The lawn signs are up and the candidates are out, many of them new to politics. District 132 has Democrat Nicole Grohoski (Ellsworth) up against Republican Mark Remick (Trenton). Grohoski, a cartographer, works for a Maine organization that assists with community-based planning through GIS mapping technology.
Grohoski sees plenty of room for improvement in the state’s deployment of technology. It is difficult to find one’s way around the state website. And why can’t Mainers attend and testify at hearings via videoconference? As it is, only those available on workdays and living close to Augusta can easily participate.
She sees Ellsworth as the crossroads of the county, poised for development but handicapped by traffic congestion and climbing property taxes. She notes the “Open for Business” sign on Maine highways but says people “live in fear” that a health issue will bankrupt them or their business.
“I like to work and I’m a good listener, so I love going door-to-door,” says the candidate. What has she heard at those doors? People can’t afford health care or health insurance. There are few jobs that pay a living wage. The opioid crisis must be addressed. She is aggressive about learning the issues and determined to find solutions.
Mark Remick also sees Ellsworth as a hub. He identifies adequate housing and a carefully planned road system as essential to Ellsworth and Trenton’s future, with easy-to-use public transportation playing an important role.
Remick believes that education should begin with pre-kindergarten, an evolving effort in Trenton, where he serves as a selectman. “It’s not just day care,” he says. “Pre-K has a curriculum” that gets kids off to an early learning start. Cost is a consideration, but the cost of young people with limited education and few job choices is greater.
For Remick, job opportunities in this part of the state must include the trades. There are jobs to be had in rural Maine, but many are seasonal, do not pay a living wage and offer no benefits. Carpenters, electricians and plumbers can make a living here, and training in those skills should be readily available. He believes education resources should have a greater presence in Ellsworth through the university and community college systems.
To the west of Ellsworth, in House District 133, Republican Nancy Colwell of Surry is running against Democrat Sarah Pebworth of Blue Hill. Colwell ran unsuccessfully in 2016, but that did not diminish her interest in public service.
Her family has been in Hancock County for generations. “I was born here, raised here, I raised kids here, I work here and I play here.” Her parents taught her “strength, hard work and compassion,” and her grandmother? “She was the salt of the earth, but that ‘salt’ is not well-represented these days.”
Hancock County has not elected a woman to the House in years. Colwell considers what a difference that might make. “I think women tend to look at the broader picture,” she says. “And sometimes they have more heart.” But she adds: “I don’t like looking at gender, or color or religion. A person is a person. Your generation probably sets you apart more than gender does.”
Colwell identifies substance abuse as a problem that crosses age, gender and financial lines. “It’s too hard to get help,” she says, citing the possibility of modifying the Washington County Jail to create a treatment center. She agrees that training in the trades should be brought back into high schools and offered at community colleges.
Health insurance should be as easy to obtain as car insurance. Opening up the market geographically would increase competition and make insurance more affordable. “And of course, of course, pre-existing conditions should be covered.”
Colwell thinks that for the money we spend on education, we don’t get sufficient results. Student test scores are low. She supports proficiency-based standards if introduced in kindergarten, not midway through a student’s education.
Sarah Pebworth of Blue Hill is the Democrat in the District 133 race. Thinking about elected officials who do not share their values, friends approached her to run. “We trusted other people to take care of that, but I realized that we are the people who have to act,” says Pebworth. A political novice, “politics can be scary and mean-spirited,” but her campaign experience has been positive.
People in her district identify health care as the number one issue. Property taxes, especially in communities with little commercial valuation, is close behind, as are jobs and drug abuse. “Going door-to-door got me out of my bubble,” she said.
Pebworth believes strongly in accountability. If you make a mistake, “admit it. Then clean it up.” As an innkeeper, problem solving was essential to her job, and that is how she approaches everything. “What’s the problem? How do we solve it?” Pebworth gives the distinct impression that she is up to answering those questions.