Susan Wilkinson Austin
Town of Residence: Gray
Party Affiliation: Republican
Family: Married, four children, 12 grandchildren
Occupation: Prior medical secretary/assistant and management assistant
Education: Associates degree from Bliss College
Political/civic experience: Maine Legislature, 12 years; SAD 15 School Board, five terms; Gray Town Council, one term; Gray Town Election Ballot Clerk, eight years; Maine Wildlife Park Advocate, 18 years; Crystal Lake Association; Gray Historical Society; Gov. Angus King appointee to Pineland Conversion Committee; Gray Senior Housing Committee; The Raymond Hawthorne Community Association; Greater Portland Council of Governments, town representative; Friends of the Gray Public Library; Patriot-Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby Board; SHE Leads; UMaine Leaders Program; Gray-New Gloucester Optimist, 18 years, Labor Commerce Research and Economic Development Committee, Ethics Committee
Website/social media: Facebook: Sue Austin; Sue.Austin@legislature.maine.gov
GRAY — A self-employed consultant making her first legislative run is challenging the incumbent seeking her seventh term in House District 67.
Independent Anne Gass hopes to unseat Republican Sue Austin in the district, which includes Frye Island and parts of Casco, Gray and Raymond.
Gass says she had been considering running for some time, and her decision was cemented by a cross-country road trip and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2015, she retraced the route a group of women’s suffrage activists had taken in 1915 on their way to Congress. Along the way, Gass met with women’s rights activists and discussed how women don’t run for political office, which inspired her to begin her own campaign.
After the presidential election, she said, she understood that “there would be a lot of decisions that would come back to the states, and I wanted to be there in Augusta and help with that decision making.”
Austin was inspired to run in 2002 after a request from then-incumbent Clif Foster, who decided not to pursue his fourth term. “I was at a point where I had done a lot here and found some success,” Austin explained.
Gass would like to focus on the intertwined issues of small business promotion, health care and access to high-speed broadband internet. “As a small business owner, I’m a big supporter of small business, and I think that one of the ways to do that is to provide some health care. It takes a few years to launch. If you have a preexisting condition or a kid who’s sick, you’re not going to take that risk. And I think that’s bad for Maine and bad for families,” she said.
Gass would like to pass the Maine Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Maine has ratified the national amendment but not the state amendment in spite of multiple efforts to do so, including in 2017.
“That boat went down on a party line basis. I don’t understand why equal rights for women is a party line issue,” Gass said.
Austin said in her 12 years in the Legislature she has learned how to build relationships with colleagues. “That is unbelievably important because you don’t know when you’re going to have to go to them and bring up something maybe very controversial or uncomfortable, maybe you have common ground and can collaborate,” Austin said.
She said her platform is “so fundamental” and that she would like to focus on “budgeting that is well thought with as many needs as we can financially meet that deserve that kind of attention.” She’d also like to increase the state’s rainy day fund.
She is also interested in addressing what she calls “the testing situation” and is looking at using THC Breathalyzers — devices that monitor the amount of marijuana a person has consumed — to identify drivers who are under the influence.
Gass said she will vote against Question 1 on the statewide ballot, which asks voters if they want 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. She said she is “not sure they’ve pegged the right dollar amount in terms of income and that’s the best way to fund it.”
Austin will also vote against the bill because of concerns she has about the nine-member board that will be created. “This group will be making substantial decisions about this question and the care and how it’s given and all of that with really no interaction, as far as I can tell, with state government,” she said.
She is also unclear on how the board members will be appointed and is worried about people taking advantage of the care the bill would provide.
“It doesn’t look like a workable situation to me. It looks overwhelming,” she said.
To treat opioid addiction in Maine, Gass said physicians should be encouraged to reduce the amount of opioids they prescribe. She cited a study by Dr. Glenn Waters, which concluded that a combination of Tylenol and Ibuprofen was more effective at limiting pain than opioids.
“Patients need to demand that they not be prescribed opioids that are addicting and not as effective as this other protocol,” she said.
Austin referenced a bill the House passed in April, “To Develop a Statewide Resource and Referral Center and Develop Hub-and-spoke Models To Improve Access, Treatment and Recovery for Those with Substance Use Disorder.”
“We felt good about that,” she said.
That bill died in the Senate but has since been included in an existing measure, she said.
Gass also highlighted her status as an independent. “I’m the real deal. I’m a citizen legislator who cares more about people and communities than I do about parties, and in this day and age that ought to be an attractive package,” she said.
Austin said she has always been inspired to help people and to address inequalities. “My empathy is fairly high. I think that that helps me serve them even better than thinking I have to do this because that’s what it says in my job description. My constituent services are very important to me,” she said.
Jane Vaughan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.