New district forces candidates into new territory

Bangor Daily News (ME) - Saturday, October 22, 1994
Author: Emmet Meara Of the NEWS Staff: BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE
Skoglund Simoneau 

One of the most interesting races in the midcoast area will be the campaign to fill the new District 61 seat, with two popular incumbents forced by redistricting to face off against each other. Redistricting has forced three such contests, with the others in Sanford and Rumford. 

Three-term Democratic House District 81 incumbent James Skoglund will battle one-term Republican House District 80 incumbent Richard Simoneau for the new District 61 seat. Most people in both parties throw up their hands in trying to predict this one. 

Redistricting will place Simoneau's Thomaston turf in with Skoglund's St. George, South Thomaston, Owls Head and Matinicus area in the new District 61. Skoglund will lose Vinalhaven, North Haven, Monhegan and Criehaven. Simoneau will lose the western part of Rockland, Warren and Friendship. 

Simoneau has a Republican's ingrained hatred of John Martin, even though the former House speaker has ceded the reins of power. In Rep. John Michael's "crony index" compiled on votes involving the controversial Martin, Skoglund has a perfect record of Martin support and Simoneau has an "unblemished record" of opposing Martin. 

Skoglund would like to forget the past and move on. Simoneau wants to wave the Martin banner at every appearance. After all, Skoglund voted against releasing the "Ballotgate" evidence. 

This is not your typical tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee contest. 

"There is a striking difference between us," said accountant Simoneau. "He voted against property tax relief and unfunded mandates. I believe in term limits. He voted against sending term limits and reducing the size of the Legislature out to referendum. He voted against the election of a lieutenant governor and constitutional offices." 

The only referendum item Skoglund voted for was protection of teachers' pensions, Simoneau said. 

Skoglund is a retired teacher who taught in Thomaston for 27 years. He voted for an increase in the "circuit breaker" tax relief bill, although it is already one of the country's most liberal, Simoneau said. 

"Government is there to serve the people, but it is not a cure-all and it cannot cure society's problems by throwing money at them," Simoneau said. 

He expects a major bounce from a full-page advertisement in local newspapers thanking him and Democrat Sen. Chellie Pingree for working to save the Van Baalen Co. from moving its 135-plus jobs out of Rockland. 

"Everybody was screaming about jobs. I did something about it," Simoneau said. With his taxation background, Simoneau says he can do something in Augusta to develop a school funding reform bill. 

"We have quite a difference in priorities," Skoglund said, known for his dry understatement. The major issue in the coastal towns is the "survival of small communities," with Simoneau championing combined school districts and a shrunken Legislature, Skoglund said. 

John Martin has been brought up by exactly one voter other than Simoneau in the district and is not a real issue in this campaign, Skoglund said. "I think most people feel that (Martin) issue was overblown." 

The newly configured district will create some problems for Skoglund, especially in the voter-rich streets of Thomaston, which is Simoneau's turf. 

"But I have taught there for 20 years and lived only five miles away all my life. Logic would give Simoneau an advantage in Thomaston," Skoglund conceded. 

He led the fight for school reform in the last session and his "mother of all school funding bills" is still rattling around the chamber. He said the concepts could be adopted in the next session, if he returns. 

One cost-containment mechanism could be a cap of spending for disabled students, said the former teacher. Spending "preposterous amounts of money" on a disabled student eventually "reaches the point of diminishing returns," he said. "We have to take a careful look at that." 

Reducing the size of the Legislature would only remove local control and eliminate the personal contact available to voters. He voted against a referendum on the issue because "not enough careful thought" had been applied to the problem. 

A legislator gets $10,000 for the long session and $7,500 for the short session, Skoglund said.