May 24, 2018
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Democrats seek House District 37 nomination

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

CASTINE, Maine — Benjamin Wootten of Blue Hill and Ralph Chapman of Brooksville are the two Democrats seeking the nomination for the House District 37 seat.

The seat became vacant when incumbent James Schatz chooe to run for Dennis Damon’s seat in the Maine Senate.

Chapman, 59, holds a degree in applied physics from Tufts University and has worked in the field of solar energy research. He set up and coordinates a science teaching lab at United Technologies Center in Bangor. He has served as an elected member of the town’s budget advisory committee and has volunteered in education, health, energy and housing organizations.

Chapman sees jobs, energy and education as key interrelated issues for the next Legislature. The Legislature could provide the organization and oversight for job training programs such as the one he’s working on at UTC which trains students in green construction and energy auditing skills, he said. Technical schools around the state also could become centers for training programs aimed at disadvantaged workers.

Chapman said developing renewable energy sources will be important as the state weans itself off fossil fuels in the next several decades. Wind energy has attracted a lot of attention recently, he said, but noted that siting wind turbines has been the biggest difficulty. The Legislature can play a role in identifying all stakeholders and fostering partnerships to ensure that all parties are involved in siting decisions, he said.

The state also needs to adapt education systems to reduce dropout rates at the high school and college levels. He said all high school graduates should leave school with a marketable skill, and the focus of the schools should be to provide programs that are both meaningful to the students and society. At the college level, educa-tion needs to adapt to different learning styles in order to keep students in school, he said.

Wootten, 66, holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s of business administration from Stanford University. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked in small businesses for the past 40 years. He co-founded the Firepond Restaurant. Since 1981 he has worked in investment management. A registered investment adviser, he is the founder and president of Wind River Capital Management. Wootten has served for nine years on the Blue Hill school committee, the last four as chairman, and was the co-chairman of the regional planning committee for school consolidation.

Wootten said he anticipates that education will be an issue facing the next Legislature, including the question of school consolidation. For many Maine towns, including those in District 37, the issue of school consolidation is still unresolved.

Health care will demand attention, he said. Wootten said he had hoped to see a public option in the federal health care bill, and he would like to see a single-payer program for the state. He said he supports U.S. 2nd District Rep. Michael Michaud’s efforts to put Maine on the same scale as Boston for Medicare reimbursements.

Maine’s tax structure still needs work, he said, although he thinks the tax reforms enacted last year — which face a challenge in the June 8 referendum — were a start toward improving the state’s tax system. Wootten argued that the sales tax is too narrow, bringing in excess funds when times are good — which often are fun-neled toward programs that cannot be sustained during a downturn — and not enough revenues when times are bad. A broader-based sales tax would result in an overall lower tax rate and would help to provide an even flow of revenues to the state, he said.

House District 37 includes Blue Hill, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Surry.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face the winner of the Republican primary between Madeleine Gay Leach of Castine and Jonathan Walden of Surry.

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