Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A county primary

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Last week, we told you about the federal primaries most Mainers will get to vote in on June 10, as well as the state-primary choices Portland Democrats will face (see “Top 10 Questions for Maine Voters,” by Deirdre Fulton, May 30). Also, see our endorsements in those races on page 10 of this issue. Now it's time for the super-local stuff.

Four Portland Democrats are competing to represent Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, and Long and Chebeague islands on the three-person Cumberland County Commission.

The commission oversees the administrative structure behind several departments, which are largely run by other elected officials: the district attorney, the sheriff (including the jail and the emergency-communications center), the register of probate, and the register of deeds. There are a couple other departments, including community-development and emergency management, but much of that involves being a middle-man — or middle-woman — between larger government agencies (like the state and the feds) and smaller ones (like cities and towns). Overall, the county has an annual budget of about $31 million, funded by property taxes paid to cities and towns and passed on to the county.

No Republican or independent candidate has filed paperwork with state election officials to contest the race in November, meaning anyone wanting to contest the race would have to wage a write-in campaign.

Seeking to be the Democratic nominee are:
Jim Cloutier of Portland, a former Portland city councilor (and former mayor);
Diane Gurney of Portland, now serving as the county treasurer (an elected position);
Stephen Hirshon of Portland, a Bayside Neighborhood Association organizer who spends a lot of time in Portland City Hall (as a citizen and on various boards) and is a talk-show host on WMPG; and
John Simpson of Cumberland Foreside, who lost in a 2006 bid to unseat Republican state senator Karl Turner.

Also, bonds
All state voters — including those not enrolled in any party — will vote on a $30 million state bond for “natural resources, agricultural and transportation infrastructure,” including $10 million in highway and bridge repairs and nearly the same amount in railroad improvements. It would attract roughly $30 million in federal and private matching funds.

And Portland voters will have to decide whether to spend $20 million to replace Baxter Elementary School — all but $60,000 of which will be reimbursed by the state.