The contest to be Kennebec County sheriff for the next four years pits two experienced law enforcement officers against one another.

Ryan Reardon holds the post, having been appointed to it in March by Gov. Paul LePage after former Sheriff Randall Liberty left in midterm to take the warden’s job at the Maine State Prison in Thomaston.

Ken Mason, chief deputy in the sheriff’s department in neighboring Lincoln County, wants to hold the top job in his native Kennebec County.

LePage appointed Mason to the post in February, but Kennebec County Democrats objected because they had submitted only Reardon’s name. Rather than create a standoff, Mason withdrew his name from consideration. Then he collected enough signatures to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as an independent or unenrolled candidate.

Reardon and Mason have much in common, as was evidenced in a debate last week at the University of Maine at Augusta.

They differed only in their positions on the marijuana legalization proposal that is Question 1.

Reardon opposes it; Mason said Wednesday he had yet to decide how he would vote on it.

Both men say they expect it will be approved.

Reardon, 42, of Oakland, has worked more than 22 years in law enforcement, starting as a reserve officer in the Dexter Police Department, in his hometown, moving to the Waterville Police Department for about 11 years and then joining the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy in January 2007. He later moved on to detective, sergeant and assistant jail administrator.

Reardon raised just over $9,600 for this campaign and spent most of it on advertising, according to a campaign finance report.

Mason, 54, of Readfield, served in the Marine Corps from 1981 to 1986 in radio communications and as a drill instructor, earning the rank of sergeant.

He spent four months as a corrections officer with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office before becoming a patrol officer from 1987 to 2005 with the Augusta Police Department. He then joined the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office as chief deputy and chief civil deputy in February 2005.

Mason raised almost $10,200 for his campaign and spent it largely on advertising, according to the Campaign Finance Report filed this week.

The Kennebec County sheriff’s post carries a $76,590 annual salary currently, and the department accounts for $7.9 million of the county budget.

The sheriff supervises 165 people, 120 of them full time, with 90 of those working at the jail and 30 in law enforcement.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has 30 full-time workers, including Mason and Sheriff Todd Brackett, and 10 part-time employees. The department’s budget, which Mason oversees in conjunction with Brackett, shows $2.78 million for law enforcement, $456,389 for transport services and almost $106,000 for providing court security services.

Both Reardon and Mason said they had been registered Republicans until gaining the chief deputy post, when it made more sense to be the same party as the county sheriff, since anyone appointed to succeed a departing sheriff had to be from the same political party.

Mason unenrolled from the Democratic Party in order to run as an independent.

The largest divide between the candidates is the experience running a jail.

Reardon was assistant jail administrator at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility for a year before being promoted to chief deputy in 2010. Until recently he kept his office on the ground floor of the jail, which is next door to the sheriff’s office in the County Administrative Building on State Street.

The jail is rated for 147 inmates but routinely houses dozens more. On Thursday, it held 176.

“The jail is not as safe as it could be, due to understaffing and overcrowding,” Reardon said, adding that those conditions are problems statewide.

Recruiting corrections officers always has been a challenge partly because of hourly wages that run from $13 to $14. “It’s hard to look at them and say, ‘Things are going to improve,'” Reardon said.

In a nod to the future of the department, Reardon said, “we need to catch things before they become problems.” He said the current concerns are reducing recidivism — the rate at which former inmates commit new crimes; and being responsive to problems such as domestic violence, opioid abuse, food insecurity and elder abuse.

He said the sheriff’s office was the first in the state to roll out Narcan and is working on offering college preparatory classes at the jail.

Reardon said a veterans’ justice outreach coordinator at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at Togus comes to the jail several days a week to help connect inmates who are veterans with various services.

“It’s the Kennebec County Correctional Facility,” Reardon said. “Our job is to correct behavior. If we don’t work to help people, who’s going to?” he asked. “What if it was your family in jail? Wouldn’t you want them to have the best of treatment?”

Mason shared the administrator’s role for two years at the Lincoln County jail, which held 35 to 40 inmates at any one time and had 16 to 18 corrections officer.

Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties then set up a separate jail authority that built and operates Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset. It opened in November 2006.

Mason said more alternative programs can help cut down on jail overcrowding, but he noted corrections officers are needed to staff those program. “You can’t run a program unless you have staff,” he said.

Referring to Kennebec County, he said, “At the jail, my priority is to be there to see what is going on.” Mason said all the department heads in Lincoln County “work together extremely well” and he anticipated the same in Kennebec.

“The sheriff’s office needs a fresh face,” Mason said. “With my leadership style — hands-on — and being there, that is going to inspire people to want to work to want to come to work. People are going to want to stay. In Lincoln County, we do not have a revolving door.”

He also pointed to his 26 years working with the Windsor Fair police.

“I am fair. I use a lot of discretion and am very polite,” he said.

Mason talked of his frequent community interaction, something he started years ago when he carried a Frisbee and Nerf football in his Augusta cruiser to play with local children at the parks to help ensure they were not afraid of police officers.

He also said he works an occasional road patrol – most recently last week – partly to help overworked patrol officers and partly to keep his skills sharp.