Progressives across Maine step up to run for legislature in pivotal 2022 election
Looking to grow the number of progressives serving in the legislature, left-wing candidates around the state are running for elected office with campaigns centered on issues like guaranteed access to health care, tackling Maine’s affordable housing crisis, strong funding for education and addressing climate change.
Progressives already serving in Augusta have helped Democratic majorities in the House and Senate make strides on issues such as housing, health care, environmental pollution and drug policy reform. However, their numbers proved too small during the legislative session that ended last week to pass bills recognizing the sovereignty of the Wabanaki, restoring health benefits to immigrants through the state’s Medicaid program and tracking the use of solitary confinement in Maine’s prisons and jails, among other failed measures.
Frustrated by the difficulty of creating systemic change in the legislature and a conservative Democratic governor who has vetoed many of their bills, some progressives decided not to run for reelection in 2022 despite being eligible for another term.
However, others across the state are stepping forward to continue building momentum for meaningful and much-needed social, economic and environmental reforms.
Some notable candidates in primary contests that will be decided when voters go to the polls June 14 include progressive advocates such as Mike Tipping and Patty Kidder. Tipping, a senior strategist at Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is a project), is running for the Democratic nomination in Penobscot-county based Senate District 8. He is the founder of Beacon and has worked on campaigns to raise Maine’s minimum wage and clean up mercury in the Penobscot River. Tipping will face Abe Furth, co-owner of Orono Brewing Company, in the primary.
Kidder is also a longtime activist with Maine People’s Alliance and was heavily involved in Mainers Together, a community relief effort the group launched after the onset of the pandemic. Kidder is running as Democrat for House District 141, which includes Shapleigh, Newfield and parts of Springvale and Sanford. She will face Springvale resident John McAdam in the Democratic primary.
Other progressives are running unopposed in their primaries. In Lewiston, community organizer and Bates College intercultural education coordinator Mana Abdi is running as a Democrat to replace Rep. Heidi Brooks, who is term-limited. Abdi would be the first Somali-American to serve in the Maine Legislature if ultimately elected.
Small business owner and affordable housing activist Cheryl Golek is also running unopposed in the Democratic primary for a Harpswell-based House seat after her only opponent recently dropped out. In Kennebunk, education advocate and Maine Democratic Party platform committee member Dan Sayre is the sole member of his party running for that House seat. And in Waterville, seeking to work outside of the two-party system, Isreal Mosley is running as a progressive independent for House District 65, a seat that will likely feature a three-way race with a Democrat and a Republican in November.
As candidates kick off their campaigns for the legislature, Beacon spoke with some progressives about why they are running and what they hope to accomplish if elected.
‘Results driven’ community activist seeks Lewiston seat
Abdi, running for District 95 in Lewiston, said she wants to bring tangible change to her community.
“I’m results driven. So I think for me this is one way of fighting for the things that already exist that are good for our community and then fighting to change the things that are not serving them well,” Abdi said of her decision to run.
If elected, the 26-year-old would be one of the younger legislators in a lawmaking body that features a large contingent of retired Mainers. But Abdi said as a Muslim, an immigrant, and a Black woman, she’s long had to operate in spaces where diversity is often lacking.
“I don’t think that will be anything that will phase me because I’ve existed within the white space and dominantly male space for so long now,” she said. “My job is to ensure that [District] 95 gets their needs met and represented in the best way possible and that’s exactly how I’m going to show up in every space.”
Abdi — who worked with Disability Rights Maine and the Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office prior to her position at Bates — said the two policy areas she would focus on most closely in the legislature are affordable housing and ensuring adequate funding for schools.
When she was collecting signatures to get on the ballot, Abdi said she witnessed some unsafe housing situations in the community. She argued that more investments must be made to create affordable housing that meets people’s basic needs. Housing is an issue for Maine as a whole, with a shortage of about 20,000 affordable units statewide.
On the issue of education, Abdi said proper funding for schools has become even more crucial amid a public health crisis that has upended how institutions used to operate.
“If the pandemic taught us anything it’s that we can’t do without teachers and we shouldn’t want to do without teachers,” she said. “Paying them adequately and fairly should be a top concern.”
Abdi will officially launch her campaign on May 21 at noon at 191 Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Going forward through the summer, she said her goal is to knock on as many doors as possible to “talk to voters and essentially neighbors” about her candidacy and the general election in November.
Longtime advocate runs in Midcoast-area district
Another progressive seeking office is Golek, who is running in House District 99, a Midcoast-area seat that includes all of Harpswell and part of Brunswick. The seat is currently held by Democrat Jay McCreight, who is term-limited.
Golek said she’s running because she wants to make sure the voices of people who haven’t traditionally been represented in the State House are heard.
“I want to be at the table when decisions are being made and I want to make sure people in my district and people with lived experiences [are at the table],” she said. “When they’re at the table, it creates the strongest legislation we can get.”
Golek has experience as a volunteer lobbyist at the State House pushing for change, including on issues such as recognizing the tribal sovereignty of the Wabanaki Nations. She’s also a small business owner, co-founding a long-term alternative care center in Harpswell for those living with memory impairments called The Vicarage by the Sea.
In addition, Golek was appointed to a commission convened in 2021 to study zoning and land use restrictions. That commission developed a bill that was ultimately signed into law to cut red tape in order to spur affordable housing development in Maine.
Golek added that she has also been involved with the Maine Equal Justice Partner’s Circle, which helps Mainers who have experienced poverty develop leadership skills. Golek herself knows what it’s like to be low-income, explaining that she was born into generational poverty and was poor for half her life.
“That gives me a personal understanding of the economic realities that Mainers face and it has fueled a desire since my youth to work on poverty-related issues in the state,” she said.
Top issues Golek would focus on if elected are rebuilding the state’s affordable housing supply, which she believes will help ease workforce shortages; strengthen health care systems to ensure everyone has access; providing support for education and teachers; and championing reproductive rights, which are increasingly under attack across the country with the Supreme Court likely to strike down Roe v. Wade.
Golek said she will continue knocking on doors to meet with voters and hear their concerns in the lead-up to the primary and the general election.
“Affordable housing and health care, those are the two top things that I’m hearing about,” she said.
Citizen lobbyist looks to take grassroots experience to Augusta
Kidder, a longtime organizer and activist, hopes to use her experience pushing for change in Augusta from the outside to inform her work as a lawmaker if elected.
“I’m running because I’m tired of fighting on the outside and want to work for Maine families and working Mainers and low-income Mainers on the inside,” said the Springvale resident, who has faced poverty herself. “We’ve been able to make some progress fighting from the outside but the real work gets done on the inside.”
Kidder, who ran unsuccessfully for the House in 2020, is seeking a southern Maine-based seat, District 141, that was redrawn during redistricting. Kidder said being elected as a Democrat in that seat could be an uphill battle, as there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district. However, she said there are also a significant number of unenrolled voters and those eligible to vote who aren’t registered.
“I feel that the key for any Democrat to win is getting those voters out to the polls,” she said.
First, though, Kidder — who has done volunteer work on issues ranging from supporting Medicare for All to pushing for a consumer-owned utility — will have to emerge from her June 14 primary in which she’ll face McAdam. Kidder said she’s been hard at work knocking on doors in the district and hearing about the issues people are most focused on.
She added that there is an upcoming event at McDougal Orchards in Sanford on May 22 at 4 p.m. that will serve as the campaign kickoff for Democrat Kendra Williams, who is running in Senate District 33, but that will also feature an opportunity to talk with other local candidates such as Kidder.
If elected, Kidder said her top issue would be working to make health care affordable for everyone along with continuing to build on legislative initiatives to address issues with Maine’s troubled childcare system.
She added that more must be done to combat the climate crisis and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. While lawmakers have made strides in passing some environmental protection bills, advocates worry the actions taken aren’t enough and argue the state could have used a portion of its historic surplus this year to fund more aggressive measures to tackle the issue.
“We need to do something … or we won’t have a planet to live on,” Kidder said. “That’s pretty high stakes.”
Building on progress, preventing political backslide important to Kennebunk candidate
Sayre is an additional progressive running this year. He is seeking a House seat, District 135, that includes part of Kennebunk and is currently held by Democrat Chris Babbidge, who is term-limited.
“I want to keep the progress that this legislature and governor have made going forward,” he said of his reason for running. “I look back at this most recent legislative session and great things have been done around expanding access to health care and health care affordability in Maine, but more needs to be done there.”
Sayre has a background in book publishing in higher education and has also been spearheading a project by the American Society of Engineering Education on workforce development along with serving on the Maine Democratic Party Platform Committee.
In addition, he waded into local politics in Kennebunk as one of the leading voices against an ultimately unsuccessful conservative-led initiative to recall school board members in RSU21, which includes Kennebunk, Arundel and Kennebunkport. Opponents of the recall effort, including Sayre, argued the measure was a fig leaf being used by local conservatives in reaction to the district’s greater emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.
If elected, Sayre said one issue he wants to work on in particular is getting the explosion of short-term rentals in the area under control.
“The profilitation of short term rentals limits the stock of affordable, full-time year-round rentals and is making this community a community where the drawbridge has been pulled up on housing for people below a certain income level,” he said.
Along with housing, ensuring health care is affordable and preparing Maine for the new economy by strengthening educational systems are additional priorities for Sayre.
While Sayre said he’s been making an effort to reach out to people who might not agree with him politically, he noted that he is concerned by the platform of the Maine Republican Party — particularly its attacks on schools — and sees his job if elected to the legislature as both fighting for a stronger economy and better education for all while also protecting against backsliding on those issues and rights such as reproductive health.
“I don’t want to overlook the fact that we need to protect the rights of many groups of people who are subject to abuse by the legal system, by law enforcement and by society in general,” he said.
Top photo: Lewiston legislative candidate Mana Abdi (left) and Harpswell legislative candidate Cheryl Golek (right) | Photos via Facebook