For the third election cycle in a row, incumbent Republican Tom Saviello is facing a challenge from Democrat Joanne Dunlap in the race for the Senate District 17 seat.

Dunlap, 73, of Rangeley Plantation, lost against Saviello, a three-term incumbent from Wilton, in 2012 and in 2014. But she said she’s not necessarily in the race to win it. Rather, as chairwoman of the county’s Democratic party, she didn’t want to see an incumbent running unopposed.

In 2014, Saviello won re-election with 11,297 votes. Dunlap received 4,551 votes. If Saviello wins this time, he will reach the maximum number of consecutive terms he is allowed to serve, and he said it would be his last role in state government.

Dunlap said that while she has no political experience, as a former teacher, she is up to the task of taking on extensive homework to serve as a legislator.

“I am a person who likes to know what’s going on,” Dunlap said. “It’s something that requires a lot of time and a lot of homework, and I am willing to do that.”

Saviello said he goes into every term he has been elected to serve in the Legislature with the mind-set of improving the lives of his constituents.

“I want to try and come in here and make my constituents’ lives better, and the only way you can do that down there is you have to have the experience of how the Legislature works,” Saviello said.

Both candidates named jobs as the top issue facing residents of Senate District 17, which encompasses all of Franklin County as well as the Kennebec County towns of Fayette, Belgrade, Vienna and Mount Vernon.

They both also said residents could benefit from a new industry investing in the region. Verso’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay faces financial challenges that resulted in 300 layoffs in 2015 and there’s no word of a possible reopening for this winter, and the Franklin Community Health Network eliminated 40 positions this year.

Dunlap, a retired science teacher, said she’d be a proponent of bringing a new “clean industry” to the region. With the area being rich in natural resources, she said, protecting the environmental integrity and beauty of the area would be a focus of hers.

Sustainable agriculture would do well for Franklin County and the state, Dunlap said, adding, “Maine could be the breadbasket of New England.”

“This is the kind of place that inspires you to be ecologically sound,” she said.

Saviello, who was appointed during the last legislative session to serve as the chairman of the Biomass Commission, said he wants to work with the forest products industry in sorting out new ways in which forest products can be used.

If elected, he said, he would explore what stands in the way of establishing “micro-grids” within Maine, which would consist of a biomass plant that would generate an electric grid that nearby businesses and establishment could connect to.

Saviello said he also would continue his efforts to expand the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, an effort opposed by most Republicans. Saviello sponsored a bill last session, L.D. 633, that would have expanded MaineCare; however, the bill failed to make it to a vote.

Saviello said Franklin Memorial Hospital is one of the “three stool legs” holding up the region, along with the University of Maine at Farmington and the Androscoggin Mill. Expanding MaineCare not only would provide health care to tens of thousands of Mainers, but also would help the hospital financially. The organization cited the state’s failure to expand MaineCare as one of the biggest contributing factors in its recent financial struggles.

Both candidates said they oppose an income tax reduction, but rather are focused on the property tax.

“We need to look at reducing the property tax,” Saviello said. “I have elderly people that can’t stay in their house because they can’t afford to pay the property taxes.”

Dunlap said she also supports increasing the minimum wage. Question 4 on the election ballot proposes to “raise the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, with annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020, and annual cost-of-living increases thereafter.”

As the owner of Mo’s Variety in Rangeley, Dunlap said, she pays her employees $11 an hour.

Saviello said he favors raising the minimum wage but is not supporting Question 4. He said an increase in the minimum wage to $10 is in order, but that any increase should also be paired with stipulations for a training wage and a summer wage at rates lower than a raised minimum wage.

Saviello pays store clerks $10 an hour at his antiques shop on Front Street in Farmington. However, he said that wages an employer pays to employees they are training should be lower, about $8, for a period of time while the trainee is gaining the skills necessary for the job. Saviello also said seasonal businesses, since they are only open for a limited time during the year, should have a lower wage than an increased minimum wage.

“I support an increase in the minimum wage,” Saviello said. “I just think the ramifications haven’t been fully studied.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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