A former Senate president and a political newcomer are vying for the District 19 seat in the Maine Senate this November.

The 19th district includes Bridgton, Naples and Sebago.

Republican Rick Bennett or Democrat Katey Branch will replace Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, who is term limited and cannot run for reelection until 2022.

Both candidates are publicly funded under the Maine Clean Election Act.

Bennett

“My biggest priority is to fight for rural Maine,” Bennett said in an interview Tuesday.

The pandemic has brought to light many issues in the region, but also “opportunities” for improvements, he said.

“We need to get our small businesses back open and Mainers back to work,” said Bennett, who previously served as a state representative from 1990-1994 and as a state senator from 1996-2004.

Bennett ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, but was defeated in the primaries by former Gov. Angus King.

Life during COVID-19 has also highlighted the “critical” need for expanded high-speed broadband in rural Maine, Bennett said.

“Remote learning is more important than ever; telehealth is more important than ever … (and) certainly nobody in business remotely or under the age of 40 is going to move to a community that doesn’t have high-speed broadband,” he said.

He added that, “we need to start building politics that are based on love and respect, rather than tribalism and controversy and contention.”

Branch

Branch, a long-time community advocate and business owner, is making her first run for political office.

Supporting the local economy is one of her highest priorities, she said in an interview last week.

“The pandemic has really shown us how we are really dependent on large, corporate entities outside of the state,” Branch said. “Any dollar spent in the community is a lot more helpful than the dollars sent out of the state … I’m very committed to a strong, local sustainable economy that is available to everyone.”

That and finding a low-cost alternative to high-priced, out-of-pocket health care expenses are at the top of Branch’s priority list if elected to the Senate.

“We have to have accessible, affordable, high-quality health care that is not attached to employment,” she said.

In addition to her passion for safeguarding Maine’s “incredible” natural resources for future generations, Branch said she is keen to expand high-speed broadband access, the “key” to supporting education and the economy.

Comments are not available on this story.