and I won’t support one.”
Should Maine abolish its lottery and scratch ticket games?
Linnell: “No, I think those are fun.”
Lusk: “I’d love to abolish it, but the answer at the moment is no.” (Cited the ongoing global financial crisis.)
Do you favor any further restrictions on abortion?
Lusk: No. Add that he is “not especially interested in expanding public financing for abortion.”
What measures would you support to make the state’s medical marijuana law more effective?
Alfond: Would look to other states with similar laws. Is “open to looking into” ways to “make it actually a program that’s implemented.”
Linnell: Would support measures to make it more accessible; said he once provided pot to a retired admiral suffering from cancer who later died.
Lusk: Supports establishment of a legalized distribution system.
Would you support a statewide ban on smoking on bar and restaurant patios and decks?
Alfond: Said individual communities should decide. Is undecided as to whether Portland’s ban is effective.
Linnell: “Probably, yeah.”
Lusk: No. Said individual municipalities should decide.
Should Portland and other municipalities be allowed to levy a local-option sales tax?
Alfond: “Absolutely.” Would favor starting with a lodging tax increase “because it’s a tax we can really push to tourists and non-Portland, non-Mainers for the majority of that tax.”
Lusk: Yes, “and it doesn’t stand a chance of getting through on the state legislative level.”
Should the state provide money to build a megaberth at Ocean Gateway?
Alfond: Would not rule out funding at some future time, but said, “it’s not something I’d have on the top of the ticket.”
Linnell: “I think it’s a good idea for the state to help out. We’re a service center for the rest of the state”
Lusk: Yes. “The state ought to be funding it if the state’s gonna collect all the [sales tax] revenue from it.”
What’s your position on Question 1, the referendum to repeal the beverage tax?
Alfond: Opposes repeal.
Linnell: Opposes repeal.
Lusk: Supports repeal.
Should intelligent design be taught in public school science classes?
Alfond: No. “I’m not in favor of having intelligent design taught in our public schools.”
Linnell: Was unsure what intelligent design is, but said it’s “fine to include it…. I don’t want anything taught exclusively.” It can be “presented as one of the theories.”
Lusk: [Laughs.] “No.”
Should state lawmakers consider making the legal drinking age in Maine 18 again?
Alfond: “Yeah, I have no problem considering it.”
Linnell: “I kinda like 21. It was 18 when I was 18, and I drank a lot more than I should have. I’d probably have a master’s degree if the drinking age was 21.”
A few notes on the questions…
• As compiled by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: At present, there are no state restrictions on the sale or possession of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons in Maine. Gun owners are not required to register with law enforcement authorities. Gun dealers do not need a state license, but must keep a record of on-premises sales. Individuals and collectors are not required to keep a record or perform a background check on those who purchase assault weapons at gun shows or through private transactions. There are no restrictions on ammunition magazines that allow the shooter to fire scores of rounds without reloading. Cities and towns are prohibited from imposing any restrictions stricter than state law. There is no waiting period required for gun sales.
• According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, Maine currently restricts access to abortion by prohibiting public funding for the procedure for low-income women eligible for state-funded health care. Women under 18 must have the written consent of one parent or other adult family member to get an abortion; that mandate cannot be waived in cases of rape, incest or child abuse, but can be waived if a doctor determines the young woman’s health is threatened and she is of sound mind to give consent. Individual health care providers, hospitals and clinics can refuse to perform abortions with no legal ramifications. No woman may have the procedure without being advised by the attending physician of the estimated length of her pregnancy and the risks associated with pregnancy and abortion.
• Ten years ago, Maine voters passed an initiative allowing doctors to recommend marijuana to patients suffering from a handful of specific illnesses and symptoms (including nausea and wasting syndrome resulting from AIDS and cancer treatments, glaucoma, epileptic seizures, and muscle spasms associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis). Patients can grow a few plants and possess 2.5 ounces or less of the drug, but there is no formal or state-sanctioned system to provide the medicine (or the seeds or plants needed to start growing), leading most patients to turn to the black market or forgo the medicine’s benefits.
• A “local option” sales tax is a tax levied by towns and cities — typically an increase on the state sales tax on meals and lodging — that allows the municipality to keep the additional revenue (rather than send it to Augusta) for local purposes and projects. State lawmakers from cities like Portland have tried unsuccessfully for many years to convince their more rural and suburban colleagues to allow such a tax.
• The “megaberth” is a large dock capable of handling modern cruise ships that was originally planned to be built as part of the Ocean Gateway marine passenger terminal next to the Maine State Pier. When Ocean Gateway ran over budget, the megaberth was cut, and city officials are now trying to figure out how to get the money to build it. Ocean Gateway was built using a mix of local, state and federal funds, and some argue that because ships using the berth would bring an economic benefit to communities beyond Portland, the state should pony up more dough to finish the job.