In the 2010 election, Elizabeth Miller, the Democratic incumbent from Somerville who had held office for the last six years, faced a challenge from newcomer Deborah Sanderson, a Republican from Chelsea.

Now the tables have turned. This year, Sanderson is the incumbent, defending her District 52 seat in the House of Representatives from Miller.

Sanderson, 49, said she’s seeking re-election to continue the work of the 125th Legislature, which she said has improved Maine’s economic climate by eliminating unnecessary business regulations and lowering taxes for the lower and middle class.

Miller, 61, offered a dimmer outlook for the state.

“We still have a stagnant economy. We don’t have visible job growth,” she said. “They would say it takes time, and constituents are saying we’re running out of time.”

However, Miller gives credit to the current Republican-controlled Legislature for some business regulation reform.

“I think they’ve done some good work around regulations, small business regulations that might be holding (small business owners) back,” she said. “I think we need to keep looking at policies that restrain small business and try to peel them away.”

Sanderson said legislators need to be aware of the impact of regulations on small businesses to ensure that regulations are helping, not hurting, Mainers.

Miller and Sanderson both agreed that property taxes are too high for residents in their district. They also agreed that the state government must increase funding for schools.

“It’s difficult for the town people to continue to absorb these costs, especially when a lot of them are having a hard time finding a job,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson, who is a medical biller for Maine Veterans’ Homes, said she hasn’t supported any legislation that meant unfunded mandates for towns. An example is L.D. 1422, the bill requiring Maine high schools to adopt standard-based graduation requirements by 2017 with a waiver extending to 2020, which originally failed to pass in the House as an unfunded mandate. The Senate added state funding to it, and Gov. Paul LePage signed it into law in May.

Even with the state funding, Sanderson said she doesn’t support the standard-based model because the cost of the transition isn’t clear, and she hasn’t seen enough evidence standard-based programs work.

Miller said that for long-term solutions to improving the education system, the state must better fund early childhood education. She specifically denounced recent cuts to Head Start and child-care subsidies.

Sanderson is perhaps best known for, and is most proud of, her sponsorship of a bill increasing privacy for medical marijuana patients, eliminating mandatory registration and mandatory disclosure of their medical condition to the state, which was signed into law by LePage in June 2011.

Miller said she has no objection to the work done by Sanderson for medical marijuana. She said her mother was on medical marijuana as a dialysis patient, so she voted for the referendum.

Miller, who works part-time at an Augusta-based charitable foundation, the Bingham Program, which gives grants in the health care field, said her biggest challenge is drawing enough distinction between herself and the values and beliefs of her opponent.

“We’re both good people. We both work hard, we’re responsive to people in our communities,” she said. “Voters have to decide if the kind of work she stands for in the majority in Augusta is what they were looking for two years ago.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

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