CHINA — A three-term incumbent will square off against a political science college student with an interest in local agriculture to represent House District 55 in the Legislature.

The two candidates both said the state’s flagging economy is their biggest concern, but they had different ideas about how to address the problem.

Both Republican incumbent David Cotta, 65, of China, and Democratic challenger Amy Sylvester, 22, also of China, agreed that the solution to creating more jobs is likely to be a multifaceted approach that would include training a skilled workforce.

While Cotta emphasized solutions that reduce costs for businesses, Sylvester spoke more about boosting local food production as a key focus.

Cotta plans to draw on his extensive experience in area politics, including a 19-year stint on China’s Board of Appeals and his current position as chairman of the State and Local Government Committee in the Maine House of Representatives.

Sylvester said she has no plans to become a career politician but felt compelled to enter the race when she realized the effect of the state’s challenges on its young people.

The candidates are facing the race from opposite ends of their professional careers.

Cotta retired from a 36-year military career as a helicopter pilot in 2003, after which he attained a bachelor’s degree in Small Business Administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Sylvester has worked as the media and field coordinator for the Dunlap for Senate campaign; she has also held a variety of retail jobs.

She expects to graduate from Waterville’s Thomas College in December with a degree in political science.

Cotta said the biggest issue facing the state is employment, which he said means bringing more quality, good-paying jobs to Maine and the district, which consists of Albion, China, Unity Township and part of Benton.

“You have to reduce the cost of doing business to encourage business to develop,” he said. He said reductions in business costs would help but warned “there’s not a single silver bullet. We can’t really buy into that. It’s multifaceted.”

Cotta said he would like to see more progress made toward enhancing the business climate if he gets to serve a fourth term.

“What the Legislature can do is make sure it’s not impeding the business environment and at the same time not harm the environment and make sure there’s a good quality education to produce that workforce,” he said.

Cotta said most legislators work together to achieve goals, but a minority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle contribute to problematic partisanship.

“I don’t think any particular party has all the right ideas and none have all the wrong ideas,” Cotta said. “The source of the idea to me is irrelevant. If it was bolstered by the other side of the aisle and it served my constituents well, I would certainly support that. That’s the prism I use.”

Sylvester said that partisanship causes moderate voters to lose interest.

“I think everyone feels that that’s a problem,” she said. “Obviously it’s been really difficult for the parties to come together.

“It’s difficult for voters to feel engaged when they don’t have a strong partisan identity.”

Sylvester said she would advocate for investments in skilled workforce development, natural resources protection and state infrastructure to improve the state economy.

Wooing large corporations to Maine hasn’t been effective, she said.

“Obviously, just trying to draw big business here isn’t the answer,” she said. “We bring in big-box stores or try to attract corporations to bring jobs here, and it’s just not having the effect that we hope for.”

Sylvester said small-business owners and their employees, particularly in agriculture, should be supported with state policies.

“I am passionate about the need to support our farms and small scale food producers,” she said. “We know that spending dollars locally has a much greater impact on supporting our economy than spending them elsewhere.”

Sylvester said her youth gives her insight into the problem’s facing Maine’s younger residents.

“I think there’s so much at stake for everyone in Maine but especially for younger people who are looking to build careers and families here,” she said. “My friends, they’re going out of state to look for work, and I think that’s a big problem.”

Sylvester said she also felt compelled to run.

“I believe in living your values,” she said. “Young people have to step up, and I’m very willing to step up.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com