Down East 2013 ©
With Janet Mills' election as Attorney General, a House seat in Farmington has been left vacant and a special election will be held on February 3rd. The Republican candidate for the seat, Lance Harvell, has run, unsuccessfully, to represent the district three times in the past and has been campaigning since the election was announced. For the Democratic candidate, Dennis Haszko, this is his first campaign for political office, which he tackles after first having to win a three-way caucus election against two other Democrats to secure his party's nomination. Now they're both working hard to get their messages out with less than a month to campaign before the vote.
Dennis Haszko, a patent agent with an education in both engineering and law, is riding high off his "landslide" 14-vote margin in the Democratic caucus. He says the party is now united behind him and both of his former opponents are working to help him win the seat.
Haszko hopes to follow in the footsteps of Janet Mills, a fellow Democrat who held the seat for three terms.
"I think she was a very strong advocate for the local community here," said Haszko. "I think she was a force for the most vulnerable in the community. She represented the underrepresented."
Haszko describes him self as a "careful thinker with a moderate voice" and believes he's ready to tackle the complex issues facing the legislature. He believes Harvell is too wedded to the status quo to do the same.
"These are complicated issues and it will require some innovative thinking and I don't see that coming from my opponent," said Haszko.
One of those complex issues is education, in which Haszko said he has a particular interest because of his two sons in elementary school. He met with the local superintendent earlier this week to discuss the budget situation and says ensuring sufficient state funding for local education is a top priority.
The exploding cost of higher education is also a concern. "I couldn't afford it today to put my kids through the same education I had," said Haszko. "Cost containment is something we need to get under control."
On the economy, Haszko points to his work helping entreprenuers patent their inventions and says he knows how to fight hard for Maine's small businesses.
"You can't help but catch the spirit these guys have," said Haszko. "I want to do everything I can to help small businesses grow."
Haszko recently returned to Farmington after spending several years in Canada, an experience he says has taught him a great deal about Maine's health care situation. He explained that his engineering background led him to keep track of his taxes "down to the decimal point" in both countries and that he actually paid less in taxes in Canada while recieving a great deal more in health care benefits under their universal system.
Despite having only recently returned to the area, Haszko believes he has just as strong a link to the community as his opponent.
"My opponent is making me out to be an out-of-touch individual, but the fact of the matter is that I've been more in touch with this community than perhaps even he is," said Haszko. "I work for local people. My social circle is here, I go to church right in town. I personally don't know any contributions my opponent has made to this community."
Haszko will be working hard to get his name out for the next few weeks, including door-to-door and business-to-business campaigning, organizing a large number of volunteers, working to turnout the student vote and even writing a blog . He says he plans to continue blogging if he's elected to help keep his constituents informed.
When I asked Haszko if there was anything else people should know about his campain, he had a ready response. "Yeah. We're going to win."
Lance Harvell works at a local mill, is a non-traditional student at the University of Maine at Farmington and says he would bring an important viewpoint to the statehouse.
"I'm a pretty good judge of people and processes," said Harvell. "I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a big top dog, but I know what normal people are thinking and what they want from a legislator."
Harvell sees this election as the chance he's been waiting for to win the district 89 seat. He came tantalizingly close in 2004, losing by only 65 votes after a recount, but has always been stymied by Janet Mills' local popularity.
"If it had been anyone but her I would have won," said Harvell. "Beating here up here would have been like beating a Kennedy in Massachusetts."
Harvell says he's always respected Mills and believes she has a "healthy cynicism" that will allow her to do well as Attorney General.
Harvell says his top legislative priority is the state budget, and that the debate over what services to fund will consume the current session.
"It's all going to be about setting priorities and making cuts," said Harvell. "No one is going to be able to do anything new unless they bring $800 million with them."
Harvell rejects the idea of across-the-board spending cuts and compared the state's fiscal situation to a family budget, saying that entertainment costs should be cut before reducing the food budget. When I asked what parts of the state budget translated to "entertainment" in his analogy, Harvell was quick to point to the Department of Health and Human Services and Dirigo Health.
Harvell also expressed interest in working in the legislature to bring more wind and tidal power to Maine.
In addition to his statehouse runs, Harvell has also had some political experience as the campaign manager for cantankerous second-district congressional candidate John Frary, although he downplays his involvement in that race.
"I helped out, I came up with a few ideas, but it wasn't much," said Harvell. "I wasn't any high-titled campaign manager."
Harvell said he doesn't know his opponent well, but that he "seems like a nice guy, although a bit new to the area." He pointed to health care as a major area of disagreement between the two of them.
"He thinks Dirigo health can be fixed," said Harvell. "I don't."
Harvell is also maintaining a website  during the campaign (where you can see the beard  that won him the 2007 Farmington beard growing competition — a community contribution if I ever saw one), but wouldn't commit to continuing to have an online presence if he won the seat, expressing concern that too much transparency in the legislative process would make compromise more difficult.
Harvell says the wild card in the race will be turnout at UMF, and explained that he personally doesn't think students will get fired-up about a local race.
Barring an unforseen increase in the student vote, Harvell said he was confident of victory, and declared "I'm gonna win this one."