FREEPORT — In the first of two hurdles to win the state House District 48 seat and represent Freeport and part of Pownal, Freeport Democrats Melanie Sachs and Kathryn Biberstein are vying for their party’s nomination in the July 14 election.

The winner will face Republican Jay Finnegan of Freeport, who had served with the Legislature as the House Republican Office’s communications director from 2005-2012. He was also public information officer for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

District 48 is represented by House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat challenging incumbent Susan Collins for her U.S. Senate seat. Term limits prevent Gideon from seeking re-election to her Maine House post.

Kathryn “Kathy” Biberstein

Biberstein, whose background is in biotechnology and health care drug development, said Maine has done “a tremendous job” of taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously, and keeping the disease at bay compared with most states. Maine ranked 44th in the country as of Monday for number of confirmed cases (1,690) in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. Maine is also the ninth least-populated state with a population of 1.3 million, according to worldatlas.com.

“The push to open rapidly is one I understand from an economics basis,” Biberstein said. Gov. Janet Mills has presented a structure for reopening the state’s economy in stages, with more relaxed measures like allowing restaurants, lodging, gyms and campgrounds to resume business June 1 – although some have lobbied for those re-openings to occur before Memorial Day, Biberstein pointed out.

“As long as the government is responsive to that, and I think is working very hard to do that, then we have a system that both balances the public health issues and the economics,” she said. “And isn’t that our goal?”

Creation of jobs and opportunities for economic development is one of Biberstein’s goals. Freeport, like much of Maine, is experiencing the effect from the pandemic of having a non-diversified, retail-based tourism economy, “and what we have seen now is the danger of that,” she said: “We never anticipated tourism would go away or be impacted, because Maine is this extraordinary place that everyone wants to come to.”

But the situation has demonstrated Mainers’ ability to conduct work remotely via the internet, and “if we can lock in a culture of remote work, and we can get broadband, then we can create opportunities across the state to diversify the economy,” Biberstein said.

She said she has “100% certainty that Maine has all the skills and requirements we need to bring technology jobs here.”

Melanie Sachs

Sachs said transparency and data-driven actions are critical for her, so she appreciates the state’s “emphasis on making decisions based on best-available data and practices, as well as daily press briefings. There’s no perfect response to the pandemic, but I know how we are doing it here, in Freeport and Pownal, is with constant feedback” from various groups responding to community and business needs, and emphasizing public safety.

Cumberland County has been the hardest-hit in Maine, and Sachs knows people who’ve died from the virus. She is “aware of the distress going on for our small businesses, for our school children and our teachers, and for our social service agencies,” but bolstered by the “amazing community response” in addressing those needs.

Freeport’s small businesses, many of which are owned by local and Pownal residents, “are foremost in my mind,” in terms of building programs and working on solutions to aid them, Sachs said. “This pandemic has really shown that access to quality health care and the cost of quality health care, for small businesses as well as for individuals, is paramount to everything: economic stability, health and public safety, all of it. And I think my 25 years working in that industry can be very helpful.”

The pandemic has highlighted areas on which the Legislature must focus to advocate growth for Maine residents and those who’d like to move to the state alike, Sachs said: “Assuring that everyone has access to high quality and affordable health care, building strong schools that are so crucial to our students’ development, and which also connect key skills with workforce gaps, (and) being good stewards of our natural environment.”

People amid the pandemic are “finding solace in our abundant open spaces,” Sachs said, “while also becoming aware of the critical support needed for our farmers and fisherfolk who rely on a healthy environment, supporting small businesses who are the lifeline of our economy, and widespread broadband access, which is so crucial for learning, for business, and for connection to one another.”

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