WINTERPORT – Just when Jeff Kaelin thought his campaign against Joe Brooks for House District 107 was breaking his way – he broke his leg.
Though the injury that occurred last week during an adult hockey game may cause some pain and keep him laid up for a while, it hasn’t hurt Kaelin’s confidence.
Despite the acknowledged edge the Democrat Brooks holds as a two-term incumbent, the Republican Kaelin believes he has a great opportunity to win the election.
“I was really on a roll with this campaign. I was out seeing a lot of people, getting door to door and then this,” Kaelin said. “But I’m still working, using the phone, calling voters. I tell them, ‘I’d love to be coming to your door, but I can’t get out of the house.”‘
Being out and about is something Kaelin knows is needed because Brooks earned the reputation as a dogged campaigner during his two previous races. Brooks enjoys pressing the flesh and the give and take of one-on-one campaigning.
“Local issues seem to dominate quite a bit of the conversation as I go door to door,” Brooks said. “I like getting out there and meeting the people.”
Besides their hometown, Winterport, District 107 takes in the Waldo County communities of Brooks, Frankfort, Jackson, Monroe, Prospect and Stockton Springs.
Unenrolled voters supply the majority of the district’s registered voters while its Republican and Democratic base is about the same.
Faced with that reality, both candidates know that besides the need to reach the independents with their message, it is also critical that they win their hometown of Winterport, the district’s largest, with more than 3,000 residents. Large pluralities in Winterport carried Brooks to wins in both his prior races.
“It’s still a hard read,” Brooks said. “It depends on how we divide the vote in Winterport and how strong we run across the rest of the district.”
Kaelin and Brooks are both well- known in Winterport and Augusta.
Brooks has been involved in town affairs for years, and his 37 years in the newspaper business attuned him to the ways of Augusta long before he set up shop there.
In 1999, Brooks was named State Representative of the Year by the Maine chapter of National Association of Social Workers.
“I’ve worked on a lot of important health care issues, and I want to continue with that without losing sight of all the other things back home,” Brooks said. “Health care is important to all the people of the state, but a legislator’s responsibility is to look to the issues that are on the public’s mind.”
Brooks listed transportation, health care, property taxes and education costs as major areas of concern within the district. He said the condition of local roads and fears about traffic delays and bottlenecks when the $28 million in planned repairs begin on the Waldo-Hancock Bridge have been “the focus of my attention” during the past year.
Kaelin has volunteered for youth programs around town. He also worked as a legislative assistant on fisheries and veterans affairs for then-U.S. Sen. William Cohen and was a staff members for the U.S. House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries.
For the past 15 years he has served as executive director of the Maine Sardine Council. Kaelin was provided an opportunity to seek elective office when the council disbanded last spring when the state’s sardine plants were bought by a Canadian firm.
“I’ve been in the process for a number of years, but was never in a position to run for the Legislature,” Kaelin said. “It’s been a lot of fun just meeting people in this district that I never would have met any other way. I’m very excited about the possibility of winning this seat.”
While Kaelin commended Brooks for his commitment to human services issues, he suggested that he had not done enough for small business and economic development.
Kaelin said he would take a more aggressive approach to those issues. “I believe a legislator owes it to the people to work hard in all areas. I do not think his voting record is pro-business. I think we have a very different approach to what’s needed in Maine to expand business.”