The March 9 special election to fill the vacancy in Senate District 14 is a contest between William Guerrette, a small business owner who lives in Pittston, and Craig Hickman, a Winthrop farmer and small business owner who has served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives.

The vacancy was created in December 2020, when Shenna Bellows, who had been elected to her third term, declined to be sworn in when the Legislature elected her to serve as Maine’s secretary of state.

Senate District 14 includes Chelsea, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, Readfield, West Gardiner and Winthrop.

As of Nov. 3, voter registrations in the district show a near-even split among Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled voters, with Democrats holding a slight majority.

The race has also drawn more than $125,000 in contributions to both candidates, with Hickman reporting $83,965.11 in contributions and Guerrette reporting $41,175, according information on file with the Maine Ethics Commission.

A CALL TO SERVICE

Guerrette, who served one term in the Maine House from 1994-1996, said he is running for the Senate District 14 seat because he has lived in the district for most of his life and raised his family there.

“I see the trouble the state’s in with this COVID thing, and it’s got me concerned about our future,” Guerrette said. “We were on a good path, where the biggest problem Maine businesspeople had was finding people who were willing to work, who wanted to work.”

Now, because of public health restrictions that have been imposed across Maine, he said business owners are losing their lifetime’s work and investments.

“You can give them a check from the government for a little while,” Guerrette said, “but it’s only borrowed money.”

Hickman, who served as state representative in House District 81 for four terms, said he is running for the Senate because public service is his purpose and duty.

“As a farmer, a small business owner, a neighbor and a legislator, I am deeply involved and active in my beloved community,” he said. “I have always fought hard to strengthen rural communities and make life better for people. I want to remain at the table and give voice to those who cry in the dark.”

A POST-PANDEMIC ECONOMY

While the COVID-19 pandemic has not created the problems Maine residents face, Hickman said, it has shined a bright light on them.

Because he has spent eight years working for people who live in Winthrop, Readfield and part of Monmouth, he said he understands that residents’ health, economy and freedoms are intertwined, and they are connected in their lives and in their laws.

“Now, more than ever, we need a proven leader who will work hard for all Maine people,” he said.  “I know what it means to do this work. I have always listened and worked with constituents and with other lawmakers to ensure that we have resilient, self-sufficient communities.”

A year ago, the global COVID-19 pandemic causes extraordinary measures to be taken to slow the spread of the new and highly contagious viral respiratory disease, including business closures, bans on travel, restrictions on public gatherings and remote learning for students of all ages. Now that three vaccines have been approved for emergency use and are being administered in Maine and elsewhere, the pandemic is expected to be brought under control.

To help Maine’s economy recover, Guerrette said he would focus on making Maine job-friendly, worker-friendly and small business-friendly.

“That means being careful of what kind of red tape, what kind of licensing, paperwork and taxes we put on working-class families and the small business people who make up the bulk of the state’s economy,” Guerrette said.

It will not take an extraordinary effort, he said, to stop destroying people’s motivation, incentive and opportunity, and to reduce Maine’s public health restrictions.

“If you measure the states with the highest level of restriction, like New York, California, Massachusetts — you might add Maine — against the states that have had the lowest level of restrictions, there’s no correlation between the spread of the pandemic and the percentage of the population with (COVID-19),” Guerrette said.

“In other words, the states that shut everything down and destroyed livelihoods are doing no better than the states that didn’t do that at all.”

Hickman said the losses resulting from COVID-19 have been profound, affecting every part of daily life, He said he supports taking a holistic approach to recovery.

“We must first and foremost curb and end this pandemic,” he said. “That means following sound scientific guidance and efficient, accessible vaccinations so that business as usual can resume as soon as possible without more regulations. We need to find ways to safely get kids back to schools and day care, so that parents can get to work.”

As a small business owner and farmer, Hickman said he would be an advocate and champion at the Capitol who will listen to their needs.

“In a post-COVID time, this includes access to loans and resources that will help them continue operating, growing and employing the people of our communities,” he said.

INTERNET ACCESS

For the past year, business and government closures have meant working from home for those whose jobs allowed that. At the same time, students across Maine have spent some or all of their school time learning from home. That added demand in the state’s internet infrastructure has highlighted problems Maine residents have accessing reliable and robust internet service.

Hickman said last year he co-sponsored legislation that would fund extending broadband internet service to underserved and unserved areas in Maine that need it most urgently, because it is crucial.

“This bill was never passed into law in the last session of the Legislature, but it must be a priority in 2021,” he said. “We have the power to make this happen.

“I will continue to fight for this bill to be passed into law so that our state can be a place where all Maine people have the tools they need to connect with family, friends, customers and vendors anywhere in the world.”

Guerrette said he would focus on getting high-speed internet to the state’s rural areas.

“It’s about towers. It’s about wires,” he said. “If you tell the internet companies, ‘If you get high-speed internet out to all the rural areas, we will not tax you on your profits for the first five years,’ let me tell you, they’ll do it.”

WORKING ACROSS PARTY LINES

In recent years, politics has been marked by partisanship — sometimes extremely so — when voting on public policy.

Hickman said his commitment to public service is rooted in justice, fairness and freedom, not political parties and ideologies.

“I have always worked with colleagues of any party to move Maine forward,” he said.

That has included working with former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, on the state’s food sovereignty law, and with Gov. Janet Mills on emergency legislation to keep edibles made of hemp-derived CBD available for sale, helping those business owners serve their customers and preserving access to a preferred product. Both measures passed unanimously and were signed into law.

“When I chaired the committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, I worked hard to produce a high percentage of unanimous committee reports on contentious bills and the budget,” Hickman said.

“In my four terms in the Legislature, I’ve supported and earned the respect of colleagues from across the aisle on issues related to the conservation and the environment, veterans, the safety of our children, small farms and businesses, and more. I will always seek honest and civil dialogue with anyone on any matter, especially when we disagree.”

Guerrette said the “filter” for him will be very simple.

“Will this (legislation) create the opportunity for my kids and grandkids to get a good job in Maine?” he said. “Will this broaden the employer base? Will this increase opportunity in this area?”

He said Maine’s biggest export has not been lobster or lumber. It has been people.

“I want to put the focus on that the greenest pasture that my kids and grandkids can have is right here at home, right along the Kennebec River,” Guerrette said. “That’s what I believe, and that’s the filter I’ll put everything I vote on through.”

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