The state's opiate crisis, creating jobs and spurring economic growth by investing in education are among the top priorities for Republican David Emery if he is elected to the Senate in November.

Emery, 68, of Tenants Harbor, is seeking to represent the people of District 12, which includes most towns in Knox County, in the state Senate. Emery is facing off against incumbent David Miramant of Camden.

Emery is semi-retired, but runs the consulting firm Scientific Marketing and Analysis, which provides statistical analysis and surveys and focus groups for a variety of nonprofits.

Emery has had a long career in public service, which began one month after he graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in May 1970, when he was elected to the Maine House representing Rockland. He served two terms in the statehouse before being elected to to represent Maine's First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1983.

After an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 1983, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as deputy director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, a job which entailed developing nuclear and chemical weapons disarmament strategies. In the late '80s, he moved back home to the Midcoast. In 2006, he ran for governor, but fell short to John Baldacci and two other challengers.

"I had considered myself retired from politics, but it seemed like an opportunity to serve, and I have always believed that if you have the ability, the means, and the time to serve your community, you have a responsibility to do that," Emery said. He said the Republican candidate for the Senate seat wanted to drop out and Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, called and asked Emery to consider running.

Emery agreed and told Thibodeau it was under the condition that he would not be part of a group that would stand in the corner and "holler 'no' and throw rocks at the other side, but wanted to be part of a state Senate that would address problems, would work constructively with people of different backgrounds and philosophies."

He said there has been an unfortunate trend to partisanship both in Washington and in Augusta and the best way to avoid that is for legislators to develop interpersonal relationships with each other. Emery said when he was in the Legislature and in Congress, the atmosphere was much more collegial.

"You might argue like cats and dogs in committee, but then go out and have dinner together," Emery said, noting there used to a be a piano on the third or fourth floor of the statehouse and a group of legislators would get together and play and sing.

"I don't know if that still happens, but the point is, we didn't look at each other as adversaries, we looked at each other as colleagues who had differences of opinion," he said. "You start with building those personal relationships and remember that everyone is there by the will of the people; and if you remember that and treat everyone with the respect which is due them for the position they hold and the work they are asked to do, I think they start off on a much more even keel."

Emery said one of his top priorities if elected would be addressing the opiate crisis in Maine by developing a strategy that focuses on the body chemistry of each individual because people react to treatment differently. It has become too easy to prescribe opiates, which has led to these drugs' being over-prescribed, but he said there are other ways to control pain.

"Contrary to popular opinion, the opiate crisis is not generated from people that have gone from one recreational drug to opiates, it's been caused by too many opiates prescribed under the wrong conditions without proper monitoring," Emery said.

Emery believes dosages should be smaller and for a shorter duration. A physician can always go back and prescribe more if sufficient pain control is not achieved, he said. Then the doctor must constantly monitor the patient while they are on the pain control.

"Large quantities of unnecessary opiates are just an invitation to take too much and get hooked or for someone to give them or sell them outside the legal prescription, which exacerbates the problem," Emery said.

A surefire way to grow the economy is to invest in education, Emery said. Young people graduating from high school need to have essential skills for today's society, such as communications, reading, writing, math and computer technology, but he said schools also need to recognize that "one size does not fit all."

Some students have the skills to go into science and engineering, while others have an interest in art and music, but others who are not inclined to academics need vocational skills so they can become carpenters, plumbers and electricians — skills that are desperately needed in the community.

"We need to train kids for jobs that are necessary in society, and that needs to be a continuing conversation between the economic development people in Augusta to know what the trends are, what jobs are needed and where they are needed," he said. Communication with the school systems, local chambers of commerce, and businesses is also vital to make sure there are teachers and resources necessary to provide the training for those jobs.

Emery said education should be just about at the top of the state's list of funding priorities. The state should go back and review those priorities and fund education first or nearly first, in order to keep its promise to voters to fund education at 55 percent. Second, state revenue-sharing should be addressed, because many towns rely on that money to fund projects, rather than relying on property taxes for funding.

Transportation and high-speed internet are also vital for job creation, he said. To get goods in and raw materials and manufactured products out, and have tourists come and go, the roads and ferry service have to be adequate. He said the state has done a good job of getting internet access to underserved areas of the state, but now fast service is needed.

"When this backbone is provided to a community, it is another reason for employers to expand their operations here or come here from somewhere else," Emery said.

Energy costs are also another piece of the puzzle, he said. In the future, communities are not going to solely rely on fossil fuels, but a combination of fossil fuels and renewable energy. The advantage to renewable energy is that it cuts greenhouse gas emissions, does less damage to the environment and reduces the dependence on foreign oil and coal. However, Emery said, there must be a transition period to shift toward alternative energy sources, such as solar, and communities that understand that will be more attractive to industry.

"By our nature, we are more environmental here in Maine, we are greener here in Maine, and that is a direction we need to go, but that doesn't mean we have a regulatory structure or tax structure or environmental regulations that are so stringent that employers won't come here," he said.

Emery said the state has to be careful "in its zeal to solve problems" to not add more expense at the local level without growing the economy.

"So the solution to keeping property taxes down and generating money for goods and services is economic growth," he said. "Expanding jobs that are here, attracting new commercial and industrial enterprises that pay taxes and hire people, expand the tax base and stabilize the tax base at the same time."

Emery said he would have supported the last minimum wage bill that sought to bring the hourly rate from $7.50 to $10 per hour, but feels the current proposal to increase it to $12 by 2020 is too high and will make too many businesses non-competitive. The state should not depend on minimum wage for lower-income employees, but raise the entire economy by creating jobs, bringing more employers to the area and make sure state and local policies are friendly to business.

When Emery served in Congress, he served on the Armed Services Committee, Science and Technology Committee, the committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, as well as the its subcommittee on Conservation and the Environment. In 1984, he also served as the acting ambassador to the United Nations Committee on Disarmament.

He is married to Carole Emery, who is the Knox County Judge of Probate. The two have a grown son, Albert, a physician, who is now serving his third year of residency at the University of Michigan.

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.