In the District 136 House race Downeast, the candidates are both Winter Harbor natives. Both have served as selectmen, both have been lobstermen. Democrat Kylie Bragdon, “Winter Harbor born and bred,” grew up on the water and now fishes when she can but works as the principal of KidsPeace in Ellsworth. She has taught in other regional high schools but finds KidsPeace particularly rewarding. “These are high-needs kids who come to us working below grade level,” she says. She relishes the challenge of “preparing them for the real world.”
Currently serving as chairwoman of the Winter Harbor selectmen, she sees “seasonal poverty” as a problem Downeast, where jobs and paychecks tend to be available in the summer only. “We have to meet basic human needs and provide both opportunity and support.”
Bragdon is dismissive of “Common Core” standards for schools but enthusiastic about programs such as Eastern Maine Skippers that tailor classwork to the students. A doctoral candidate, she is writing her dissertation on improving education for lobster fishermen. She credits a former teacher for persuading her to run.
Protecting local industry, health care and home care and the needs of the elderly and disabled round out her major concerns. She claims no ideological mindset. “I’m here to represent the people — everyone,” she says, adding: “You have to give everything your all.”
The Republican in that race is William “Billy Bob” Faulkingham. It is clear that this man cares about his family, his community and fishing. His campaign material describes him as “Father – Veteran – Fisherman,” in that order.
He was chairman of the Winter Harbor selectmen (and served on the panel for six years) but stepped off the board to run for the House. “I’m doing it for my kids,” he says. “I want them to be able to stay here. I want to make this state as good as I can.”
Fishing is the core of the economy in his area, be it on the water, at the Fishermen’s Co-op, in processing or shipping, and Faulkingham knows the waterfront. Like all fishermen, he keeps a wary eye on the health of the industry and would like to serve on the Marine Resources Committee in Augusta. He notes that “tourism is doing pretty good — real good,” with some new campgrounds and a growing interest in weekly rentals. “Winter Harbor is “pretty good at keeping taxes low,” he said.
A major challenge he sees is the opioid crisis. Despite recent news coverage suggesting drug abuse is particularly prevalent in the fishing community, Faulkingham says it is no worse among fishermen than it is within many other segments of the community. And it’s bad. It must be addressed, but “you’ve got to have compassion.”
District 134 (Deer Isle/Stonington) features a lobsterman too. Genevieve McDonald of Stonington runs F/V Hello Darlings II and is full of enthusiasm for serving in the Legislature, with the opportunity to work toward collaboration between managers, scientists and fishing communities.
McDonald is another fan of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. “These days it’s not as simple as just going out to fish,” she said. “Some areas of Maine are beginning to see a real downturn. Climate, management, fishing gear and the health of the stock is all important.” She says the kids on her island are “hard-working,” and that having her own gives her the “working mom” perspective.
At the age of 30, McDonald went back to school and earned a college degree online. Ask about issues on her radar screen and a list spills out without hesitation. The year-round economy. Housing. The opiate crisis. A living wage. Child care and after-school programs. The labor shortage. Broadband. The ferry service. And for fishermen? “We’re always one foul-weather week away from poverty.”
Her opponent, Republican Philip Brady of Little Deer Isle, is quite the opposite. He was persuaded by his party to run as a “placeholder” candidate, assured that after the primary that Republicans would identify a candidate to take on the general election. Brady agreed to do it, and adds ruefully, “That was the last I ever heard from them.”
Now he’s the candidate, and though he is both bemused and reluctant, he says that “if something crazy happens and I’m elected” he will serve. “You serve when you’re called,” says this former military man. “If I’m elected, I’ll go down there and do the very best job God allows.”
He describes his campaign as “not as vigorous as it would be if I decided I was a good candidate.” People who talk with him about his candidacy “have an ax to grind and want me to grind it.” For that, says Brady, “I have neither the time nor the patience.”
He sees the job as representing the people of the district. It is their opinions that matter, he says, not his. To that end, he “loves research,” “looks forward to new challenges” and recognizes the “value of continuing to learn.”