Political newcomer Chris Dilts is challenging incumbent Thom Harnett for the District 83 House seat, which encompasses Gardiner and Farmingdale.

Dilts, a Republican who has never before run for elected office, said he’s running because he’s going to be fiscally responsible.

“I actually care about the community in which I live, and I really want to represent their interests,” Dilts said from his home in South Gardiner. “I think some of the interests have changed over the last few years. I think people are leaning more conservative now.”

He said his district needs representation with different values than the current incumbent has. He said his opponent has a more liberal voting record, and he offers a more conservative position.

“I think our state has gone kind of a weird way as of late,” he said. “I just want people to have an alternative view that they can rely on to put forth different ideas.”

Harnett, who served for six years as mayor of Gardiner before being elected to the House of Representatives two years ago, said he’s running again because he’s thoroughly enjoyed his time in community service at the local and state levels, and he’s enjoyed working for friends and neighbors.

“I believe I have a good set of skills to help address their concerns in Augusta,” he said. “When I was first elected, I promised to work on lowering people’s property taxes. And as I focused on the state’s failure to fully fund revenue sharing, I promised to work on that. The first bill that I introduced (was to slowly bring) revenue sharing to 5%.”

Harnett said he was able to pull together a coalition of more than 100 state representatives regardless of party or affiliation to form a municipal caucus. That work resulted in a significant increase in revenue sharing of more than $30 million to cities and towns.

“And that’s something that I want to continue to work on,” he said. “I was happy that we were able to make it a nonpartisan issue, as I believe much of what we deal with in the Legislature to be nonpartisan.”

State elected officials are currently facing a revenue shortfall because of widespread business closures across Maine due the coronavirus pandemic.

Dilts said he doesn’t want to place a burden on the people from all economic levels who live in his district, which is partially rural. He said he’d prefer to find a way to cut what he called heavy spending.

“The immediate focus would be for me to come in and look at what we’re doing,” he said. “As far as government, are we overreaching? The positions that are being filled, are they filled by the right people? Always spending money on frivolous stuff? How is that money really being spent?”

It’s one thing to put through a bill and have some money go somewhere. It’s another to have accountability for that, he said. People need to be accountable for the money they spend, he said, particularly when it’s not their own money.

“Are you actually representing the constituents in your district, or are you representing yourself?” he said.

Harnett said he doesn’t believe in cutting a budget to hit a magic number. Instead, he advocates looking at the state’s entire spending plan.

“I certainly don’t want to work on areas that impact our most vulnerable populations,” Harnett said. “I think we have to look at additional revenue streams. We have to take a complete look at our state tax system to ensure that it’s equitable. Nobody likes to talk about the possibility of increasing taxes, but I think the tax burden that we place on the lowest-income earners in this state is not fair when it’s looked at in comparison to those who are doing far better financially.”

With the opening of the commercial marijuana market in Maine, a new sales tax revenue stream has been created, although it’s unclear now how much revenue that will bring to the state. Harnett said he’d like to see some of that be directed toward treating substance abuse.

“We don’t know what that’s going to look like,” he said, “but looking at other states, it does generate significant revenue and it would be a significant possibility to make our state a better place to live, work and play.”

This year, record numbers of people are expected to vote, including people who have now reached voting age.

Harnett said when he speaks to young people, two issues are regularly raised. They want to be able to live and work in Maine and they are concerned that the jobs available won’t make that possible. They are also concerned about the impacts of the changing climate and that those in a position to take action have not done enough.

“They believe science, and they want us to make decisions with a scientific foundation and not to make it a political issue, but to roll up our sleeves and address it,” he said.

Changes in the Earth’s climate have had an impact on sea level rise, weather and the state’s natural resources in Maine, and is a factor in the intense storms, widespread fires and high temperatures recorded across the country, he said.

“I think that is our responsibility to do (something),” Harnett said. “People are worried about what’s happening to the planet.”

Dilts said the global coronavirus pandemic is affecting everyday life for people.

“I understand being careful following the basic rules,” he said. “But can you imagine being down on the coast this year, running a business and depending on the summer travel season in order to make money for the whole year?”

The virus has also affected those in school, he said.

“Some of these kids at the top of their game in sports are depending on having a scout show up and perhaps offering them a scholarship. Can you imagine being in college and you’re top of your game in college” he said. “You’re the best quarterback in the state, and you can’t play football.”

Beyond sports, he’s also concerned about the wider impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on young people who can’t spend time with their friends and who struggle with remote learning.

“Most kids, I’ve heard they don’t like remote learning,” he said.

Harnett said he thinks he has the skills and a record that shows he can work with people from across all political divides.

“I try to listen more than I speak. I’m not always successful at that,” he said. “My core foundation comes from the last six words in the Pledge of Allegiance, which is ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ I can help that become a reality more than an aspirational statement.

Dilts said he’s fiscally responsible and sees his candidacy as an alternative.

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