The race for the House District 83 seat features a contest between two Gardiner residents, one a two-term Democratic incumbent and the other a Republican with three terms on the Gardiner City Council.

At-large City Councilor Scott Williams is challenging Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, because after six years on the City Council, he said, the experience he’s gained at the city level would serve him well as he looks to help Gardiner residents.

Grant, whose concerns range from early childhood development to ensuring the needs of the state’s aging population are met, said if she’s re-elected, she’ll run for speaker of the House.

“I have only a short amount of time in which to work as a legislator, and I want to be able to work at the level that will have the most impact,” she said.

While she’s not in a leadership position in the House, she serves on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

House District 83 encompasses Gardiner and Farmingdale.

Williams identified education as one of his top priorities. Specifically, he would like to see the state step away from its current level of standardized tests.

“It doesn’t really serve any purpose,” he said. “Schools spend more time preparing for the tests than teaching them things that will prepare them for real life and the future.”

When he graduated from high school, he said, he didn’t know how to balance a budget or pay taxes or apply for a loan, all basic life skills. He said he’d like to see a class that would teach those things implemented in high schools across the state.

“I’d need to talk to the state Department of Education to figure it out,” Williams said. “Working together would be the way to go.”

Grant, who said she has spent more than 30 years advocating for children, would like to see an increase in access to quality early childhood programs as well as investment in public health and education outreach to support young children and their families.

“Every investment we make in these early years comes back to us tenfold,” she said.

She also considers education to be a tool for economic development. A skills gap exists between what Maine workers are able to do and what Maine employers are looking for, she said, adding that Maine needs to refocus both education and job training programs so that state residents gain the skills they need to be part of the workforce.

For Grant, that ties into her top priority of focusing on the economy and expanding the state’s small-business sector, where most new jobs are created. But her concerns don’t end there.

People can’t work when they’re sick, she said.

“We must also expand access to affordable health care so all Maine citizens can see a doctor when they need to,” she said. “Health care is an economic as well as a public health issue.”

Both candidates acknowledged the effect that illegal drugs, specifically heroin, are having on central Maine.

Grant said the families she has spoken to have urged her to continue to work to expand the availability of medically effective treatment. She wants to ensure that law enforcement has the resources it needs to halt the supply of drugs coming in to Maine. At the same time, substance abuse prevention would stem the demand for the drugs.

As a legislator, her action plan is to continue to work on policies already in place and to draft legislation to accomplish these goals.

Williams supports equipping law enforcement agencies with Narcan, the drug that’s used to reverse the effects of an overdose, and with training on how to administer it.

“Maine was definitely the perfect target (for illegal drugs),” he said. “We need more education on the dangers of heroin and saying no to peer pressure.”

Williams highlighted investment in infrastructure as one of his priorities.

The roads in both the Gardiner area and across Maine are a mess, he said.

“Our roads are like something out of a safari,” he said.

Repairing the state’s roads would boost tourism and other businesses, he said, adding that no one wants to risk breaking an axle and businesses don’t want to pay money for vehicle repairs.

Paying for that would require a shift in focus for state funding.

“We’ve made a lot of good steps with welfare reform,” he said. “We can keep going with that and move money toward roads.”

Grant said she’s concerned that the needs of children and young people in the state are being met less and less.

“If we don’t act now,” she said, “the generations following us will be less healthy; possess fewer work, social and life skills; and have fewer opportunities to live the American dream than the generations that preceded them. The growing divide between the richest and the poorest in this state and nation are being seen profoundly in our children’s lives. This does not bode well for our state’s future, or our nation’s.”

Williams said he’s in favor of regionalization and consolidating services such as police and firefighting to make the delivery more efficient and cost-effective. To make it happen, he said, communities should be offered incentives to work together.

“We could spend a little money here to make money in the future,” he said.

Both Williams and Grant cite civility as an important component in doing legislative work.

Williams said many politicians have put party interests above the well-being of the state, and it’s one of the most important issues that faces Maine.

“It’s important for us to work together for a better future for all of Maine,” he said.

He said he’s learned through his time on the Gardiner City Council, whose elections are nonpartisan, that working with people of different political beliefs benefits the city.

“I learned how to get along with people who don’t support all decisions,” he said.

Grant said as a representative, she shows respect for the people of Gardiner and Farmingdale by representing them in a civil manner.

“I focus on the issues, not the personalities, and I remain positive,” she said. “Over my four years of legislative service, I have worked collaboratively with all of my fellow leaders to make Maine a better place to live, work and pass on to our children. I will continue to be a strong voice of civility and integrity, representing the people of my district in Augusta.”

Both say they can work with Gov. Paul LePage, whose behavior and often volatile interactions with state legislators have captured attention both across Maine and the nation.

“I will continue to work with all my colleagues in Augusta at all levels of government to serve the needs of my district and our state,” Grant said.

“Despite his questionable demeanor, I believe he has some good ideas, particularly on welfare reform,” Williams said. “I would be willing to work with him.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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