A counselor with a philosophical approach to politics is challenging the incumbent speaker of the House in a contest to represent District 78, which encompasses Sidney and part of Oakland.

Democratic challenger Harry Hayes, 26, and incumbent Republican Robert Nutting, 65, bring different approaches to solving the state’s problems. Nutting, like nearly every other candidate running for office in Maine, identified the economy as the biggest issue in the state, while Hayes had a different answer.

Hayes said the state’s biggest problem isn’t the economy. It’s a culture that prevents people from working together to solve issues, jobs included.

“In Maine, we care about each other. We help take care of each other, more so than other states. I think losing that is bigger than just about anything else. I think we’re starting to slip in that area,” he said. “What would it look like to really love your neighbor in leadership in the state of Maine? It’s really hearing out the other side even when you know you disagree and trying to find ways to collaborate instead of just shutting the door just because you can and you have the power to.”

Hayes said that improving working relations between legislators is key to solving the state’s other problems.

“It’s taking away, I think, from our entire state,” he said. “When your leadership leads in the wrong direction as far as the little things go, it makes it so we can’t work together on the big things.”

Nutting had a more typical view of the biggest problem in the state.

“The overriding concern of everyone is the economy and jobs,” Nutting, who also works as a pharmacist, said. “The success and failure of people’s lives is dictated largely by whether they can get a good job.”

Nutting said the future of the state hinges on that single idea — whether a person can find a job.

“It’s a death spiral for young people to get educated in Maine and then move to Massachusetts or Texas to work. We want them here,” he said. “It all centers around a job. That job makes state government work, makes everything else work. That’s the key.”

Nutting said the state has made progress during his term on the cost of energy, the tax burden and a lack of a skilled workforce, all of which he said are contributing factors to the stalled economy.

“I think those are all important,” he said. “It’s a mix.”

Nutting said the state is moving in the right direction toward a business-friendly climate.

“One of the things I’ve promoted as speaker in the last two years is making Maine an easier place to do business,” he said.

Nutting also said the state’s economy will be improved when tax dollars are spent more wisely. He pointed to recent overhauls of Maine State Housing and the Maine Turnpike Authority as places where money is being saved.

“I think we can find more examples,” he said.

Nutting also said that Gov. Paul LePage will identify other expenses that are no longer needed using zero-based budgeting, which reassesses each budget item based on the need for the expenditure, rather than assuming that the budgeted amount from the previous year is merited.

Hayes acknowledged that bringing jobs to Maine is the most important issue for the voters in the district.

He said he would advocate for a plan with short- and long-term goals.

“If we started making it a priority to train people in the IT and computer fields and talk to some companies, I think they would be more than willing to move to Maine or to expand here,” he said. “That’s a field that’s not going anywhere. These are good-paying jobs.”

Hayes, who is the son of Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, said that he sees a problem with the level of partisanship in the Legislature, while Nutting disagrees.

“We are head and shoulders above the partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., for example,” he said. “In Augusta, we have taken the approach that you need to include everybody as best you can. The six budgets that we passed, five of them we passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. We have gone out of our way to reach across the aisle. Most of the time it works. At times, we are willing to go there alone if the Democrats won’t come with us.”

Nutting said that perceptions to the contrary are usually based on reports in the media, which he said give a misleading impression.

“What you read in the newspaper and see on TV is usually about controversy,” he said. “There is no big story about the house that’s not burning.”

Hayes, on the other hand, said the problem of partisan politics in Augusta is obvious.

“We get caught up too much in issues and forget that every person deserves to be respected and valued,” he said. “If we got through two years and there was nothing that made headlines but we were able to change some of the little things about how we deal with each other and how respectful we are and that catches on, then to me we’ve gained more than solving the health insurance crisis.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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