Partisanship and the ability to form coalitions with elected officials from rural parts of the state are taking center stage in the race for the District 27 seat in the state Senate, representing part of Portland and the Casco Bay islands.

Democratic incumbent Benjamin Chipman is being challenged by Crystal Canney, an independent who has worked for Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Chipman is finishing his first term as senator, after serving three terms as a representative. This is Canney’s first run for office, although she is a veteran campaigner. Both are clean elections candidates.

Canney, a communications professional, said she is excited to move from “ear whisperer” to elected officials to becoming one herself. She believes her professional experience and her upbringing in rural Maine will put her in a better position to build relationships and coalitions with Republicans and rural legislators who often view Portland with hostility.

She criticized Chipman as putting partisanship ahead of problem-solving, pointing to his ill-fated effort to impeach Gov. Paul LePage as one way he’s alienated more moderate Republicans.

“It was a showboat move – a headline grabber,” said Canney, a former journalist. “We need to be able to bring people along to get things done.”

Chipman brushed off the criticism, saying he doesn’t regret the move, which garnered 53 votes in the House. He said it was an appropriate response to LePage’s threat to withhold funding for a nonprofit after it hired a political opponent.

“I didn’t find that it damaged any relationships with Republicans,” said Chipman, noting that he was able to secure Republican votes to overturn a LePage veto of a bill to expand access to an overdose antidote. “I think it was the right thing to do given what the governor had done.”

Both candidates said they would work to expand Medicare in Maine and increase state funding for public schools.

Canney, 55, said she would make property tax relief a priority by revisiting the state formula for public schools, while also looking for spending efficiencies.

She would work with elected officials in rural parts of the state to address the issues of substance use and homelessness. She would begin by inviting legislators on a tour of Bayside, so they can see for themselves how Portland is shouldering the burden for much of the state.

Chipman, an independent notary who conducts title closings throughout the state, said he has been working with welfare directors throughout the state on a bill that would ensure that other Maine communities are taking care of their own residents. He plans on re-introducing a bill that was vetoed by LePage to clarify homelessness as an emergency and make it clear that each town has an obligation to use General Assistance funds to house residents in need of emergency shelter.

While towns say they don’t refer people to Portland, Chipman said people in need have no other option, because of the lack of shelters elsewhere in the state.

“Most people would rather not leave their communities if they’re homeless,” Chipman said

Canney said she would take it a step further. She would look to ensure that Maine residents are taken care of, before people from out of state.

Chipman said he would look to generate more revenue for state government by increasing taxes on tourism-related business, such as golf courses and water parks. That would create additional funding for providing more treatment for substance use.

“We’re not raising the revenue we could be,” he said.

He would also work with other New England states to provide health care coverage for everyone – whether it’s through a single-payer system, or Medicaid or all programs.

Canney said experience as serving as Baldacci’s associate commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services has given her insight into how funding decisions are made. And her background as a journalist has given her experience asking tough questions, allowing her to ensure that tax dollars are spent efficiently.

“I’m going to watch how the one flows and where it goes and if we’re getting somewhat of a return on investment,” she said.

Although Canney argues a change is needed, Chipman said an experienced leader is needed in Maine’s largest city.

“I’ve got a pretty good track record of getting things done,” Chipman said.

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