A self-employed lawyer and a small-business owner with a background in labor organization are each hoping to represent the eastern end of Portland’s peninsula and its islands in the Maine Legislature.

Both relative newcomers to politics, Andrew Edwards and Michael Sylvester will compete in the Democratic primary on June 14 to run for House District 39 in November against Republican Peter Doyle.

The seat is held by Democrat Diane Russell, who has to step down because of term limits and is running for state Senate.

Edwards, 29, grew up in Aroostook County. Since graduating from college, he’s lived in Portland, where he also attended law school.

Working as a defense attorney, Edwards said, he sees the effects of the lack of mental health and substance abuse services.

“They want help, they’re begging for help, but they can’t get it,” he said of many of his clients.

As a legislator, he would work to get the state to provide more services, especially in the Portland area.

On the other hand, Edwards also wants to support the city’s growing beer industry by reducing the production tax on breweries, which he said is among the highest on the East Coast.

That, he said, “could provide a boon to an industry that’s doing a really good job of bringing people in and putting people to work.”

Another way Edwards envisions Portland’s economy getting a boost is by designating a national park or monument in the North Woods.

Although it’s considered a “hyper-local issue” for the Katahdin region, Edwards said, he believes the tourism benefits would be felt in southern Maine and he would be a supportive voice at the state level for making it happen.

Edwards said that because of his professional experience dealing with people “in very high states of emotion on a daily basis,” he believes he’ll be successful in working with other legislators to find solutions to the state’s problems.

Sylvester, 46, said he plans to make use of his experience organizing workers in labor unions to bring his constituency together to get legislation passed.

In fact, he “felt compelled to run” to put that experience to use in a particularly difficult political climate. And now he has the time since ditching a commute to Boston to start a business renting out golf carts on Peaks Island, where he lives.

“Was I just going to sit and watch it all happen, or was I going to use the experience I have to make things better?” he said.

Sylvester has some specific ideas about how he could make things better.

He wants to ban the sale or lease of public groundwater to private companies and take inventory of any “Flint-style piping” in the state to make sure Maine avoids contamination of its water supply like what happened in Michigan.

He’d like to reintroduce the bill to increase solar energy use that was recently vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage and include in it incentives for landlords to install solar on apartment buildings.

He’d also like to help apartment building owners make improvements without having to increase rents or evict tenants by allowing a local-option tax on hotel stays to make up for the cost.

An advocate of keeping Portland’s India Street clinic open, Sylvester would also like to see single-payer health care.

Sylvester describes himself as a democratic socialist, centered on the belief “that government has a moral imperative to help the people that it governs,” he said.

“I think that that is what people are looking for,” he said, “a government that is run with civility and compassion.”


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