Rep. Gary Hilliard, R-Belgrade, is approaching this campaign much like his first, when he knocked on nearly 2,200 doors in House District 76. And he’s hearing a lot of the same concerns from his constituents.

Hilliard, 61, is being challenged for his seat by political newcomer Jill Ducharme, a Democrat from Wayne who spent a majority of her career as an executive for Cole Haan.

Hilliard, who is the owner and president of a company that operates Subway sandwich shops across central and coastal Maine, said he’s spent more than 35 years creating hundreds of jobs in Maine and other states. He said he’ll continue to fight for job creation in his second term.

“We must understand that a strong economy and a healthy workforce are required to pay for all government programs,” Hilliard said. “It’s simple. When the economy struggles, less money is available to spend.”

In his time canvassing his district and talking to constituents, Hilliard said, a lot of people complain that their taxes are too high and that there is a lack of opportunity for young people to work in their chosen field.

The representative said it’s not the government’s role to create jobs; rather, it can provide an environment that encourages business creators to build new businesses and grow existing small business. If every small business in Maine added just one job, he said, the state’s unemployment rate would be cut in half.

“We must become more business-friendly by reducing unnecessary regulation, incentivizing job-training programs and offering tax incentives to boost our local economy,” he said.

Hilliard touted his voting record in support of the environment and said he’ll continue to “work on these issues from a common-sense point of view” over the next two years. He served on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and sponsored legislation to protect Maine’s lake water quality, which he says is very important, especially in District 76.

The incumbent said lowering all taxes and increasing economic activity are the priorities he’d address in the 128th Legislature. He hasn’t met his opponent and isn’t sure of her policies or beliefs, but he imagines she’s “running a hard campaign.”

Ducharme, 48, was born and raised in Maine and left only to attend Norwich University in Vermont. She’s lived in Wayne for 12 years and works with nonprofit organizations across the state to identify and pursue funding opportunities that support their missions and programs.

She said she decided to run for office and challenge Hilliard because she cares not only about preserving Maine’s communities, but also improving them.

“I believe we should be able to look to our elected officials to help us make this happen by closing gaps in areas like public education and infrastructure,” Ducharme said.

Ducharme thinks her business experience gives her the means to be an effective legislator and a voice that accurately represents the people in her district.

Recently, Ducharme worked with people in the Katahdin region, which has been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs. The population of Millinocket, Ducharme said, has declined 37 percent over the last 25 years.

The challenger said that in most of rural Maine, towns and areas are looking to outdoor recreation and agri-tourism to help bolster their local economies.

“Essential to developing these industries is the conservation of the land where these activities will take place,” she said, “and the entrepreneurs who will develop tourist amenities and experiences that will result in return visits, word-of-mouth marketing and tourism dollars are just as important.”

Ducharme has a couple of things she thinks businesses in Maine need to be viable and competitive in today’s marketplace, including high-speed internet.

“Broadband is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th,” she said. The state’s ConnectME grants are steps in the right direction, but they “fall short of making high-speed connections a possibility in rural areas where many of Maine’s small businesses are based — or could be, with the appropriate resources.”

Ducharme has never run for political office before, but she doesn’t think that should be a deterrent to voting for her in November. In fact, she thinks it’s a plus.

“I bring a fresh perspective, and my approach isn’t tainted by the frustrations that other elected officials probably feel,” Ducharme said. “I see working on behalf of the people in my district as a natural progression for what I’ve chosen to do professionally. It’s a way to make a bigger difference in the lives of people here.”

Because she hasn’t been in the public eye as an elected official, Ducharme is making sure to visit people in the district, and she already has been through four of the six towns and plans to check out the other two before November.

“I think it’s critical that any candidate meets face-to-face with their constituents, and I cannot imagine serving in the House without having the experience of knocking on doors and meeting folks,” Ducharme said. Constituents share personal struggles with property taxes, medical care, employment and education, and she said she’s gained a “tremendous amount of insight into what’s really important to people.”

Ducharme said she has served on the boards of nonprofits and understands what is needed to gain a consensus to move things forward and to work with people to educate them in ways to make things better.

“Communication is key,” Ducharme said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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