LITCHFIELD — Two town residents are squaring off in the race to represent District 80 in the State House.
The Republican incumbent, Melvin Newendyke, and the Democratic challenger, Rachel Sukeforth, differ on almost all the issues. The district includes Litchfield, Monmouth and Wales.
Newendyke, 70, who is completing his first term in the Legislature, sees the economy as one of the biggest challenges.
“We need to create more jobs,” he said. “I don’t think we can have a thriving economy unless the private sector is going to get moving and create more jobs.”
Newendyke said state government can assist by continuing to cut red tape that can slow job creation.
“What I’m hearing from the business community is that we still have too many regulations involved even though we’ve made some steps in that area,” Newendyke said.
Affordable health care and affordable education are prime issues for Sukeforth, 27. She’s had personal encounters with each.
“Health care one of my issues because economy is so awful,” she said. “Employers who might want to provide it can’t afford it.” When she was 25, the newly enacted Affordable Care Act made coverage under her mother’s plan possible, and she was able to have some needed surgery.
Sukeforth recently landed a job in her field as a lab assistant at Woods End Laboratories in Mount Vernon, but she still lacks health insurance and has aged out of her mother’s plan..
“I’m young, I’m college-educated and my folks worked hard all their lives to give my brother and I better lives,” she said. “I expected all my hard work and education would lead to a job that would provide for me.”
Newendyke hopes that Gov. Paul LePage’s recent trade mission to China will increase Maine trade both abroad and at home. “Maine could be the food basket of New England if it would put more effort into marketing our products,” he said, acknowledging that marketing takes money as well.
He said he is particularly proud of the Legislature’s tax reductions, which go into effect in 2013, and believes more work is needed on welfare reform.
“I hear too often that people are abusing the system,” Newendyke said, citing a study that shows people receiving state assistance spend it outside of Maine. “It seems like they ought to be spending it at home.”
He points to a remark by fellow Republican and state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, who said that the state is now “borrowing less, spending less, taxing less and regulating less.”
“I think that’s a good thing,” Newendyke said.
Newendyke has been campaigning by visiting small businesses in the three towns, and gone door to door as well, occasionally aided by two granddaughters who live near him.
He is a retired banker and auditor, and this year cut 100 acres of hay on his farm. He previously was on the Litchfield Budget Committee and is on the House Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.
Sukeforth graduated in 2007 from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., but still owes about $35,000 for school loans.
“I don’t mind paying that back, but there’s not the jobs to support it. I’m like everybody else, frustrated with economy and trying to make ends meet,” she said. “Nothing’s getting better.”
She said she would support initiatives to make higher education more affordable. “Does it really need to cost $40,000 or $50,000 a year?” she said.
Sukeforth has put up campaign signs and has been going door to door to meet voters when she’s not at work.
“I might have grown up in my town, but I have two other towns, and people come and go,” Sukeforth said.
She served on the town’s Housing Rehabilitation Planning Committee.
“I worry about the future of my community and I’m going to be here to see the fruits of our labor and see how my actions will affect our community,” she said.
While she’s new to the political arena, she said she’s been working with a network of Democrats, including Nancy Smith, who held the seat for four terms, ending in 2010.
Sukeforth’s father Lee helps with signs, and mom Robin works with the phones.
Betty Adams — 621-5631