A Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives and a Democratic former physician are competing for the open District 20 seat in the Maine Senate.

Voters in Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester and Poland will choose between Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, and Democrat Ned Claxton of Auburn on Nov. 6.

Current District 20 Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, is challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King in November.

Espling, 45, has served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives, including two as the assistant Republican leader, and has often been a legislative ally of Gov. Paul LePage. She has received endorsements from LePage and Brakey.

Claxton, 69, is a retired family physician who also held several leadership roles at Central Maine Health Care. He said he had been considering a run for office since the early 2000s and was inspired to run after feeling “increasingly frustrated” after the 2016 election “with the tone of political conversation” and felt like he needed to do something.

Both Espling and Claxton have experience working to tackle Maine’s opioid crisis, she as a member of Legislature and he as a physician.

Espling looks to prioritize drug abuse prevention.

“We’ve focused a lot on enforcement, we’ve focused on treatment. I think we need to do both of those better still, but we have not done a lot for prevention. And these are the types of drugs where you try it once and you could kill yourself, and we have to stop people from trying them.”

Claxton said he has been involved with the fight against addiction in his role as a doctor, trying to scale back opioid prescriptions and attending meetings held by the statewide opioid task force created by the Legislature. As a legislator, he said, he would prioritize ideas such as “a recognition that Suboxone shouldn’t be limited in terms of how long it’s provided” and more transitional housing options for people going through rehabilitation.

As assistant minority leader in the House, Espling has been in the middle of an ongoing debate over expanding Medicaid in the state. Voters approved expansion by referendum last November, but the governor has vetoed expansion funding with the backing of Espling and many other House Republicans.

Espling said funding needs to be in the annual budget, not based on temporary funding sources. “I don’t think it’s sustainable long term,” she added about the cost of expansion. “I think we’re going to have some troubles in the future funding it, but if Mainers as they have said want it to be a priority, then it should be in the budget.”

Claxton supports Medicaid expansion, recounting a conversation he had with a voter. “It felt to me that it was unethical not to support the expansion, because I’m all about access as a first step in health care, and for those 70,000 that don’t have access, they don’t get health care the way I define it,” he said, referencing the estimated number of people who gain Medicaid eligibility under the expansion.

Espling is running a traditionally funded campaign and has raised $20,270, according to the Maine Ethics Commission’s campaign finance website.

Claxton qualified for public financing under Maine’s Clean Election law and has raised $65,900, according to commission figures.

Matt Junker can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 123, or at:

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Read this story in Lakes Region Weekly.

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