BELFAST, Maine — Lewis Baker has been involved in the civic life and politics of his city for decades — and he would like the chance to share his experience and ideas about education and economic development with a wider audience.
That’s why the Belfast city councilor and semiretired autobody repairman has thrown his hat into the ring for the state House District 43 seat. He’s running as an unopposed Republican for the seat that will be vacated by Rep. Jayne Crosby Giles, R-Belfast. The district includes Belfast, Belmont and Northport.
“I think we’ve been going down the wrong road for a while,” Baker, 63, said Thursday. “We have a high tax burden. Young people leave. We need jobs — that’s easy to say and hard to do.”
Baker said that his 25 years of experience on Belfast’s school board, planning board and City Council means that he is good at working with diverse people to get things done.
One issue that is close to his heart was his successful advocacy for creation of an economic development director position in Belfast. After a year of effort by city officials, that position was filled this week by Thomas Kittredge, who has been the executive director of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
It is hoped the new position will bear fruit in the next few years, Baker said, adding that he feels good about the outcome.
“I think I really set the tone to talk about economic development,” Baker said. “Before that, there was almost no talk about it.”
He also remembers late nights and long meetings in the early 1990s when he served on the Belfast Planning Board. At that time, there was a lengthy community debate over whether to allow Lane Construction Co. to reopen a quarry on Swan Lake Avenue.
“I fought hard for that,” he said. “Now people say, ‘What an asset.’”
Another development issue in the city’s not-so-distant past had a less positive outcome for Baker — but it was the catalyst for his run for City Council.
He worked hard in 2004 to allow big-box development in Belfast, and the matter went to public vote, which was won by the pro-development side. Despite the vote to allow a development zone on the east side, city councilors decided two years ago to eliminate it.
Baker was shocked.
“I would never have thought elected officials would do that,” he said. “When that number of citizens vote on an issue, you should respect that.”
So, fired up over politics, Baker ran for City Council, and now the House of Representatives. If he’s elected, he said, he will work toward streamlining the state’s regulatory system and look hard at why the state spends so much on public education. He would like to look at states that spend less money but get good results and see whether that can happen in Maine, too.
“We’ve got to find a way to make Maine more attractive to business,” he said. “And we’ve got to look at the size of state government. It’s really too large.”
But he’s no “ultraconservative by any stretch of the imagination,” Baker said, adding that he was a registered Democrat until about 10 years ago.
“You’ve got to take the good ideas where you find them,” he said. “I can be bipartisan … I’m in the center. I’m going to do what I think is the right thing to do.”
While pro-business and pro-development, Baker said that he also wants to protect the environment and help those in need. His wife of 37 years, Linda Baker, does social work with the nonprofit agency Broadreach, he said, adding that making responsible decisions is a balancing act.
“You have to have compassion,” he said. “On the other hand, you don’t want to support someone who refuses to take personal responsibility.”