Voters’ Guide 2008: State House District 120
By Chris Busby
The State House district representing Portland’s East End has been in Democratic hands for decades, passed from Anne Rand to Elizabeth Mitchell to Ben Dudley and, two years ago, back to Rand. But just as Munjoy Hill’s demographics have shifted over the past decade, becoming younger and more transient, so too have the neighborhood’s political tastes, leading voters to eschew established Dems in favor of younger, more progressive pols.
At the City Council level, Green Party organizer Kevin Donoghue’s 2006 defeat of old-school Democratic Hill leader Will Gorham put the Dems on notice that this is no longer safe territory. Rand survived a challenge by Green Party pioneer “Zen” Ben Meiklejohn that year, besting him by 384 votes, but lost the party primary for the area’s State Senate seat this June to Justin Alfond, former head of the Maine chapter of the League of Pissed Off Voters (the youth-centric political group now calling itself the League of Young Voters).
This year, the Donkey Party has a progressive newcomer on the ballot in Diane Russell. The 32-year-old public relations consultant moonlights at Colucci’s Hilltop Market, the mom-and-pop corner store atop Munjoy Hill, where she gets good face-time with voters of all ages.
Divorced, with no kids, Russell has a bachelor’s degree in media studies from the University of Southern Maine. She’s a founding board member of Opportunity Maine, the program offering college grads a tax break if they stay and work in the state, and is also on the board of Common Cause’s Maine chapter. In the past, she’s worked on media reform issues and as program director for IRV America, a project of the election-reform organization FairVote that seeks to establish instant-run-off voting.
The Green this year, Sandy Amborn, is a disappointment given the party’s previously strong efforts in the district (which also includes Portland’s Old Port and downtown south of Congress Street). She’s run a half-baked campaign (few signs, no Web site, barely updated blog) and did not return calls asking her to participate in this Voters’ Guide.
We suspect she’s avoiding The Bollard because of a humiliating incident she was involved in last Election Day. At a post-vote gathering that night in a downtown restaurant, Amborn got caught getting frisky in the men’s room toilet stall with a public relations consultant working for one of the companies vying to redevelop the Maine State Pier. The Bollard reported the incident (this reporter heard Amborn say, “I came here for my career” through the stall wall, and alerted the restaurant owner), but did not name Amborn at the time, as she was not a public figure. (She obviously is now.)
If Amborn manages to steal a few votes from Russell, it could pave the way for a once-unheard-of scenario: a Republican winning this seat. Peter Doyle, 44, is a single software developer who has two bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: one in mathematics, one in geography. He’s been involved in prison ministry at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, but has no kids of his own. Like Russell and Amborn, Doyle’s making his first run for office. Unlike Amborn, he’s running a professional campaign: he returns reporters’ calls, has an extensive Web site, and — at least until the storm the other night — had lots of campaign signs throughout the district.
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?
Peter Doyle: Not in favor of a ban; open to restrictions based on a potential gun owner’s criminal record and mental health.
Diane Russell: Not in favor of a ban; open to restrictions so long as “the 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms, is protected.”
Do you support the proposal to allow a casino to operate in Oxford County?
Doyle: Would “have to look at more details,” but is leaning in favor of supporting it.
Russell: No; objects in particular to part of the proposal that gives the casino operator a seat on boards of organizations or governing bodies that receive casino revenues.
Should Maine abolish its lottery and scratch ticket games?
Doyle: “I don’t see any reason for doing that at this point.”
Russell: No. “I just won $8 today.”
Do you favor any further restrictions on abortion?
Doyle: No; wants to ensure women have knowledge of potential post-procedural psychological effects and give full consent, as current law stipulates they must. [See Doyle’s Letter to the Editor clarifying his position here.]
What measures would you support to make the state’s medical marijuana law more effective?
Doyle: Would support state-sanctioned distribution, with strict oversight.
Russell: Would support a distribution system, but also believes marijuana should be legalized for all adults. “It’s a ludicrous law to make something as simple as marijuana illegal. It’s not cocaine, it’s not heroin, it’s not addictive…. It grows naturally in Maine…. People don’t get violent with marijuana. They just sit there and eat chips.”
Would you support a statewide ban on smoking on bar and restaurant patios and decks?
Doyle: No. “I don’t think at this point that’s necessary.”
Should Portland and other municipalities be allowed to levy a local-option sales tax?
Doyle: “Not at this point.” Said the state should first “start getting its finances in order” to ensure adequate revenue generation and revenue sharing with municipalities.
Should the state provide money to build a megaberth at Ocean Gateway?
Doyle: Yes, if money is available and it did not entail a tax increase.
Russell: Yes, because communities outside Portland would also benefit.
What’s your position on Question 1, the referendum to repeal the beverage tax?
Doyle: Supports repeal.
Russell: Opposes repeal. “It’s a values question for me. I think health care’s more important.”
Should intelligent design be taught in public school science classes?
Doyle: No, but is not opposed to its discussion in the context of a larger lesson about the limits of science’s ability to explain reality.
Should state lawmakers consider making the legal drinking age in Maine 18 again?
Russell: “I think it should be considered…. If you can die for your country, you can certainly have a shot of whiskey before you go. God knows I’d need one to go on a battlefield.”
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.