Espling, Claxton vie for Senate 20 seat

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NEW GLOUCESTER — A key House Republican and former family physician-turned Democratic candidate are competing for the open District 20 Senate seat this fall.

Voters in Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester and Poland will choose between Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, and Democrat Ned Claxton of Auburn on Nov. 6 when they elect a new state senator.

Current District 20  Sen. Eric Brakey is challenging U.S. Sen. Angus King in November.

Espling, 45, has served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives including two as the assistant Republican leader, and has often been a legislative ally of Gov. Paul LePage. She has received endorsements from LePage and Brakey.

She called Brakey a “real go-getter” but looks to chart her own course in the Senate.

“I think I’m a totally different person,” she said.

She said she has “learned a lot” during her eight years in Augusta and “would very much be happy to serve in leadership” if elected to the Senate.

“I think that the best legislator, regardless of party, is someone who can assist citizens with the process,” Espling said, noting that working with constituents is “what I love to do the most” in her current role.

She’s involved with multiple groups that work to elect conservative women to office, and sees diversity as an asset to the legislative process.

“I think the Legislature works better when we have a more diverse group of people with different perspectives, and to me that means all different ages, men and women, different ethnicities if we can – it’s Maine – just people of all different walks of life serving,” Espling said.

“How do you solve problems when everybody thinks the same?” she added.

Claxton, 69, said he had been considering a run for office since the early 2000s and was inspired to run after feeling “increasingly frustrated” after the 2016 election “with the tone of political conversation” and felt like he needed to do something.

He decided to run for office after being approached by a group of local women about the empty Senate seat.

A retired family physician who also held several leadership roles at Central Maine Health Care, Claxton called himself an “active listener” and said that in addition to bringing his health care experience to Augusta he would like to work on environmental issues.

“When I signed on with the Democrats, I told them they were getting a pretty centrist, independent person,” Claxton said. “I’ve been me a long time, and it’s not likely to change. And part of my greatest satisfaction is to bring people together with different ideas, and work on a project together for a good outcome.”

Both Espling and Claxton have experience working to tackle Maine opioid crisis, she as a member of Legislature and he as a physician.

Espling looks to prioritize drug prevention.

“We’ve focused a lot on enforcement, we’ve focused on treatment, I think we need to do both of those better still, but we have not done a lot for prevention. And these are the types of drugs where you try it once and you could kill yourself, and we have to stop people from trying them.”

Claxton said he has been involved with the fight against addiction in his role as a doctor, trying to scale back opioid prescriptions and attending meetings held by the statewide opioid task force created by the Legislature.

As a legislator, he said he would prioritize ideas such as “a recognition that suboxone shouldn’t be limited in terms of how long it’s provided” and more transitional housing options for people going through rehabilitation.

Maine voters will decide this November on a referendum question to create a new Universal Home Care Program for seniors and people with disabilities through a 3.8 percent tax on individuals and families making more than $128,400. And while both Espling and Claxton have an interest in the home care issue, they each have concerns about the proposal.

“For me, with all the work I’ve done with home care, I have some real issues with how they’re going to administrate this whole home care piece of it,” Espling said, noting that she has worked to improve reimbursement rates for home care providers. “I don’t think we do a whole separate agency … Let’s improve what we have.”

Claxton said he is “very supportive of the concept of needing to work out a way to do something to compensate the thousands of people who are committed to keeping elders and families in homes” but has questions about how it would be funded.

“I’m not sure about the financing mechanism of the proposal, but I haven’t even read it, I’ve only heard about it secondhand in terms of the additional tax,” Claxton continued. “I significant questions about that”

As assistant minority leader in the House, Espling has been in the middle of an ongoing debate over expanding Medicaid in the state. Voters approved expansion by referendum last November, but the administration has been slow to implement it. The Governor has vetoed expansion funding with the backing of Espling and many other House Republicans, with no resolution as of the Lakes Region Weekly’s Wednesday print deadline.

“It needs to be part of the next biennial budget, to be frank,” Espling said. “If and since it seems like Maine is moving forward in this direction, and its going to be a permanent part of our programs in HHS, then it should be a permanent part of the budget. And having just temporary pots of money used to fund it is not sustainable.”

