Democrats compete in a pair of Portland legislative primaries

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Two Portland seats in the state Legislature have contested Democratic primaries this year.

In state Senate District 27, former Portland City Councilor Jill Duson will take on occasional candidate Kenneth Capron. In House District 119, formerly House District 38, Charles Skold faces Susanne Robins.

There are no contested Republican Party primaries for the Legislature. The primary election will be held June 14.

Senate District 27

Capron, 71, said he is running for the open seat after initially considering running for governor.

The retired accountant and systems analyst previously ran for City Council in 2020. He unsuccessfully ran for the House of Representatives and was a write-in candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.

Kenneth Capron

Capron is also known for advocating that Portland purchase a cruise ship to house the city’s growing homeless population, and said the issues he would want to tackle immediately involve homelessness and transportation.

“I’m looking to actually bring some results as opposed to warming a seat in Augusta,” he said.

Capron said he’s not a fan of either Gov. Janet Mills or former Gov. Paul LePage, the presumptive Democrat and Republican candidates for governor, saying both candidates are “punitive” people who punish those who don’t fall in line and support them. He said Mills is “still punishing” him for things he said in the 2018 campaign, and LePage as governor blocked some of his policy suggestions. 

While he didn’t have a firm position on most of the issues where Mills has used her veto, Capron said if he had been in the Legislature during the last session he would have voted to override her veto on issues where there was obvious support.

He also said he would have opposed all of her pandemic policies, and called them “more political” than public health-related. He said they didn’t prepare the state if another health crisis were to happen.

Capron said the system “stymies creativity,” and if a governor can just veto issues they disagree with, it “negates the collaborative spirit.”

“Until we address the way the Legislature works I think we’re going to have the same thing we always have,” he said, “which is a true lack of collaboration in key issues.” 

Duson, 68, has more than 20 years of experience as an elected member of the Portland City Council and School Board. She has run unsuccessfully for the state Senate and in a congressional primary. She said current Sen. Heather Sanborn’s decision not to seek reelection prompted her to come out of retirement.

Jill Duson

Duson described herself as a “hand raiser,” saying she wants to “make government work for people.”

During her time on the City Council, she commuted to Augusta for work, and since she stepped away from the council she has served on volunteer boards and committees, including the United Way, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and Friends of Indigo Arts Institute. She was also appointed by Mills to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Duson said the issues she would want to tackle right away are affordable housing, education funding, and environmental sustainability.

She said she supports Mills and wants to be an “engaged part of the Democratic caucus.”

“I’m good at getting in the room and listening to people and the ‘why’ behind their issues through collaboration and conversation,” she said.

Duson said she would have voted to override Mills’ veto of Native American tribal sovereignty rights, including allowing the tribes to operate a casino. She wouldn’t say if she would have voted to override on other issues because she wasn’t involved in the discussions and didn’t have the details that legislators had.

“That’s part of the process,” Duson said. “The Democrats aren’t all of one mind and I would like to believe the Republicans aren’t all of one mind.”

Duson said the political working atmosphere in Augusta is better than it is at the national level, although there are instances of the two sides not listening to each other, such as the split over how to address the pandemic.

But she said the two parties have done good work of listening and working with each other.

“I worry about us following the trend at the national level,” Duson said. “My style of engagement is more along the lines of, figure out why we disagree and what is the solution we can each live with to progress to reasonable solutions?”

House District 119

Robins, 61, said she is running for office because this is how she wants to serve her community. An instructional designer at Unity College, Robins said she wants to actively work to address climate change, and housing issues, and to protect women’s reproductive rights.

Robins, who served on the Culver City, California, School Board before moving to Maine, said she supports Mills but is willing to disagree with her on issues. For example, she said she did not support Mills’ veto on issues involving the Wabanaki tribes.

Susanne Robins
Susanne Robins

She said if LePage becomes governor again, she would fight him on issues for Portland, but “you have to be willing” to sit down and work with the other political side to find points of agreement.

“Those can be difficult to find these days because the parties are so far apart,” Robins said. “But it’s still the right path to look for agreement and find the things we can work together on.”

Robins said she thinks it’s unfortunate that the political discourse in Augusta has been impacted by the political stalemate on the national level. But she said there are members of the Republican party who want to work with the Democrats, and it is important to have those discussions.

“There are still political tensions but there are still people willing to talk,” she said.

Despite disagreeing on issues relating to the tribes, Robins said she doesn’t have opinions on several other of the vetoes Mills issued. She said it’s the details of each bill that matter, and while most people talk about bills in general terms, the legislators know the intricate details.

“I am willing to disagree with the governor,” she said. “I look at bills in terms of the greater good. Does it serve the greater good?”

Skold, 32, is the former chair of the Portland Democratic City Committee. He also ran for this same seat in 2020 and lost to Rep. Barbara Wood, who is not seeking reelection.

Skold said he decided to run again when he heard the current representative in the reconfigured district, Mike Sylvester, isn’t running again. He said he wants to address “existential threats” to Maine’s future, from climate change, the housing crisis, and growing inequality.

Charles Skold

“Since 2020, the housing crisis has only gotten worse, the climate crisis has only gotten more drastic, and we have less time to protect our future,” he said.

Skold, a senior trainer at SAB Negotiations, said climate change and housing are the two most important issues he hopes to tackle if elected. As a renter, he said he brings a unique perspective as “someone who month to month is worried about rent increases or that I could get evicted, even if I did everything right.”

“It’s a big issue facing the state, and especially Portland,” he said. “This will be one of the No. 1 issues I will address and work with the whole state to solve.”

Skold said he supports Mills and that the possibility of Republicans taking control of the Legislature and the Blaine House “sends a chill down (his) spine,” but is something Democrats must be prepared for.

“Of course, we need to vote like hell to prevent that,” he said. “But it’s a likely possibility the Legislature could be looking to roll back the efforts we made on climate change, on equality protections. I’m a gay man, I know my rights to marry or to adopt or to not be discriminated against are on the chopping block.”

Skold said the state needs legislators who “are willing to work with everyone,” which as a former Republican who grew up in a conservative household, he believes he can do. He said he is “willing to work with anyone who is willing to work with me.”

Skold said he would have voted to override Mills’ vetoes of several bills, including those that would have closed Long Creek Youth Development Center, given indigenous people the ability to operate a casino, and allowed farmworkers to unionize and collectively bargain. He said while he respects Mills’ right to veto, the fact members of the party want to override various ideas shows it’s a “big party with a lot of perspectives.”

“It also shows for those really pushing for more equality, those really pushing more rights, such as the rights to unionize for farmworkers or to say kids shouldn’t be in prison or that tribes should have full sovereignty, it shows Democrats are leading the way on these issues,” Skold said.

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Numbers game

Legislative districts have changed as a result of the most recent U.S. Census.

Senate District 27 currently covers the peninsula, islands, and other nearby neighborhoods, while Senate District 28 includes parts of Portland and Westbrook. The two districts will swap after the November election.

House districts will see the most significant change. Candidates will be in the existing districts until they are sworn in in December, after which, many districts will change. For example, State Rep. Michael Brennan now represents House District 36, and is unopposed in the primary. Assuming he wins in November, he will then become the representative in House District 115.

This also means various Portland residents will be moved into different districts. Also as a result of the census, approximately 1,600 residents will be shifted into different City Council districts.

— Colin Ellis