The three candidates running for South Portland’s House District 122 vacancy hold similar views on gun reform, support for immigrants and asylum seekers, and climate change and storm resiliency, but say they have attributes and experiences that set them apart as candidates.

Democrat Matthew Beck and independents Tristram Howard and Brendan Williams are on the March 5 special election ballot to fill the seat of late Rep. Lois Reckitt. House District 122 represents South Portland’s District 1 and part of District 2. The winner will serve the remainder of Reckitt’s term, which ends in November.


Gun reform

Following the mass shooing in Lewiston in October, long-debated gun reform has come front and center in Maine.

Beck said that Gov. Janet Mills’ comments in her State of the State address were “a welcome step in the right direction” on the issue of gun control, but more can be done.

“I would support a ban on assault weapons as well as universal background checks and a seven-day waiting period for gun sales,” he said.


Howard said that “Maine is long overdue for gun control.”

“I know there are strong gun control options that are being presented to the Legislature,” he said. “I’m hopeful that some of them pass.”

Williams also believes the state is overdue for gun control, but believes it will take a bipartisan effort, especially when one party tends to blame mental health for the gun problem.

“I’m running as an independent because I do think it requires both sides,” Williams said. “I think you can still do mental health reform for everybody that needs it and then we also need to do gun reform and gun control.”



Maine recently became the 19th state to establish an Office of New Americans to help support immigrants.


Howard said he is “optimistic of the approach” and is interested in seeing the impact it has.

“The idea of people coming to the United States from abroad and don’t automatically know how the United States works, where they fit into society,” Howard said. “Having a place for them to learn those things, I think, would be a very helpful idea.”

Williams takes issue with how South Portland was “on the hook” for supporting a wave of immigrants and asylum seekers in recent years, taking the brunt financially for temporary shelters and services, rather than the state.

“Portland and South Portland should not be on the hook,” Williams said. “It just becomes a divisive and political issue, and these are people … I think the federal government needs to actually take action on that, too.”

Beck said getting immigrants and asylum seekers to work as soon as possible is important. It often takes months for them to get the necessary working permits to be employed legally.

“We would all benefit by having these folks be able to work sooner rather than later,” Beck said. “I think that we need to do everything we can to welcome people who are seeking asylum or just here looking for a better life.”



Storm resilience 

Williams believes the state needs to be proactive in setting aside funding for storm resilience and response.

“When we do the state budget, we’re going to have to put money aside for towns and flood relief money for people that live on the coast,” Williams said. “When it comes to climate change, we need to start focusing on reducing carbon (emissions).”

Beck also said the state needs to improve its resiliency and prepare for future storms.

“That means taking bold steps to fight climate change and to continue to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Beck said. “But, even if we were to become carbon-neutral overnight, that’s still not going to be enough to stop climate change. It’s going to be necessary to do a lot more.”

With a degree in ocean engineering, Howard said he is familiar with climate science and believes the state needs to help communities in different ways.


“Maine just has such an enormous and variable coastline. A single blueprint isn’t going to fit everywhere,” Howard said. “So, Maine’s role needs to be helping communities learn about what options are available, choose from those to figure out what they need to do, and then help channel them towards resources, be it funding or actual work.”

Setting apart

Beck, 65, said he stands out in the race because of his political experience. He has been chair of the South Portland Democratic Party since 2005 and has experience as a union organizer, a Portland Water District trustee and a member of several boards and committees.

“I have a lot of experience in the political world where I believe I’d be able to hit the ground running my first day at the Legislature,” Beck said. “I know how things work in Augusta.”

Howard, 25, said his knowledge of the climate and his young age are strengths. He noted his college education in science and ocean engineering and hands-on experience helping organize dune replanting efforts at Willard Beach.

“I’m a local sailor and ocean engineer,” Howard said. “I’m running because the Legislature needs folks who understand climate change and they need young folks involved.”

Williams, 35, who is employed in the food service industry, has worked on a variety of city committees and is a member of the Statewide Council For Independent Living. While he often leans Democratic, he said, he has the ability to see both sides of an issue.

“I know people on both sides very well,” Williams said. “Some are conservative, some are progressive and they both have very good ideas. I think people are tired of the two political party system.”

South Portland District 1 voters will cast their ballots at the Boys and Girls Club at 169 Broadway while District 2 residents will vote at American Legion Stewart P. Morrill Post 35 at 413 Broadway. All polling locations are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 5.

Comments are not available on this story.