The candidates for State Senate District 33 appeared at the Candidates Night event held at City Hall on October 12, 2022. This report is a summary of the questions and their responses. The questions were developed by Shawn Sullivan, Tammy Wells and Zendelle Bouchard, with suggestions submitted by local residents. The candidates began with introductory statements.
Matt Harrington gave a brief statement detailing some of his experience. He has served in the State Legislature representing House District 19 for the past seven years. During that time, he has been a member of several committees. Most recently, he has been assigned to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which he called “near and dear to my heart” as his father is a disabled veteran. He was born and raised in Maine and has spent his career in public safety, including the last 15 years serving as a full-time police officer in York County.
Kendra Williams was born and raised in Sanford by two educators. She started two small businesses, Williams Foundations with her husband Paul, and Kids Kasuals, then switched careers and became a clinical social worker. She worked in child welfare as the director of several family organizations, then started a private practice in grief and family counseling from which she has recently retired. She volunteers for several community organizations and has been a member of the School Committee and Core Building Committee. She is currently serving as President of the Sanford Schools Legacy Foundation, and is on the board of Strategies for a Stronger Sanford.
Question 1: What is your personal stance on abortion? What would be your guiding principles if called upon to vote on a bill seeking to further restrict access to abortions?
Ms. Williams said each of us make our own healthcare decisions based on advice and guidance from our medical provider, adding that she believes reproductive care is health care. “The patient, and only the patient, has the right to make decisions on health care based on their own values, their own circumstances, and their own beliefs,” she concluded
Rep. Harrington said that in Maine, the abortion law has been codified since the early 90s. He pointed to his track record in the legislature of not submitting or supporting legislation that would restrict a woman’s ability to receive the procedure. “Current Maine law prohibits abortion after viability, and our laws should keep pace with modern medicine, but that is between a woman and her doctor,” he said
Question 2: If the need for budget cuts arises this winter, what would you cut and why?
Rep Harrington said the biggest difference between the current administration and the past administration is the number of open positions that are kept open in the budget, “as favors to unions.” He would go after those open positions that aren’t currently being filled first, and then prioritize spending.
Ms. Williams responded that as a business owner, director of organizations and School Committee member, she learned that when cuts need to be made, “you need to look at everything and see what would be the least painful” or where alternatives exist to help as many people as possible, and get things done. She said she would also look at state programs that have been in place for awhile, to assess if they are evidence-based and if they are achieving their objectives.
Question 3: What in Maine needs to change, and how would you work to change it as a legislator?
Rep. Harrington said while there are a lot of issues facing the state, the number one issue is the workforce shortage, and the difficulty businesses face in recruiting and retaining both skilled and unskilled workers. In addition to prioritizing trades, he said the workforce requirement for receiving public assistance should be reinstated. “If you are an able-bodied person, you should be working,” he said.
Ms. Williams emphasized that her number one issue is child welfare: “We have too many children dying in this state from abuse and neglect…we need to rebuild the system and we need to start with prevention.” She recalled when she ran the home visiting program for first-time parents for York County, she saw great successes, especially in children’s brain development. She said in the current child welfare system, “we are letting them go back and forth while their parents have a lot of opportunity to get it together…these kids don’t have time to wait.”
Question 4: Lobstermen have had a challenging year with the federal government’s attempts to further regulate them, and with a group out west calling for people to boycott buying and eating lobster. Should the legislature be involved in these matters, if so, how? If not, why not?
Both candidates were in agreement that the Governor and legislators should be involved to protect the lobstering industry. Rep. Harrington said since the early 2000s, the threat to whales was no longer an issue. Ms. Williams agreed that there is no evidence that lobstering is killing whales.
Question 5: In your opinion, should electric utilities be privately or publicly owned in Maine?
Rep. Harrington replied that public utilities should be 100% in the private sector. He said the proposed referendum is coming down to a question of people’s satisfaction with Central Maine Power, but “we should not be making public policy based on emotion. The government does not run things very well.”
Ms. Williams said if the question was on the ballot this year, she would vote against having CMP become government-run: “It needs to be vetted more…What we need as citizens is accurate info.” She added that making electric utilities public “would be very expensive for the state to take on… I don’t see it happening quickly.”
Question 6: If elected, you will take office during the winter. What do you see as your responsibility as legislator to those living in tents this winter in cities and towns across the state, and not just the big towns? What can be done short term?
Rep. Harrington said most homeless people are suffering from mental health and substance abuse, so we need to make sure we have the resources available for those issues. He added that in his professional career, he has come across many individuals who are “homeless by choice.” He said we need to have the resources to keep all Mainers warm, not just homeless people.
Ms. Williams said it is a huge issue, and that we are seeing working families who are homeless due to the housing shortage. She was encouraged by the recent workshop on the housing crisis that was hosted by the Sanford Housing Authority and the City Council. (See this story.) She is also encouraged by the Sanford Police Department’s multidisciplinary team approach to the issue, and would like to see these things happening in other communities.
Question 7: As we all know, there was not a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 Presidential election. Indeed, Maine was among other states that had beefed up security around the Capitol in Augusta, in the days leading up to the Inauguration in January 2021. If elected, you will be in office during and after the 2024 Presidential election, so this question to us feels fair, relevant and necessary. Do you have any issues with the 2020 Presidential election, whether it’s the way in which it was conducted nationally or the results that were certified? How do you vow to carry yourself as a legislator during the upcoming Presidential campaign?
Both candidates affirmed that Joe Biden won the election. Rep. Harrington said there was probably some voter irregularity or fraud, but he has no doubt that it was not enough to overturn the results of the election. He said he would like to see a Voter ID law in Maine, adding that for people don’t have an ID, the state could cover the cost. Ms. Williams disagreed, saying that she saw no evidence there was a lot of fraud in the election. She is opposed to Voter ID, calling it a barrier to voting: “Does that mean people would have to go to the Registry in Springvale and sit and wait for two hours to have their picture taken?” Both candidates expressed confidence in Maine’s Secretary of State, as well as town and city clerks for their efficient and secure handling of elections and results.
Question 8: Please tell us about a substantial issue on which you strongly disagree with your political party.
Rep. Harrington identified LGBTQ+ rights as one of the biggest issues where he differs with the Republican Party, recalling that he was one of the few who voted to remove the definition of marriage from the party’s platform at the first convention he attended. “It’s time to move on as a party and as a country,” he said.
Ms. Williams said she couldn’t think of any substantial disagreements with the Democratic Party, but added, “Anyone who knows me knows I am not afraid of speaking up when I disagree with something, so if issues come up, and I am not aligned with what the majority of the party is thinking, I am confident of going my own way based on information that I absorb and consider.”
Election Day is November 8. In-person absentee voting is going on now at City Hall. See this page for more information.
The full Candidates Night video is available on YouTube here.