Two longtime local planning board members are vying for the Maine House District 53 seat on Nov. 8.

Incumbent Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, is a lifelong Mainer who’s owned and operated his own construction company for more than 30 years. Challenger William Neilson is a semi-retired corporate attorney from New York City who moved to Maine full-time in 2000 and who co-owns a restaurant in Bath.

Both are the chairman of their local planning boards; Pierce in Dresden and Neilson in Arrowsic. Both are actively involved in their communities. And both want to do what they feel is best for the people of House District 53, which includes Dresden, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond.

“I don’t know much about him, but I know we’re both people who are very engaged in our communities,” Neilson said. “He does a lot of things that he’s interested in and I do too. But we have different orientations and backgrounds.”

Pierce, 54, said he’s done a lot of good in his professional life, and something his father said to him before he died helped push Pierce into public service.

“He told me that if you’re not willing to stand up, then what do you stand for?” Pierce said. “We had a lot of long conversations about helping people, and we have a lot of people in this district and in this state who need our help.”

One of the many things Pierce thinks is an issue in his district is the rising property tax and the affect it’s having on the district’s elderly population.

“We have to help the neediest and the most vulnerable, the ones who can’t help themselves,” Pierce said. “I know these people well and think I have a pretty good handle on what the average Mainer needs.”

Pierce said he wants to do anything he can to lend a helping hand, but he isn’t sure about how well his opponent is grasping the problems facing the district.

“I know Will wants to help, and he talks about helping poor people, but it’s hard for me to listen to him,” Pierce said. “He is a lawyer from New York who lives in a large home, so I don’t think he understands.”

Neilson, 61, who graduated with a degree in history from Yale University and has a law degree from the University of Connecticut, disagrees with that premise and cited John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt as examples of those who helped others regardless of their own social status.

“Personal circumstances do not make a difference in whether or not you can understand the situation of the poor,” Neilson said. “Actually, you’d be better off with someone having a better understanding of the forces that are making people poor or keeping them poor.”

The two candidates also disagree on what the biggest issue is in the district. Pierce said heroin is the top problem, while Neilson cited an unwillingness to set partisanship aside for the good of the people.

Pierce wants every spare dollar to go toward fixing the heroin problem and said it should be the No. 1 focus of the Legislature. He thinks the problem not only is affecting adults but also school children.

“If I had a kid in high school, I’d be scared to death. I’d be frightened,” Pierce said. But Neilson thinks Pierce’s plan — which includes minimum prison sentences for interstate drug traffickers of 10-20 years depending on prior criminal history — is not the solution.

“He suggests draconian prison terms as a solution, which decades of experience have demonstrated they are not,” Neilson said. On the contrary, Neilson said, expanding Medicaid would give Maine increased treatment capacity without any additional expenditure on the state’s part.

“There are a lot of addicts who’ll fall into the uncovered population, and Medicaid has funds for mental illness,” Neilson said. “When you expand Medicaid, clinics will know they can get reimbursed for providing treatment.”

Pierce also talked about the Affordable Care Act and its impact on the state and nation, and he cited a number of hospital closures in Maine and the national debt as examples of Obamacare not working.

“We have drug addicted babies that we are paying the bills for,” Pierce said. “We probably shouldn’t be giving away free health care because we have limited resources and people take advantage when you give stuff away for free.”

Neilson doesn’t have experience as a legislator but he said his work as a corporate lawyer has a lot of similarities. He said both were all about trying to understand what was at stake and how to meet very different goals.

“The idea is to reach a deal or conclusion that meets the needs of the various players, some of whom are your clients,” Neilson said. “You have to align things, and that is very much my approach to how I see the job of a legislator.”

Neilson is going door-to-door to share his message with the people in his district ahead of the election.

“Our problems are not simple or small, but we can confront and overcome them if we drop the loaded slogans and work together thoughtfully and collaboratively,” Pierce said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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