By Tom Bell
PORTLAND - Eight Democrats are running in three contested primary races for Maine House in the June 12 primary in Portland.
Because the city is a Democratic stronghold, the winners will be the strong favorites in the general election in November against opponents from the Republican and Green Independent parties, which have no contested primary races in the city this year.
Here are the races among Portland Democrats:
HOUSE DISTRICT 115
In District 115, which includes the Back Cove and Deering neighborhoods, it's a three-way race between three highly educated professionals: Justin Costa, the finance chair of the Portland Board of Public Education, Erik Jorgensen, executive director of the Maine Humanities Council, and former Cumberland County Commissioner Malory Shaughnessy.
Costa, 29, a graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Maine School of Law, is running on his record as a Portland school board member.
Before he joined the board in 2008, administration officials couldn't say for certain how many employees the district had or what they were paid, Costa said. He said the school board has since gained firm control over the district's finances and is now implementing a long-range plan that it has developed.
"We need someone who knows how politics works," he said. "I'm not saying that people should vote for me because I am already elected. They should vote for me because they can see the results of what I have achieved on the school board."
Jorgensen, 47, a Bowdoin College graduate who earned a master's from Harvard University, works as executive director of the Maine Humanities Council. The job has given him experience working with both the federal and state governments and also a statewide perspective on issues, he said.
Jorgensen said his most important issue is increasing access to affordable higher education. "It's the area I'm most familiar with and key to Maine's success," he said.
Shaughnessy, 53, who received a master's in public policy from the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service, is director of development for Common Dreams, a nonprofit online news site reporting on events from a "progressive perspective."
Shaughnessy said counties offer a useful model for providing services on a regional scale without giving up local control. That approach could help reduce the tax burden without cutting services, she said.
"It's a piece of the tax puzzle," she said.
In the general election in November, the Democratic nominee in District 115 will face two opponents: Republican Christopher Jordan and Green Independent Party nominee Seth Berner.
HOUSE DISTRICT 117
In District 117, which includes the Stroudwater and Rosemont neighborhoods, it's a three-person race between retired teacher Dauna Binder, transportation advocate Anthony Donovan and former legislator Richard R. Farnsworth.
Binder, 72, who taught for many years at Presumpscot Elementary School, said she's running for office because she believes the "voice of reasonable, informed and caring people need to take action on behalf of others."
Donovan, 58, says the state needs to re-examine how it spends its transportation dollars because the current process is wasteful and doesn't do enough to provide communities with meaningful input. He said the state must do more to encourage passenger rail service, walkable communities and bicycle routes.
"Transportation creates the climate that creates jobs, and right now nobody is paying attention to the Department of Transportation," he said.
Farnsworth, 71, who served in the Maine House from 1996 to 1998, said his experience there means he'll be able to get right to work rather than spend his first year in Augusta "learning the ropes."
He's interested in reforming the tax code to make it broader, fairer and more progressive than the current code.
The winner of the June 12 primary will face two candidates in the general election in November: Republican David Caron and Green Independent Party candidate William Linnell.
HOUSE DISTRICT 118
In District 118, two young Democrats are vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jon Hinck, a Democrat now running for the U.S. Senate. The district primarily encompasses the West End and is historically considered the most liberal House district in the state.
Dillon Bates, 24, who works as a track coach and contract security guard at the Portland Public Library, faces Matthew Moonen, 28, a former political director for EqualityMaine.
Bates said that improving access to affordable health care is a hugely important issue in the district for many working people who lack health insurance.
When asked about the biggest difference between him and Moonen, Bates replied that he has lived in Maine his entire life and understands the issues faced by working people.
"My opponent comes from a private school in Tennessee and a life of privilege, and I am coming somewhat from the trenches," he said.
Moonen refuted Bates' characterization of him. While he graduated from a private college, Moonen said, he attended public schools through high school and his father worked as a probation officer and was a union member.
I didn't come from a place of privilege," he said.
Moonen, who worked last year for Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said that one of his main objectives is restoring the Maine Clean Election Act to what voters intended when they passed it.
Whoever wins the June 12 primary will face two other opponents under age 30 in the general election: Thomas MacMillan of the Green Independent Party and Chase Martin of the Republican Party.
"A fresh group of young people running is a good thing," Moonen said. "What sets me apart is my experience on campaigns involving progressive politics."
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: