Last Friday, local candidates for the Maine State Senate, Maine State House and Brunswick Town Council congregated on a Zoom screen to share their campaign platforms and address questions posed by Bowdoin students. The forum, sponsored by Bowdoin Votes, Bowdoin Democrats, Bowdoin Republicans and the Government and Legal Studies Department, was moderated by McKeen Center Associate Director for Service and Leadership Andrew Lardie and Bowdoin Votes fellow Wilder Short ’22.
To kick off the forum, Short presented an overview of local races on the ballot this November before turning it over to the candidates for prepared opening statements. Candidates illustrated their perspectives on the most pressing issues facing Brunswick and, in particular, its younger voters.
Throughout the forum, various candidates expressed concerns about the pandemic and resulting economic fallout.
Brad Pattershall, a local attorney and Republican candidate for the State Senate in District 24, emphasized the importance of the role of local government in helping small businesses stay afloat.
“I think probably the biggest issue that’s facing Brunswick right now is the one that’s obvious to everybody—it’s COVID-19 and getting businesses back open,” said Pattershall.
Other candidates focused on curbing the pandemic and implementing public health measures to ensure that businesses can open safely.
“The state has worked very hard to make COVID-19 testing widely available as well as mostly free, and we’re seeing that right now with our results. If you look at the rest of the nation, we’re leading on one of the lowest rates. We have one of the best testing capacities and I think that helps us as we’re in the process of reopening. We were able to do that because of the health steps that we took,” said Mattie Daughtry, Pattershall’s Democratic opponent for State Senate in District 24. Daughtry is also a current Representative for State House District 49.
Fred Horch, a Green Independent candidate running for the State House District 49 seat—Daughtry’s current seat in the State House—agreed.
“At the end of the day, what really is going to turn the tide for small businesses is getting a handle on the pandemic and having either a really good cure or a vaccine,” he said.
The environment was also a frequent topic of conversation. Ralph Tucker, who is running for reelection as a Democratic State Representative in District 50, currently has three bills pending in the State House addressing local pollution. In his introductory statement, he spoke about groundwater pollution caused by the runoff of a category of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
“These bills are important to Brunswick because Brunswick has one of the biggest hotspots for PFAS in the state of Maine,” Tucker said. “It’s leftover from all the PFAS that came off the runways [when] the Navy was there. And so we have significant pollution in the groundwater of the naval base because there is a disintegrating stormwater drainage system. A lot of that groundwater is seeping into the storm water drain and it’s flowing out eventually to the sea.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, Maddie Hikida ’22 posed a question to the candidates about combating the climate crisis. Horch, an attorney and former owner of a sustainable goods store in Brunswick, emphasized the importance of taking broad steps to halt carbon emissions.
“We need to decarbonize our economy, and boy, this is right in my wheelhouse. I wish I could go on all night,” said Horch. “But I would love to connect with any Bowdoin students about your thoughts. This is basically what I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life doing, is helping people deal with climate change, so I would love to connect with you and help you figure it out policy-wise, practical-wise, what you can do in your home, what you can do in your dorm. There’s a lot we can do and a lot we will do.”
Hikida was satisfied by the candidates’ responses to her question.
“It made me really happy to hear responses from local politicians, telling me about things that they had done,” said Hikida in a phone interview with the Orient.
“I think the role of local government is really important,” she added. “In terms of climate justice, it can be really important. I know a lot of people maybe don’t think so much about the role that the government can play in climate justice but I don’t think it’s something to be overlooked.”
While some of the candidates were very forward about their political alignments, the Town Council members focused primarily on the value of bipartisanship.
“I’m registered as a Republican, but I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or not—the only political party I hold is Brunswick,” said David Watson, Brunswick council member for District 1, who is not on the ballot this fall. “That’s the only thing I care about.”
James Mason, Brunswick council member for District 7 incumbent, seconded this statement.
“The interesting thing about Town Council is, this is nonpartisan,” said Mason. “And, you know, if you look at the political spectrum, Councillor Watson and I are way on the opposite ends, but when I first was nominated to be Vice Chair [of the Council], Councillor Watson was the one who put my name in the nomination. Because we don’t do a lot of the partisan battles that make up politics, we don’t really have them at the Town Council level because it’s the nuts and bolts of what’s going on with things. And I think that what would be interesting for Bowdoin students on the Town Council level is to get involved with committees.”
Many other candidates also discussed ways to bridge the divide between the College and the local community and expressed their hope that Bowdoin students will continue to engage with local politics.
“The Bowdoin students who have come in to talk to the Council are the most inspiring sometimes. It makes me have faith in this country when I see the attitudes and the intelligence and the thinking of the younger people,” said Kathy Wilson, who is running for reelection as a Brunswick Town Council at-large representative. “I think that’s where our hope lies, especially in these times where there’s so much anger and hate.”
One of the more contentious issues raised during the forum was the current reckoning over racial justice and policing.
“I’ve been listening to the people I’ve been talking to and I’ve been specifically asking, ‘What do you care about? What’s your passion issue? What keeps you up at night?’ and the three issues—and young people have been telling me this as well—[are] affordable health care, reproductive rights and…racial justice,” said Poppy Arford, a Democratic candidate running against Horch for the State House District 49 seat.
Many of the candidates acknowledged that these conversations need to happen at the local level as well as at the national level.
“I have friends of color and family members who, even in Brunswick where we really like to think things are a little bit different, have experienced either racial profiling or moments where they just didn’t feel safe,” said Daughtry.
Mason, alongside Dan Ankeles, an at-large representative on the Town Council, were co-sponsors of an initiative that created a new local policing committee.
“I would just say to the Bowdoin community: stay tuned,” said Ankeles. “We’re going to start having public meetings with a nice diverse group of stakeholders for different populations within Brunswick. And we’ll try to get some good public participation and good recommendations that we can send back and with the blessing of the police chief who has been absolutely incredible on this, and very supportive.”
Two candidates also responded to remarks made about police reform, but their positions were quite different from Ankeles’s.
“I just want people and the students especially to understand, I’m a Republican candidate,” said Pattershall. “I have a lot of Libertarian leanings. I do not even think of people by [racial] categories. I just think, ‘That’s a person, and I’m going to help them as a lawyer.’ As far as the police, one thing I can tell you is, I’ve represented many police officers, it’s a difficult job.”
When asked about police reform, Watson said he believed that the police had been unjustly “attacked” throughout the night. He then abruptly disclosed that he established a friendship with a former soldier for the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II, by “sitting down and talking about his experiences.”
Lardie wrapped up the event at that point, noting that this was not intended to be a debate, but rather an open forum for candidates to share their perspectives.
“I think that the challenge of being open to dialogue and letting people share their experience is an important part of pursuing consensus in our town and more broadly,” said Lardie. “And the things that we have to say and the experiences and beliefs we have to offer can be painful sometimes. And yet, by listening to one another, we have the best opportunity to find a way forward with consensus and for all sides to learn from one another. So I really appreciate having a diversity of viewpoints here tonight in our forum, which was not a debate.”