BRUNSWICK — Two-term Republican incumbent and builder Jeff Pierce of Dresden is trying to defend his seat in the Maine House of Representatives from Democratic challenger and college professor Allison Hepler of Woolwich.

The contentious race will determine who gets to represent District 53, which includes Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond.

Hepler lost to William Neilson in the 2016 primaries by 19 votes, but this year secured herself a spot on the ballot. It is a different year, she said, and after some political leadership training, she feels ready to take on the challenge.

“I learned during my time on the (Woolwich) select board that you can make a difference at the local level, and in Maine, you can still make a difference at the state level too,” she said.

Hepler’s key issues are healthcare and expanding renewable energy in Maine.

Whether trying to secure funding for education or to put up a new road sign, Hepler feels it is her responsibility to listen to people and try to find answers.

“You get elected because people trust you,” she said, adding, “I have a track record of accomplishing things.”

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A professor at the University of Maine at Farmington and a member of the Woolwich Board of Selectmen, she has experience working will all different types of people and believes in communication and transparency.

Her opponent is also feeling optimistic about the election, and said that after two terms, he feels confident that he has a “good grasp on what the demographics in my district want.”

A primary issue for Pierce is workforce development, but as with any issue, there are many ways to get there.

For example, “Education is a vital tool for labor force and economic development,” he said, noting that he wants to put shop class and home economics, also known as family and consumer sciences, back in junior high.

“Make it so kids can go out and work after school,” he said. This would also help keep kids away from drugs, he added.

The opioid epidemic should be on everyone’s radar, he said. “We all know someone. It’s our friends and kids. We need to work on stopping the flow of drugs.”

More money needs to be devoted to recovery services since the police and prisons are not equipped to handle what he said is ultimately a medical situation.

If these people are rehabilitated then they can come back into society and join the workforce, he said.

Pierce himself has been convicted of several drug-related offenses dating back to the 1980s. The Maine Democratic Party released his criminal records, along with those of several other Republican candidates, in an effort to influence the races. Pierce is in favor of stronger penalties for drug-related crimes, in part because he knows from personal experience that they work, he said, adding that he has learned from his mistakes and has been a productive member of his community for decades.

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He is a lifelong Mainer and tries his best to practice a “do no harm” mantra, knowing that a representative is there to vote on behalf of his constituents, but that laws will affect everyone in the state.

Because of this, Pierce uses a 65 percent rule — if 65 percent of people in his district vote a certain way, then that is what is going to be best for the district, he said.

Pierce and Hepler both agreed that it is important to vote.

“Local elections matter,” Hepler said, “and in Maine, state government is a local election.”

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