AUGUSTA — For state Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, serving in the Maine Legislature is a matter of making sure that “normal, regular, everyday people” have a voice in their government.

Espling, serving her third term in the Maine House, was recently elected by her colleagues to the position of assistant minority leader. She represents House District 65, which includes parts of Poland and all of New Gloucester.

Espling says she doesn’t mind being known as a pro-life Republican, but she doesn’t intend to be defined by her stance on abortion.

Her two oldest children, now 19 and 17, attended school at home under the guidance of her and her husband, who is a pastor.

Espling said she’s long been interested and active in Republican Party politics — first getting involved as a campaigner for former Gov. John McKernan when she was in high school. Her personal political career started more as an avocation than a vocation.

“It was really my way of having some grown-up time,” Espling said. “It was a ‘mom needs her own time’ kind of thing.”


She is still actively involved in her younger children’s education.

“When I’m not (at the State House), I’m teaching,” she said. 

Espling grew up in Cape Elizabeth and later lived in Wells before moving to New Gloucester. She said when she first ran for the Legislature, she was a young upstart and many people — even those in her own party — didn’t give her much of a chance of winning.

“I was a newbie who didn’t know what was what and wasn’t exactly a hometown girl in New Gloucester,” Espling recalled in her race against an incumbent. 

But she stuck with it, persevered and won.

Now, three elections later, Espling is that incumbent — and a popular one at that — handily winning her third term with nearly 60 percent of the vote.


“I think, in a perfect world, normal, regular, everyday people are the kind of people who should run for office,” Espling said.

Espling works to get more women involved in politics, noting the imbalance of power between women and men in leadership roles.

“Over half of the voters are women, but only about one-quarter of the elected officials are women,” Espling said.

But that said, she doesn’t buy into the old saw about the “good ol’ boys” network in Augusta, noting that it’s more complicated than that.

She said stage-of-life issues, coupled with the fact that most women are busy working and raising their families, often make the idea of a political career more daunting.

Beyond that, being an elected official makes one’s life transparent to the world and many people, both men and women, are not willing to endure the “nastiness” that can come with running for office, she said.


One of her top issues for the current lawmaking session is to do all she can to help ease Maine’s income tax burden, especially for older residents. She is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the income tax for anyone over the age of 67.

The idea was one that came from a Maine woman who spends her winters in Florida, she said. The woman had told her that if she didn’t have to pay income taxes in Maine, she would keep more of her money invested here.

Espling also said the issue of  how to fund public charter schools is one she wants to help resolve. She said she supports charter schools but sees flaws in the way public school districts have to write the checks for the students who leave their schools to attend charter schools. She believes a model in which charter schools receive funding directly from the state might be a better one.

Both Republicans and Democrats recognize the problem, but the differences lie in how the two parties would fix it, she said. 

“I would hope we could address that issue and find commonality,” she said. “As long as the Democrats’ solution isn’t, ‘Let’s put a moratorium on charter schools.'” she said.

She would keep tabs on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, on which she served during her first two terms. Smart conservation policy that’s enacted in ways that protect Maine’s way of life, its economy and its environment are important to her, she said.


She said she most likes to support bills that come from the constituents of her district. It is, after all, what a good representative is at the State House for in the first place, she said.

She is not afraid to offer a controversial bill or two to the docket, she said, noting that the things people are impassioned about are important to debate, even though they often end up pretty much where they started.

The issue of abortion rights — a perennial in state houses across the nation — is likely to be debated again in Maine in 2015.

“There will be those bills, I’ve sponsored those bills the past two terms,” Espling said. “These are the issues that go right to the heart of people and you can’t tell them not to put those bills in. I don’t worry about it taking up time. If constituents are coming in to testify on the things that matter to them, then it’s not a waste of time.”

In her new role as assistant minority leader, Espling says she intends to do the best job she can to help her caucus and Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport.

She contemplated running for the leader post but decided that helping Fredette improve in that role was a more proactive approach.


“I saw some things about Ken I really wanted to help him with,” Espling said. “I really view my job as to help him be a really good leader for our caucus and make sure that our legislators are skilled and equipped.”

In her new role, the top challenge is making decisions that she knows won’t be well-received by all, she said.

“There are always leadership decisions that need to be made,” Espling said. “And there are people who are really not going to like you and just coming to terms with that is difficult. As a leader, you need to make tough decisions, and people are not always going to like you for it.”

Maine House Republicans are a diverse group, she said. They come from all walks of life and often have divergent views. 

Espling said Maine Republicans are known for their willingness to be outspoken and are certainly not an easy group to corral. 

“We really honor the individual and realize that we are all different,” Espling said. “We have our challenges, but we also have that individuality and try to let everyone have their own voice.”

Serving you at the State House: This is part of an occasional series that profiles state lawmakers from the tri-county area.

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