2014-10-31 / Front Page

Three vie for House District 33 seat

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — With incumbents running unopposed in all other lower house legislative districts representing South Portland, there’s a comparative bonanza of options for voters in District 33.

That district covers the western part of the city, from Pleasantdale, up the northern side of Route 1 through Thornton Heights, past Brick Hill and Redbank, out to the Maine Mall area to the Scarborough town line.

Hoping to succeed Bryan Kaenrath, who was bit by Maine’s term limit law after four consecutive wins, are a pair of educators and a longtime police officer.

Kevin Battle, 56, was a beat cop in South Portland for 27 years until his retirement in early 2012. He also served 22 years in the Coast Guard and still works as the deputy harbor master for Casco Bay. The Republican is making his second run at the statehouse, having lost to Kaenrath in 2012.

Battle says he is running again simply to continue his service to the community — past efforts include helping to build the gym at the Redbank Community Center and the Military Service Monument in Mill Creek Park. His primary goal, if elected, is to get both sides of the aisle to “work together and cooperate.”

Democrat Rosemarie De Angelis, 61, has worked as a guardian ad litem and family court mediator since 2001, and has been on the adjunct faculty of Southern Maine Community College since 2002, prior to which she logged 30 years teaching in the public school system. She also helped found Color of Community, made up primarily of immigrant students at SMCC, which preaches a message of cultural tolerance. She calls that group’s efforts, “the most important work I’ve ever done.”

De Angelis previously served two terms on the South Portland City Council, from 2003-2006 and from 2009-2012. She was the city’s mayor in 2011.

Finally, there is a Green Party candidate in the race, in the form of 50-year-old Andrew Reddy, a social studies teacher at Biddeford High School. Reddy has taught there for eight years, but has logged 14 total as an educator.

Reddy said he first became interested in the Greens in 2004, when he voted for Ralph Nader as president, but it was not until attending the annual convention of the Maine Greens in 2012 that he began to get active in politics.

Reddy said he hopes his run will help the Green’s “gain traction and name recognition” in South Portland. However, his primary reason for running, he said, is to serve as an object lesion for his students.

“What drew me into wanting to run was to give my students a lesson at the ground level of what it takes to get elected,” he said. “It’s a lot of walking streets and canvassing neighborhoods and unless you actually do it, you have no idea what it entails.”

Battle and De Angelis answered questions at an Oct. 8 debate presented by the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber of Commerce. Reddy was unable to attend that debate, instead responding to the same questions during an Oct. 25 interview.

Perhaps surprisingly, none of the candidates presented a widely divergent view from the others.

MINIMUM WAGE

All three candidates say they are in favor of raising Maine’s minimum wage, currently set at $7.50 per hour.

Of the three, Reddy is the most aggressive on the issue and said he’d like to reset the rate to “something that is really, legitimately livable.” That means $15 per hour, he said.

“The argument is that small businesses would be unable to afford it, but I think in the grand scheme of things, if you allow the middle class to have more to spend, those businesses will benefit and have more money to spend on their businesses.”

Battle and De Angelis are more circumspect. Neither would commit to a dollar figure, saying only that they prefer to raise the rate in a stair step method, over a period of years. Both also support tying future increases to the rate of inflation.

“I’m in favor, but in a common-sense approach,” said Battle, adding that he fears job cuts could follow an increase that is foisted on businesses all at once.

“You’ve got to work together with businesses, that’s the key,” he said. “You’ve got to come up with some kind of formula, and do it gradually.”

“We need a reasonable approach,” agreed De Angelis. “We have to be sure that we are protecting small businesses and working with them to ensure that we don’t penalize them.”

Still, De Angelis said the very fact that Maine residents need an earned income tax credit on their returns, “indicates people are not making enough money to live.”

FIRST LEGISLATION

Asked about the first piece of legislation they’d intend to submit as a bill to the Legislature, if elected, neither Battle nor De Angelis would take the bait.

“Ask me after the first session,” quipped De Angelis, saying she plans to treat the first session as a learning experience, as she seeks out mentors from experienced members of the House.

“Mostly, I want to hear what is the best way I can be in the Legislature to do a good, quality job at representing the people of South Portland,” she said.

“As a representative going up to Augusta for the first time I don’t have an agenda,” agreed Battle.

“I don’t have an ax to grind, other than to get people to work together and cooperate,” he said. “I don’t have one item to go after right now. We all want the same things — clean air, clean water, good jobs and good pay.”

Instead, said Battle, he’ll depend on his constitutes to set his legislative goals.

“I’d be looking for people to tell me what’s important to them and what they want me to do, rather than me going up there with my own idea,” he said.

Meanwhile, Reddy said his first idea is to secure voting rights for people awaiting citizenship, a process that can take several years.

“I think I would want to revisit legislation that was introduced in the past around voter rights for legal immigrants,” Reddy said. “I think it’s key for residents of your community and there are lots of legal immigrants. To disenfranchise them in having a say in what goes on is wrong.”

COLLEGE COSTS

With the University of Southern Maine poised to cut teachers and degree programs in the face of a $16 million budget shortfall, the candidates were asked what solutions they would offer. None had a decisive answer.

Reddy said he personally sees the value of the programs up for elimination, in part because it’s the one from which he graduated.

“How to go about precisely fixing this, I don’t know, but I think the Legislature can set up a system to help invest in the UMaine system so that the American and New England studies program can continue to thrive,” he said. “The great thing about the system, to me, is that it educates so many adults. It’s not just an undergraduate program. It benefits so many folks who are trying to be lifelong learners, to improve themselves, and eek out a career. As an educator, that plays out to my heartstrings.”

De Angelis also had no solution, but started from the theory that cuts should come from the main office.

“Cuts always happen at the bottom with the things that most affect students, rather than at the top in the administration,” she said. “I’m always interested in looking at what can be cut from the top. But everybody needs to be in the room together on this. Unilateral decision-making is almost never a good strategy to use.”

De Angelis also said the state should “rethink the relationship” between university system and community college campuses.

“SMCC is one of the greatest assets in this state,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for [students] to pay two to three times as much to go to USM.”

Meanwhile, Battle said simply giving the university the money it needs is not the answer he would pursue.

“Just throwing money at it doesn’t make sense to me, it doesn’t help,” he said. “If it’s broken, it needs to be fixed, but I don’t think it’s my position as a representative of South Portland to tell them how to do it, other than to say they have be accountable.”

SALES PITCH

Asked why voters should choose them over their opponents, each candidate spoke about their personal values.

“I’m very open, very friendly,” Battle said. “We all know what’s right and what’s wrong. It doesn’t matter whose party comes up with what, we should put the people first. I’ve always been a worker bee, always worked at least two jobs. Now, I’m just looking to go up there [to Augusta] and do the right thing and be someone the people will be glad to have serve.”

“This has been the most polite race that I’ve ever had,” said De Angelis. “Kevin [Battle] has just been extremely pleasant and cooperative and, although I really like him, I still want people to vote for Rosemarie De Angelis.”

If elected, De Angelis promised she would adhere to the principles installed in her from childhood, which include “serving, saving, cooperating, and living within our means.”

Reddy said he sees himself as a “citizen candidate” who, unlike Kaenrath, will never bump up against term limits.

“I’m not necessarily looking to do this long term,” he said. “I think there should be more people like myself who would represent the district for a term or two and move on. If we had a greater rotation of people in the legislature, I think the people would be better served.

“So, if the residents of District 33 want to someone who is going to vote his conscience, look out for their best interests, and who is from a third party that is free from any sort of corporate sponsorship, they should vote for me,” he said.

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