WATERVILLE — State Sen. Scott Cyrway will have at least one challenger for his Waterville-area District 16 seat in the Maine Legislature in this year’s general election.

Hilary Koch, 46, a Democrat from Waterville, announced her candidacy Dec. 11, about a month after defeating Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro for the city’s charter commission in her first bid for public office. Cyrway, 64, a Republican from Albion, entered the race to retain his position on Oct. 28, according to Maine Ethics Commission filings.

As a lifelong law enforcement official, Cyrway considered running for Kennebec County sheriff in 2020, at which point rumors swirled about Isgro, the vice chair of the state’s GOP, seeking his Maine senate seat. Isgro said Tuesday that he is not interested in the legislative position, however.

“I currently have no interest in running for District 16, and am looking forward to ensuring we re-elect Senator Cyrway to continue the good work he has been doing,” the Waterville mayor wrote in an email.

District 16 includes Waterville, Winslow, Albion, Benton, Clinton, Fairfield and Unity Township.

Hilary Koch, of Waterville, speaks during a city council meeting at the Chace Forum on Oct. 1, 2019. Koch criticized Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro on his proclamation to declare Oct. 14 Columbus Day in Waterville. “I think it’s perfectly clear, based on the emotions tonight, that it had an effect of dividing people,” Koch said. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans Buy this Photo

Koch said that her experience caring for her 13-year-old son Leo, who has Type I diabetes and hydrocephalus — which are both life-threatening and without a cure — inspired her to run for a state-level position. She has frequented the State House as a lobbyist, advocating for bills that increased access to quality healthcare and lowered the cost of prescription drugs — but not insulin.

“My experience caring for his needs revealed the tragedy of having serious medical needs in the United States,” Koch said. “We really don’t have a system that works for us, and quite often it feels like it works against us. … We can say these are issues that the federal government is tackling, but they’re not, and individual states are. These are some of the issues that everyone can get behind in my own district and that people on both sides of the aisle deal with.”

The price of insulin became “astronomical” recently, Koch said, and when people in the Type I community started dying because they couldn’t afford treatment, she felt like she needed to do something more.

“My son’s insulin hasn’t changed since the day he was diagnosed, but that insulin – one vial can sell between $300 and $600,” Koch said. “We go through seven in a two-month period. We can go to Canada and get that same vial of insulin for maybe $20. The kicker is that it costs between $3 and $7 to manufacture. There hasn’t been a change in the medicine, but there has been change in price of it. What happens when people don’t have insurance that covers it or a high deductible is they can’t afford medicines and can’t take care of themselves in the way they really need to. Insulin is a hormone and if you don’t have it, you die.

“My son is 13 and he will age out of our insurance at 26. I look at his future and I need to know that his existence is a guarantee not a hope,” she said.

Koch said that if elected, she would like to help provide Mainers with more comprehensive health plans as well as attract more providers to live and work in Maine.

“When we talk about solving some of these problems, they’re all interconnected,” she said. “Part of being able to give access to care is trying to get more doctors to come here. Providing quality education at primary and secondary levels — we do that, but can we do better? When (students) go on to higher education, offering programs that have incentives to keep people here is very, very important.”

One way to do that, Koch said, is by providing financial assistance to students who pledge to stay in Maine for a certain amount of years after graduation.

Investing in public education is another priority of hers. Koch spent her career as a teacher at the Kennebec Montessori School in Fairfield, Waterville’s Mt. Merici Academy and schools in North Carolina. She now volunteers with local organizations including area soup kitchens and the Waterville Police Department’s Operation HOPE program to curb the use of opioids.

“This is the kind of thing I taught my students about all the time,” she said, regarding running for office. “We talk about what constitutes your community and how you engage in your community. The notion of thinking globally and acting locally is what can really make a difference.”

The Waterville Democrat said she believes in putting people before partisan politics.

“I don’t know if I look at it as flipping the seat or running against Sen. Cyrway,” she said. “I am running for something I feel doesn’t exist. I want to get out, meet with people and listen to them. I know the things my family has struggled with, but I want to meet people and hear the things they’re struggling with.”

State Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, gives a speech Oct. 5, 2019, during a ceremony at the firefighters memorial in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Cyrway, who has held the District 16 Senate seat since 2014, said that members of his district encouraged him to run for re-election, though many also supported his interest in the sheriff’s role.

“I had a big debate on which was the best way to go, and I really was torn, but I know that right now a lot of people in the community have asked me to keep running for Senate, and I’m running because the people wanted me to do it,” he said.

If he wins this race, he would be term-limited and unable to run again in 2022. Cyrway is a former deputy patrol sheriff for Kennebec County and has served as an assistant jail administrator and corrections officer. He also oversees DARE training for Maine. He grew up on his family’s farm and has experience in the insurance industry.

Cyrway said he would like to help reduce state spending and bring “sensible legislation and not put our communities in harm’s way” if he secures his seat in November.

“(The Legislature) is looking at trying to let prisoners out early — that really endangers society,” Cyrway said. “They’re looking at trying to weaken our laws and trying to hurt the constitution. There’s a lot of things that are happening that I’m very concerned about, and that’s the real reason a lot of people are begging me to stay, because they see what is happening throughout the country with extremes on both sides. I’ve tried to put in reasonable legislation and I’m seeing a lot of extremists just kick these laws out and try to get in harmful things.”

He said that the legalization of marijuana is an example of something that hurts Maine’s constitution.

“Legislators are sworn to uphold federal and state constitutions, and when we go and we make laws, for example, the marijuana law, federal law supersedes state, and we went and voted to legalize marijuana and now we have a problem because a lot of laws don’t coincide with each other, for example the banking,” Cyrway said. “Our law is to uphold it. Now we have weakened it so bad that people are begging me: What can (the state) do about the odors? Because their properties can’t sell because they’ve got so much of a problem with the marijuana smell.”

Cyrway said he prioritizes trying to use taxpayer money “in a reasonable manner.”

“You have to make common-sense decisions and work with what you can, but at the same token, you don’t want to put the state in an economic problem because of it,” Cyrway said. “We have to look at how we can take care of people, but in a reasonable manner.”

That is why he argued against requiring Maine’s medicaid program and private insurers to cover abortions in the last Legislative session, he said. That bill ultimately passed.

“I put a bill in just lately about tracking or at least reporting what happens to the fetus and they kicked it out, and that to me is not doing justice to the families, to the child and to humanity,” he said. “So I’m just trying to do some good things, and I do it with my values, and that’s the best I can do.” 

Both Koch and Cyrway plan to run as clean election candidates, meaning that their campaigns will be entirely publicly financed if they collect at least 175 qualifying contributions to the Maine Clean Election Fund from their supporters by April 21. Candidates can accept very limited private contributions before that date.

Candidates must get at least 100 and no more than 150 signatures on a petition by March 16. If more than one member of a party collects the necessary signatures in time, voters will narrow down the options during the state primary election, which will take place June 9, 2020. Candidates for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as well as county offices will also appear on that ballot. The presidential primaries take place March 3.

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