Voters’ Guide 2008: State House District 115
By Chris Busby
Maine’s term-limits law is ousting one of Augusta’s big fish: Democratic House Speaker Glenn Cummings.
Cummings won four consecutive terms by big margins, and steadily made his way to the top of the party heap. Word is he’s aiming to land a job as a college or university president. The site politicker.com reported in June that Cummings has been accepted into the University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral program in higher education.
District 115 includes the neighborhood along the northern shore of Back Cove, plus the Oakdale neighborhood next to USM’s Portland campus.
Three candidates are seeking to replace Cummings, none of whom has held public office before — though not necessarily for lack of trying.
Green Independent Michael Hiltz challenged Cummings in 2004 and, like all the others, got crushed (final tally: 3,401 to 1,177). Now 32, the registered nurse who attained his degree from USM is expecting his first child this winter with partner Amanda. Hiltz serves on the board of the Center for Grieving Children.
Democrat Stephen Lovejoy fared better when he went up against a popular, longtime incumbent three years ago: Portland City Councilor Cheryl Leeman. Lovejoy managed to get just over 40 percent of the vote against the longtime councilor and two-time (and counting) mayor.
The 58-year-old married father of three (and three step-children) is an assistant professor of business at the University of Maine in Augusta. Like Cummings, he’s an educational over-achiever: bachelor’s in education (social science and history) from USM; master’s in international business from Southern New Hampshire University; doctorate in business from SNHU in progress. Lovejoy’s civic activities include a past stint on the board of the Downtown Portland Corporation, and involvement with the Lions Club and Rotary Club.
Republican Donna Bendiksen is a first-time candidate spurred into political activism a few years ago, after the oldest of her two grown sons joined the army in 2004. She said concern about the direction of the Iraq War inspired her to get involved, as did Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. (She worked on Paul’s campaign and was a delegate to the Maine Republican Party convention.)
Bendiksen, 46, is married and currently unemployed/campaigning full-time. She previously worked in the health care field as a care provider, but left to return to college. She has not yet attained a degree.
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?
Donna Bendiksen: No. “No matter what kinds of bans are put on guns, criminals will always have access to them. Any ban only takes that right away from people who are not criminals.”
Michael Hiltz: Yes, supports further restrictions.
Stephen Lovejoy: Not sure. “I think they’re pretty heavily restricted.”
Do you support the proposal to allow a casino to operate in Oxford County?
Lovejoy: “Absolutely not.” Cited a friend who had a destructive gambling habit and said most of the money the casino would generate would go out of state, to Nevada.
Should Maine abolish its lottery and scratch ticket games?
Bendiksen: “I don’t think so. Those aren’t like a casino, where you’re gonna invite criminals to come to the state, as well.”
Lovejoy: No. “At this point, we can’t afford to reduce any of our revenues if we’re going to try to grow the state economy.”
Do you favor any further restrictions on abortion?
Bendiksen: Has become more pro-life in recent years; opposes “late-term abortions” and said, “I don’t like abortion being used as a form of birth control.” Would not push for further restrictions; opposes state funding for abortions.
Lovejoy: “Absolutely not.”
What measures would you support to make the state’s medical marijuana law more effective?
Bendiksen: Supports decriminalization of marijuana; supports state-registered distribution for patients.
Hiltz: More public education on the issue.
Lovejoy: Not sure; has not studied the issue.
Would you support a statewide ban on smoking on bar and restaurant patios and decks?
Hiltz: Leans toward favoring such a ban; would want to see outcome of Portland ordinance first.
Lovejoy: Yes. “As a former smoker … I think it’s made a better experience for everyone.”
Should Portland and other municipalities be allowed to levy a local-option sales tax?
Bendiksen: No. “I took the [Americans for Tax Reform’s] Taxpayer [Protection] Pledge not to increase taxes.”
Hiltz: “Roger that. Absolutely.”
Should the state provide money to build a megaberth at Ocean Gateway?
Bendiksen: “I think if the state has money to pay for a megaberth, it might be better used helping Maine people get through this winter.”
Lovejoy: “I would love to see it, but I think it’s impractical at this time,” given the forecast for major state budget shortfalls in the next two-year budget cycle.
What’s your position on Question 1, the referendum to repeal the beverage tax?
Bendiksen: Supports repeal.
Hiltz: Opposes repeal.
Lovejoy: Opposes repeal. “Dirigo Health is a program that is flawed, yet the issue of healthcare in this state is critical. I don’t believe [anyone] is not going to buy a bottle of wine at dinner because of an additional 30 cents.”
Should intelligent design be taught in public school science classes?
Bendiksen: Unsure what intelligent design is. Said schools need to focus on “the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic, basic problem-solving skills.”
Lovejoy: No. “I think most of us believe in evolution.”
Should state lawmakers consider making the legal drinking age in Maine 18 again?
Bendiksen: No. “If I was 17, I’d probably say yes. I have a 19-year-old son. I don’t think he’s mature enough to handle alcohol.”
Lovejoy: No. Worked in a bar near USM during college, when Maine last reduced the age to 18 (in the 1970s). “Based on some personal experiences at that time” — involving football players from rival area high schools — “I think that was a mistake then and I think it would be a mistake now.”
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.