The last time Democrat Chris Johnson and Republican Dana Dow faced each other in election was in 2012 in Senate District 20.

The occasion was a special election to fill a vacancy created when state Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, stepped down to accept a position with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, and Dow was widely seen as the favorite in a county that had elected Republicans to that seat before.

But Johnson took that election and the two that followed. He’s the incumbent in what’s now Senate District 13, and Dow is challenging him again.

The district is composed of all Lincoln County’s towns except Dresden, plus Windsor in Kennebec County and Washington in Knox County.

Lincoln County has the distinction of having the highest median age of any in the state, and that presents some challenges that the candidates view in different ways, including business growth and employment.

Dow, a business owner and former teacher, is running because he said he has some unfinished business, and his business is improving the state’s business climate. As he looks around Senate District 13, he said he can tick off all the businesses that have left Lincoln County and the region — the Sylvania plant in Waldoboro, the H.P. Hood and Sons dairy, the Medomak Canning Company, the second-oldest Ford garage in New England and a host of stores, some of which have burned down and were never replaced.

“My focus is to get something in to replace them and get the communities vibrant again,” Dow said.

As a past member of the Legislature’s Labor Committee as both a senator and a representative, he said the state needs to double down on what it and Gov. Paul LePage are doing for businesses.

“Do we want to be the premiere welfare state or focus on the economy?” he said. “I have to criticize both parties. As Republicans, we’re too cheap to invest money in the state, and the Democrats are too worried about all the welfare that has to be done.”

A good job, he said, can’t help but replace welfare.

Johnson, who worked in information technology until he stepped down after being elected senator to spend his time working with constituents, sees the economic development question differently. Improving the economic lot of state residents depends on giving them the support they need to be able to work and to interact efficiently with state government.

“There is federal money available to Maine annually to help with vouchers that help with child care costs,” Johnson said, referring to the program that is run by the state but mostly funded by the federal government that helps lower-income residents pay for child care so they can work or attend school.

“The state is not using it,” he said. “We’re learning from child care providers that they no longer take subsidized placement.”

The result, he said, is that parents are having a hard time finding child care they can afford so they can work because the state’s reimbursement rate is too low to make accepting those clients worthwhile, so the program is not used to its full extent. There is, he said, no cost to the state to do it right.

WELFARE AND WORK

The mostly rural district, which includes coastal towns and interior woodlands, is a challenging place to find a job that pays the bills and an affordable place to live.

Johnson said between 2010 and 2014, the number of children living in extreme poverty has increased by 50 percent while federal funds in the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program have not been used. Maine, he said, has the lowest ranking of all the states in that measure.

“This isn’t a moral failing in the children,” he said. “It’s a systemic problem within our programs.” He said accountability in how the state’s agencies do their work is needed, particularly when it comes to the agencies’ dealings with residents.

Dow said he’s been out of office for four years, and he’s unaware of any funds that are not being spent.

“At one time, we were very generous with welfare benefits,” he said. “We were very generous while being one of the poorest states. It was driving the budget. It was unfortunate, we had to make cuts in the past, and I am assuming we’ll still have to make adjustments.”

Dow said his solution is always working to have a friendlier business climate that will promote business success and keep young people from leaving the state, he said. Maine would have enough money.

Both candidates agree that education is important for the state, including vocational education.

Dow said when he graduated from high school in 1969, his fellow graduates were able to get good jobs with that level of education, but that’s not possible anymore. As a former school teacher, he knows there is value in keeping kids in school more and offering the choice for those who are not headed to college and a four-year degree.

His solution for finding money for schools lies in improving the state’s business environment.

Johnson said the state has a role in motivating and providing incentives for the state’s residents to get vocational training so they can be productive members of society.

RETURN TO CIVILITY

But they differ on Question 2, which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as one of five citizen initiatives. The proposal calls for adding a 3 percent tax on individual Maine taxable income above $200,000, which would provide direct support for student learning in kindergarten through 12th grade public education.

Dow said he thinks the question won’t achieve what voters might want because the money could be redirected to another purpose, and he said it effectively creates a surcharge or a fourth step in the income tax structure.

“When we were discussing the lottery, people were promised it would go to the schools, but within six months, it was dumped in the general fund so it could be spent wherever,” Dow said.

Johnson said the initiative is the result of the failure of the Legislature to address making changes in the funding mechanism for schools. In 2004, a mandate to fund 55 percent of the state’s K-12 education system was put in place; that level has never been achieved and progress was slowed during the economic downturn in 2008. Johnson said what started as a plan to fix the funding formula turned into a different initiative examining how to reduce the cost of education.

If it succeeds, he said, the state will have the ability to make progress in funding.

“Twelve years is plenty long enough for the citizens to make that happen,” he said.

In opting to work full-time for his constituents, Johnson said being an elected representative carries with it an obligation to help the people he represents, particularly as they interact with their state government. And he’s able to work cooperatively with others to craft solutions to broad problems, like the state’s opioid crisis. He’s been working with a coalition of law enforcement and care providers in his district to put together a program that mirrors Scarborough’s Operation Hope, which helps addicts find treatment rather than sending them to jail.

Both candidates say the public’s business can be conducted with a greater level of respect and they would like to see a return to civility.

“Bad language and bad manners are never to be condoned,” Dow said. When he served in the Legislature, he worked effectively with Democrats and was assigned to the Labor Committee — one he said was the toughest — because he was told he had a calming effect.

“Unacceptable behavior is unacceptable,” he said. “I treat everyone with respect.”

Johnson points to two well respected elected officials in Maine history, Margaret Chase Smith and George Mitchell, both U.S. senators, who are great examples of statesmanship.

“Instead of looking at the inflammatory words that some politicians have been saying lately and believing that’s the way things will be, we can’t set the bar that low,” Johnson said. “We can look at examples like Smith and Mitchell as examples of who should be elected and serve.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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