“I don’t think it’s sustainable long term,” she added about the cost of expansion. “I think we’re going to have some troubles in the future funding it, but if Mainers as they have said want it to be a priority, then it should be in the budget.”

Claxton supports Medicaid expansion, recounting a conversation he had with a voter.

“It felt to me that it was unethical not to support the expansion, because I’m all about access as a first step in health care, and for those 70,000 that don’t have access, they don’t get health care the way I define it,” he said, referencing the estimated amount of people who gain Medicaid eligibility under the expansion.

Espling is running a traditionally funded campaign, while Claxton is a qualified public financing candidate under Maine’s Clean Election law. Claxton’s campaign currently holds a fundraising advantage of nearly $36,000 to Espling’s $13,000, according to the Maine Ethics Commission’s campaign finance website.

“I totally think I’m at a disadvantage by not being a Clean Election candidate,” Espling said. But because I so strongly don’t believe in the system, I just cant be a part of it.”

Claxton, who received matching state funds after initially collecting individual donations under the Clean Election system, said he has spent “no energy for months” on fundraising.

“I feel good about our stats – I think we need to get much more of the dark money and PAC money, out of politics, and that’s a piece of it for me,” he said.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Editor’s note: the reporter previously worked for U.S. Senator Angus King, who is being challenged by current District 20 Senator Eric Brakey. 

Name: Ned Claxton

Age: 69

Town of Residence: Auburn

Party affiliation: Democrat

Family: Married, 2 grown sons

Occupation: Retired family physician

Education: Princeton University, University of Cincinnati Medical School, University of Minnesota residency

Political/civic experience: Sat in on several hearings and task force sessions, testified at roughly 10 hearings, sat in on Democratic Caucus twice, was Doc of the Day in the Legislature several times, volunteer and boundary surveyor for the Androscoggin Land Trust, trail maintainer or steward for several land preserves or clubs, trustee at Central Maine Medical Center for nine years.

Website social/media: claxtonforsenate.me and claxtonforsenate on Facebook

Name: Ellie Espling

Age: 45

Town of Residence: New Gloucester

Party affiliation: Republican

Family: Married, 4 children

Occupation: self employed

Education: Business Administration degree from University of Southern Maine

Political/civic experience: Four terms of service in the Maine House of Representatives, Two terms serving as the Assistant House Republican Leader, past New Gloucester Budget Committee member amd Chair, current New Gloucester Public Safety Committee member and Secretary, past trustee of North Deering Alliance Church, past volunteer budget couselor, past Cancer Community Center cancer buddy, volunteer teacher at SEEDS Homeschool co-op, Co-Chair of SHE Leads, State Chair for Maggie’s List, Republican National Committeewoman.

Website/social media: Facebook Ellie Espling for Maine Senate

Name: Ellie Espling

Age: 45

Town of Residence: New Gloucester

Party affiliation: Republican

Family: Married, 4 children

Occupation: self employed

Education: Business Administration degree from University of Southern Maine

Political/civic experience: Four terms in the Maine House of Representatives, two terms serving as assistant House Republican leader, past New Gloucester Budget Committee member, current New Gloucester Public Safety Committee member and secretary, past volunteer budget counselor, past Cancer Community Center cancer buddy, volunteer teacher at SEEDS Homeschool co-op, co-chair of SHE Leads, state chair for Maggie’s List, Republican National committeewoman.

Website/social media: Facebook Ellie Espling for Maine Senate

Name: Ellie Espling

Age: 45

Town of Residence: New Gloucester

Party affiliation: Republican

Family: Married, 4 children

Occupation: self employed

Education: Business Administration degree from University of Southern Maine

Political/civic experience: Four terms in the Maine House of Representatives, two terms serving as assistant House Republican leader, past New Gloucester Budget Committee member, current New Gloucester Public Safety Committee member and secretary, past volunteer budget counselor, past Cancer Community Center cancer buddy, volunteer teacher at SEEDS Homeschool co-op, co-chair of SHE Leads, state chair for Maggie’s List, Republican National committeewoman.

Website/social media: Facebook Ellie Espling for Maine Senate

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