The candidates debate at the Richmond Grange on Sept. 18 was a gratifying experience in civil society. The candidates were polite and deferential, even nimbly addressing, “What do you admire in your opponent?”

Especially gratifying was the confirmation that our state legislators, Seth Berry and Eloise Vitelli, deserve to be re-elected. They were articulate, knowledgeable, and unafraid to address criticism.

District attorney candidate Natasha Irving also impressed me. Though both candidates for DA would perform capably, Natasha was more nuanced than simply assuring that bad guys will go to jail for a long time.

What surprised me most was that both Berry’s and Vitelli’s opponents seemed much more liberal than expected, less in the mold of the much-discussed “Republican base.” They don’t have the experience to answer the issues with knowledge and depth, as did Berry and Vitelli. But both claimed to welcome new immigrants to Maine, and to support the voter-approved expansion of Medicaid, which the governor has refused to implement. Both support expansion of social programs from early childhood education to the prevention of elderly abuse.

Neither complained, as I would have expected from a Republican, that any of these progressive positions would create an unfair tax burden. I wish I knew them enough to know if their positions at the debate are consistent with their records and campaign literature.

One major difference: Vitelli and Berry were unequivocal in their support of Planned Parenthood and of women’s reproductive rights. Vitelli’s opponent said he was personally anti-abortion. Berry’s opponent said he was against Planned Parenthood, but then showed his misunderstanding of that organization, describing it as if it were the equivalent of an anti-abortion lobbying group, rather than a full-service clinic for women.

Thanks, Richmond Grange, for a well-run debate.

Jeff Fischer

Bowdoinham

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