The two Democratic primary candidates for Senate District 14 share similar views on municipal revenue sharing and Medicaid expansion, but their past political experiences differ starkly.
David Bustin, of Hallowell, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1970 and served in the administration of former Gov. Joseph Brennan while Louis Sigel, of Gardiner, has served his party in less visible ways.
Sigel, 70, is the secretary of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee and served on the platform committee for the state party, he said.
The winner of the June 10 primary will face off against another former state legislator, Republican Earle McCormick of West Gardiner.
The winner of the general election in November will be replacing a moderate senator who served on the state’s budget-writing committee for eight of his 10 years in the Legislature, Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop.
Bustin, 75, said he considers Flood a good senator, although he criticized him for not voting to override some of Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes.
Sigel was more critical of the sitting senator, calling him “totally irresponsible” for not expanding Medicaid and a “LePage enabler.”
Both Sigel and Bustin said they would accept federal funds to expand Medicaid in the state, and they support increasing funding for municipalities and schools.
Bustin said the continuation of declines in state aid for education and revenue sharing for communities will drive up local property taxes. He said he’s seen the effects of cuts to revenue sharing first hand as a former mayor and city councilor in Hallowell.
Sigel said he considers LePage to be “the most lawless governor in our history” for his proposal last year to eliminate revenue sharing for municipalities — a belief that’s the basis for one of Sigel’s slogans, “Keep It Legal With Sigel.”
The state is supposed to share 5 percent of Maine’s sales tax with municipalities, but that’s been underfunded for the last several years.
To save money, Sigel said he would find cuts in the budgets of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Corrections.
He called the commissioner of DHHS, Mary Mayhew, an “incompetent lobbyist commissioner” and criticized the department for changing the way the ride system for low-income Mainers is operated. The state switched its MaineCare ride system last year from a patchwork of local groups to regional contractors. One of the contractors, Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, was dropped by the state this year after numerous complaints of missed or late rides.
Another issue important to Sigel is the legalization of recreational marijuana use. He said he doesn’t smoke personally, but he thinks the drug could generate tax revenue for the state.
“I’d rather see the revenue going to the state rather than drug dealers,” he said. “I think we can learn from the Colorado and Washington state systems.”
Voters in both states legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012.
Bustin said he thinks he has the best chance of winning in November and that his experience and knowledge of state government will allow him to make an immediate impact in the Legislature.
If he wins, Bustin said he plans to submit legislation to allow people not enrolled in political parties to vote at whatever primary they choose. He also said he would be in favor of runoff voting for gubernatorial elections.
In 2010, for example, LePage was elected with 37.6 percent of votes while two left-leaning candidates — Independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Libby Mitchell — garnered nearly 55 percent. In runoff voting, or ranked choice voting, if no one earns more than half the votes, the ballots for the last place candidate are distributed to the remaining candidates based on the next choices of the voters. The current plurality voting system means a governor, such as LePage, only has to appeal to a base of fewer than 40 percent of voters, Bustin said.
“I’d like to be part of a team that will move the state forward,” he said. “I think right now with the present leadership in the governor’s office, the trend is to move the state backward.”
Redistricting last year swapped Litchfield for Readfield, but the majority of the district, formerly District 21, remains the same. It also includes Gardiner, Hallowell, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, West Gardiner and Winthrop.
Two years ago Bustin lost to Flood by fewer than 300 votes, and the Readfield-Litchfield swap gave the district more than 100 fewer Republicans and two more Democrats, according to state voter data from last August.
Bustin also lost to McCormick in a 2004 race for a Maine House seat serving Hallowell, Farmingdale and West Gardiner, getting 45 percent of votes.