BOWDOINHAM — Missing signs and partisan mailers are serving as a backdrop to the contentious race for House District 55, in which a familiar face squares off against a self-described non-politician.

Seth Berry

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, will seek his sixth term overall as representative to the district, which includes Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Richmond, against Republican Guy Lebida of Bowdoin. Berry first won the seat in 2006, scoring victories in each of his four elections until he was ineligible to run due to term limits in 2014. Berry defeated incumbent Brian Hobart in 2016.

Lebida describes himself as a constitutional conservative. A lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, he served as a combat engineer in the National Guard from 1979 to 1984 before joining the U.S. Army Reserve. Lebida has since worked as a contractor, owning and operating Our Father’s Business. He ran against Sen. Eloise Vitelli for the District 23 seat in 2016.

The sometimes divisive nature of politics has made its way into the race recently. In September, Berry was the target of an anti-immigration flyer produced by a conservative group led by Rep. Larry Lockman. He’s also come under attack through an anonymous Facebook page he says is spreading misinformation. This week, a number of his campaign signs have been damaged or gone missing.

Guy Lebida

Berry estimated he has lost about 100 signs, and encouraged supporters to make new ones on his Facebook page this week. Lebida says he has had the same issue during this campaign. He found larger signs he placed himself broken or knocked over, and believes they were run over by vehicles. The penalty for damaging or destroying political signs is a $250 fine, according to police.

“It’s been absolutely shocking,” said Berry. “There’s a negativity and a viciousness in this campaign that I haven’t seen before. I encourage people to focus on what each candidate says on the issues.”

“I did not do it, and I do not condone it,” said Lebida. “When my signs were taken about two weeks ago I didn’t say anything.”

The apparent division caused by this district race is something both agree can’t happen by legislators in Augusta. Both candidates believe they have the ability to work across the aisle as a new governor will enter the Blaine House.

“We will have a new governor,” said Berry. “ It will be an opportunity to reset our course and work in a collaborative effort.”

“I can find common ground,” said Lebida. “Absolutely, what we don’t do right now is listen to one another. I do every day when I’m out knocking on doors and talking to people who may not agree with me but we are willing to listen to one another.”

Berry said he will take the high ground and not get caught up in the attacks regardless of where they may be coming from. He reiterated that stealing a campaign sign is a “serious crime.” He said the use of social media is still a fundamental challenge when it comes to politics.

Lebida believes attacks on him are coming. He says it results from his Christian faith and pro-life stance.

“I belief a life is from conception to natural death,” said Lebida. “ I believe people should be allowed to make their own decisions about their own bodies. My personal beliefs are my own personal beliefs.”

Aside from the election-time rancor, Berry and Lebida are job creation and the importance of keeping young people from leaving the state.

The need to address an aging population and retain young workers is on the agenda of both candidates. Berry pointed to his work in the legislature leading a bipartisan committee that focused on job-creating initiatives. He believes in more targeted training in Maine’s community colleges.

“We are the oldest state in the nation,” said Berry. “With that said, we need jobs for young people. We need a targeted education. In 2013-14 I pushed for more targeting training in community colleges to help young people get on the right path for them.”

Young Mainers leaving the state played a factor in Lebida’s current foray back into politics. As a contractor, he believes there should be a greater focus of incorporating the trades into high schools. Lebida said he has seen three of his children grow a business in Maine, and would like to see that opportunity for more young people.

“I have four children, three of them live in the state of Maine,” said Lebida. “It’s getting so expensive that most of the young people are leaving. We need high paying jobs, we need trades back into high school.”

Aside from supporting education, Berry would like to see investment in businesses. A former teacher, he’s now a Vice President at Kennebec River Biosciences in Richmond. He believes the Maine-owned biotechnology firm is an example of businesses that could help generate jobs in the state.

“This is the kind of business I hope we can foster more of here in Maine,” said Berry. “Positions that pay well and are hard to outsource.”

Lebida says he is a problem solver who will get to the root of problem. He’s a believer in small government, and says he supports abolishing income tax. Lebida said more freedom from government will make the state more attractive.

“I’m not perfect, but I know the issues and I have a lot of common sense,” said Lebida. “I’ll be a champion fighting for our kids education.”

Berry is a Maine Clean Election candidate and has raised $16,755. Lebida, a traditionally financed candidate has raised $21,554 according to the Maine Ethics Commission.

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