LEWISTON — Before a single Republican vote is cast for the Androscoggin County Commission, the race may be over.
The June 8 ballot has no Republican candidate for the seat, which represents Lewiston on the three-member commission. And so far, there is neither an Independent nor write-in candidacy for the November general election.
However, there are three Democrats in the running: incumbent Elaine Makas and challengers Walter Morrissette Hill and Renee Bernier.
Candidates have been erecting signs, shaking hands and knocking on doors in an effort to blanket the city with their individual messages.
“I'm trying to go to as many as I can,” said Makas, who figured Wednesday that she has visited about 1,200 homes. That's despite a busy schedule as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College and a commissioner.
Hill is trying even more.
“I want to reach every Democratic voter in the city,” said Hill, a part-time college student and Lewiston School Committee member who said he is taking a break from working to focus on policy and politics.
“I really like this, and people say I'm really good at it,” Hill said. He formerly worked in several local restaurants and managed Burger King restaurants on the Maine Turnpike.
Renee Bernier figures she has done less campaigning than her opponents, in part due to her work as a city councilor in Lewiston.
“My time has been spread out,” she said. Besides the city schedule, Bernier has been working on launching a new business: a farm stand and bakery in Lisbon. She also owns Ace Detective and Security Agency in Lewiston.
However, she wants the county job as much as the others, she said.
“It's a position I've wanted for a long time,” Bernier said. Her dad, Henry Bernier, was a longtime commissioner. In 2006, she lost to Helen Poulin, who vacated the county job when she moved out of her district.
Bernier served at least three years on the county budget committee, examining the multimillion-dollar budget and the spending on each county department.
“People forget that it's also a big part of the city tax bill,” Bernier said. Property tax bills rarely reflect the portion that goes to pay the county, she said. The spending needs oversight, she said.
“I know how the county is run,” she said.
She also plans to stay at work for the city in the unlikely case that someone challenges her ability to stay in county office.
Maine law prevents commissioners from serving as selectmen. It's uncertain whether the law also applies to city councilors.
“There's a lot of gray area,” Bernier said.“Lewiston people elected me to do the job. If I win this, I will not resign my position as a city councilor.”
Makas believes she is well-suited to continue on the commission.
Appointed in December 2008 to serve the remainder of Poulin's term, Makas said she has learned a lot about the county in her 18 months. She also believes her leadership style is well-suited to quiet success.
“I'm persistent but not relentless,” she said. “I do hope people will look at the accomplishments.”
A trained mediator and a six-year veteran of the Maine Legislature, Makas has worked to lower the county's workers' compensation costs by encouraging new training and grant-funded equipment. She encouraged the purchase of Tasers in the jail for use as a deterrent to violence.
She wants the county to resolve ongoing labor negotiations and disputes over emergency dispatching.
“I've had seven and a half years representing the people of Lewiston,” she said. “I'm ready for four more.”