YARMOUTH — With Rep. Janice Cooper termed out after eight years in Augusta representing state House District 47, three fellow Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to take her place at July 14’s primary election: Peter Fromuth, Art Bell and Heather Abbott.

The winner will face Republican Anne Fleming, chairwoman of the Yarmouth School Committee, at November’s election.

The Democratic candidates weighed in on Maine’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its gradual reopening, as well as a particular issue they would like to tackle if elected to the House; all three see climate change as a critical concern.

House District 47 includes Yarmouth, Chebeague Island and Long Island.

Heather Abbott

Gov. Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, have “walked a fine line in their measured response” to COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus, “and it’s based in science and it’s based in data,” Abbott said.

Maine’s economy is particularly susceptible to the downturn the pandemic has caused “because we rely so heavily in tourism,” she said. “So going forward, protecting Maine’s small businesses, and people, will be a difficult balancing act over the next few months.”

But the expansion of coronavirus testing gives her hope, she said, and will “play a crucial role in the safe reopening of Maine.”

Abbott said she hopes to continue her work in promoting energy efficiency and sustainability across the state.

“We really need to act now to reduce the impacts of climate change, and protect Maine’s environment,” she said. “Moving away from fossil fuels will create jobs and savings, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Protecting and expanding local schools creates stronger communities that draw and retain people, and “ensure a highly educated workforce for the future and increasing equitability,” Abbott said.

Universal access to high-speed Internet is a necessity, particularly to more remote island communities, given home schooling situations and more people working from home, she said.

Arthur ‘Art’ Bell

Following the advice of health experts is critical in controlling the virus and keeping it that way for as long as possible, Bell said, “and then once we get to a point where maybe we get a vaccine, or at least we’ve got it corralled, then we can open up the society.”

“I think we’re moving too fast,” he said, expressing concerns about reopenings in urban areas like Boston, New York and downtown Portland. “We need to follow the science.”

Climate change is critical to the whole world, Bell said.

“We’ve done a poor job; we have not been good stewards of the earth,” he said, noting the enthusiasm he’s witnessed among today’s youth. “We need to hand the ball over to the next generation … and give them all the resources they need; they’re going to do a better job than we are.”

Bell said he is “all on board” with Mills’ goal of making Maine carbon-neutral – no net carbon dioxide release to the atmosphere – by 2045. But he is disappointed by the governor’s support of Central Maine Power’s controversial proposal to construct a 145-mile transmission line, which would carry hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts.

He is involved with a watershed restoration initiative with Royal River Alliance, aiming to remove two dams.

“We know that the watershed would be healthier … all the way up to Auburn and all the towns in between, if fish could swim up there and spawn, and then come back into the ocean,” Bell said. “It would help alleviate some of the problems we’re having with Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine. Those dams, that are creating hydroelectricity way up in Quebec, are contributing to the warming waters in the Gulf of Maine.”

Peter Fromuth

Mills “has got the balance about right” in terms of dealing with the pandemic, Fromuth said, praising her gradual approach in reopening low-contact activities around Maine in tandem with increased testing and contact tracing, isolation and treatment.

“She’s proceeding gradually, vigilantly, but prudently, considering that this is always a gamble between economic damage and health risk,” Fromuth said. Still, he noted, “I would strongly encourage her to reverse any forward motion … if there is evidence that we’ve got a resurgence on our hands.”

Helping Maine recover in terms of health of its residence and economy is vital to Fromuth.

“We’re going to be looking at a plummeting in income and sales tax revenue, which will probably wipe out our rainy day fund and may well wipe out the (approximately) $200 million left in the general fund. So you put those together, that’s basically almost half $1 billion,” which may be needed to get the state back on its feet.

“Every legislator’s first task has got to be (to) get Mainers back to work and take care of (their) health,” Fromuth said.

He noted that there are “several low-hanging fruit opportunities” to take advantage of the higher awareness around climate change health generated by the pandemic. One involves Yarmouth’s own Wyman Energy Center, an aging Cousins Island power plant which Fromuth called “an oil-powered electricity generation dinosaur.”

Given the decline in prices for alternative sources of energy like wind and solar, that operation is likely to be decommissioned in the near future, he said.

“It is up to the state to step into that and to create an opportunity for … a community solar array” that could generate 23 megawatts to serve all Yarmouth’s needs and possibly those of Chebeague and Long islands, too, Fromuth said. “It goes from being a black eye, (with) these smokestacks, to a badge of honor. And we become a trailblazer for the state.”

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