PRESQUE ISLE – Three local university students are saying it’s time for some new blood in the state Legislature, and they’re on the campaign trail to make it happen.
Charles “C.J.” Bernard, Tyler Clark and Zachary Smith are all students at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Each is seeking a state representative post in the Nov. 7 election and none of them have sought elected office before.
Still, each one believes he has a fighting chance this season.
“It all comes down to ‘it’s time for a change,'” Clark said in a recent interview on campus with all three candidates.
They said that their decisions to run for office happened in a kind of domino effect, but that each was prompted to be a catalyst for change in his district.
Bernard, 31, stepped up to the plate first, after he said he was asked by Speaker of the House John Richardson to consider running. Bernard initially turned down the offer, but he said after many people continued to press him, he decided in early 2006 to run on the Democratic ticket for the District 4 seat, which covers Caribou. He is running against Rep. Peter Edgecomb for the seat.
A few weeks later, Clark, 21, was asked by the state Republican Party to run for District 6 – which covers Mars Hill, Easton, Blaine and Fort Fairfield – and to find a Republican candidate to run for District 5 in Presque Isle. Clark said he knew right away that Smith, 26, was the right person for the post. Clark is running against the incumbent, Rep. Jackie Lundeen; Smith against Rep. Jeremy Fischer, who, at 26, is one of the Legislature’s youngest members.
This summer and fall, the three students have been knocking on doors and talking with people in their communities about the change they’d like to see. While they expected to be met with some skepticism, the candidates said the local reception has been fairly positive.
“‘It’s great to see someone young running for office,'” Bernard said. “We’re getting that at the door.”
They also said they’re trying to show how their youth can be an advantage.
“We already have the ability to balance our schedules; we’re used to wearing multiple hats,” Smith said.
“I’m going to try to be as informed with every issue as I can,” Clark said. “And I’m not going to be above asking for help or advice.”
Their opponents say that while they are excited to see more young people getting involved in the political process, what northern Maine needs is experience.
“I feel that the younger students should remain in college and get their education and then try for something like this for office. I feel that they don’t have the life experience,” Lundeen said Wednesday.
In response to her opponent’s call for change, Lundeen said it all goes back to experience.
“There does need to be some changes, but there again it takes the experience of the people who are already involved to make changes,” she said.
Her fellow legislator, Fischer, said while age for him isn’t the central issue, experience is.
“I’ve never thought age should be the reason people make a decision,” Fischer said Wednesday. “They should make it on the basis of how hard you work and the basis of your ideas.”
In response to his opponent’s call for change, Fischer said his motivation in serving Presque Isle always has been providing an equal opportunity for people to live, learn and work in the place that they choose.
Edgecomb was on the campaign trail and unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Bernard, a native of New Brunswick, is a graduate of Caribou High School and is a nontraditional student majoring in international studies with a concentration in political science and a minor in history. He is involved with the Maine College Democrats, the UMPI College Democrats of America and is chairman of the Caribou Democratic Party. Bernard holds a full-time job at the Loring Job Corps Center in Limestone and serves as UMPI’s student representative to the University of Maine System board of trustees. He resides in Caribou with his wife and three children.
Clark chairs the UMPI College Republicans and is secretary with the Maine College Republicans. He is a graduate of Easton High School and is majoring in business management with a political science minor.
Smith, a native of Ohio, moved to Presque Isle in 1999. He is involved with the UMPI College Republicans and has served twice as president of the university’s Student Senate. He is working toward a dual degree in criminal justice and business management information systems.
If elected, the candidates said they will juggle their school schedules – either taking the spring semester off or taking courses at the University of Maine at Augusta during the next legislative session.