November 27, 2012

Maine Voices: Outreach to citizens is what makes the difference in the voting booth

Bill Nemitz is off target in attributing a Winthrop candidate's success to his race or sexual orientation.

By Rep. Andre Cushing

HAMPDEN - Bill Nemitz's column of Nov. 16 ("

Lawmaker's election a victory for all of us

") left me disappointed that someone who prides himself on his research seemed to have missed the mark so badly in portraying the results of a House race in Winthrop.

I would like to add my observations as to why certain people succeed in legislative elections and how Maine people select those who will represent them.

This is an area where I have some expertise. For more than 10 years, I have traveled the state to help recruit candidates to run for the Legislature, and I have successfully run twice for the House and once for the Senate, where I will serve in the next session.

In the 2012 election, both parties fielded many good candidates. The Nemitz assertion that someone was elected because he is of a certain race, ethnicity, professional background or sexual orientation is an insult to both the candidate and the citizens who elected him.

My observation is that Craig Hickman, a Democrat, is the new representative for Winthrop and Readfield because he's an active community member who learned from his last run for office that certain things mattered to voters. Consequently, he got involved in the community, earned the respect and trust of residents and then went to their doors and asked for their vote.

This process has gone on for many elections in Maine's history and, it is hoped, will continue, as this, in my opinion, is the manner in which we should choose representatives, regardless of party, background, race, age, gender or hairstyle. Who someone is should be more important than what someone is.

We can further illustrate this point by looking at a few other legislative races around the state.

Sharri MacDonald, the new state representative for Old Orchard Beach, is a good example. She raised less than $500 and beat her opponent by more than 300 votes, even though the opponent was a Clean Election candidate with nearly 10 times more money. MacDonald is a Republican in a historically Democratic district.

In Winterport, former Democratic Rep. Joe Brooks, running unenrolled, defeated retired Town Manager Leo LaChance, a Republican.

In the midcoast area of Warren, independent Jeff Evangelos, a previous candidate, was successful in winning an open seat over newcomer Bob Carter, a Republican.

Republican Anita Peavey Haskell was elected to an open seat in the Milford area by more than 1,100 votes. She is a former representative to the district who chose not to seek re-election eight years ago but was wooed out of retirement.

Perhaps the most dramatic change took place in the Aroostook County district long represented by Democrat John Martin. Here, local businessman Mike Nadeau, a Republican and a newcomer to politics, beat a titan of Maine politics by a significant margin.

In MacDonald's case, she'd been an Old Orchard Beach town councilor for five years. She also had been a school board member and worked in a variety of ways to improve and promote her community.

Brooks is a current member of the Winterport Town Council and has served as its chairman. He has been active supporting different causes, including a local effort to support cancer research.

Evangelos has lived in his district for more than 30 years, worked for the school district, written grants for the fire department and helped produce a book for the Warren Historical Society. He connected with more than 100 families on that project alone.

The similarities in these races can be traced to the manner in which these individuals served their communities, the amount of time they dedicated to serving others and, in most cases, the effort they put into meeting voters and earning their trust.

I have consistently told those running for office that people don't care about what you know until they know that you care, especially about those whom you seek to represent.

State Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, is assistant House majority leader and will represent Senate District 33 in the new Legislature.

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