NEWPORT, Maine — Area voters who hit the polls in the June 8 primary will have a choice between two well-known Republicans who are waging energetic campaigns for a seat in the House of Representatives.
Kenneth Fredette and Robert Emrich have festooned the area with political signs, conducted door-to-door campaigning and had supporters writing letters to the editor on their behalf.
At stake is a two-year term in the District 25 seat now held by Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, who since January 2009 has been House minority leader. Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Democrat Frederick Austin in November.
Fredette and Emrich both bring a high degree of local name recognition to the race. Fredette, 46, of Newport is a lawyer and youth sports coach who is involved in several organizations, including Masons, the American Legion and the Sebasticook Valley Credit Union. Fredette holds a master’s degree in public policy and management from the University of Southern Maine and a law degree from the University of Maine School of Law. Later this month, he will graduate from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government with a master’s degree in public administration.
Emrich, 59, of Plymouth is pastor of the Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church in Plymouth and founder of the Jeremiah Project, a group that champions socially conservative values. In 2009, Emrich led a successful, citizen-initiated repeal of a new law that would have allowed same-sex marriage in Maine. Emrich holds an associate degree from Clatsop Community College in Oregon, received theological training from New Brunswick Bible Institute and a secondary education degree from the University of Maine.
Both men have held professional and volunteer posts in Republican circles, Fredette as a campaign volunteer for several candidates and Emrich as a volunteer and legislative aide to Republicans in the Senate.
Fredette said if elected, he would seek a seat on the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, a post that he said would position him to make an impact in central Maine’s most important industry: farming. When he knocked on a farmer’s door recently and asked what the Legislature could do to help, the farmer’s response was “nothing.”
“He said, ‘leave me alone,’” said Fredette. “He said, ‘Don’t put more regulations on us. Let us run our farms.’ If farmers have been farming the land for 100 years, it’s in their best interests to take care of the environment.”
Aside from policy issues, Fredette said he sees the role of an effective legislator as involving public education. By promoting the state’s vast farming culture, Fredette said Maine farms could become a crucial source of food for the Northeast region and, potentially, the world.
“If there’s one thing we can do it’s exposing young people to the farming community,” said Fredette, who also supports the typical Republican values of smaller government, lower taxes and free enterprise.
“We know how to work in Maine,” he said. “We’ve just got to give people the tools they need to succeed.”
Emrich said he wouldn’t bring any particular agenda to Augusta if elected, other than a general desire to keep government out of people’s personal lives as much as possible while recognizing that it does have an important role to play.
“I can see how state government can make people’s lives better,” he said. “On the other hand, there are some things the Legislature does that really aggravates me.”
Emrich said for the most part, he sees the Legislature as a body that works in a vacuum and too often doesn’t do what the majority of Mainers want. He cited as an example the same-sex marriage debate, which included a public hearing at the Augusta Civic Center that was attended by thousands of people.
“They expected people to travel from Aroostook County and all over the state to Augusta to speak for three minutes,” said Emrich. “There’s an artificial atmosphere under the dome in Augusta. The people that legislators usually hear from are either other legislators or lobbyists. They’re giving only one perspective.”
Emrich said that when possible, he would advocate for the Legislature to reach out to all corners of Maine either personally or through videoconferencing.
Fredette, who is married with two children, identified leadership skills he has gained in his educational and professional careers, including his position as a major in the Maine Air National Guard, as items that distinguish him from Emrich.
“I’ve always had an interest in how to make government work better,” he said. “Most everything I’ve done is as a public servant.”
Emrich said he’s not worried that voters will see him as a one-issue candidate after his highly visible role in the same-sex marriage debate, though his religious views are important to who he is.
“People in churches are tired of being told that they can’t apply their faith to their political views,” he said. “That’s an insult to so many people.”