ROCKLAND — In a candidate forum at Rockland City Hall Oct. 19, Rep. Ann Matlack, D-St. George, and Republican challenger Heather Sprague of Cushing differed on issues including abortion, gender-confirmation surgery and the environment while both agreeing to fight against strict regulations being imposed on fishermen.

The event was organized by the Midcoast chapter of the League of Women Voters and moderated by Ann Luther. The City Council chamber at City Hall was packed with a large audience including one man who disrupted the event by shouting down the moderator. A number of audience members made noise and shouted out comments during the event even after Luther asked for a “respectful silence.”

Pictured are, from left, Ann Matlack, D-St. George, and Heather Sprague, R-Cushing. Daniel Dunkle

Matlack has served two terms in the House and is chair of the State and Local Government Committee and a member of the Taxation Committee. She has served on the SAD 50 school board, the Knox County Budget Committee and the Penquis board.

Sprague’s background includes working as a clam digger, in seafood retail and in paving.

“I’m not your average candidate,” Sprague said. “My background doesn’t contain a fancy college education, nor do I come from a well-connected family. …I experienced an abusive childhood, addiction, teen pregnancy, rebellion against the law and other bad choices, but I eventually took responsibility and worked my way out of that situation and got on the right path to redemption.”

Sprague was convicted in January 2019 for unlawful trafficking in drugs.

Matlack said her priorities this session will include fighting the regulations on the fishing industry, supporting reproductive rights, working on Climate Change resilience and maintaining funding for schools and revenue sharing.

Sprague supports the state becoming a plaintiff in the lobster industry’s lawsuit against federal regulators concerning tough new rules to protect endangered right whales. Working to support the lobster industry was one issue both candidates seemed to agree on.

Sprague and Matlack both stated support for funding local police rather than defunding them.

On other issues, Sprague and Matlack split along party lines. Sprague downplayed climate change saying climate changes in cycles. “I’m not a denier nor an extremist,” she said.

She opposes large solar power projects and stressed her opposition to wind turbines, which she argued kill right whales and hurt fishing families.

Matlack said it was frustrating that offshore wind might disrupt fishing grounds and said the process should have been handled better to make it a discussion rather than people taking sides. She also expressed frustration that those with an interest in oil and fossil fuels have opposed offshore wind.

Asked whether she would change the current abortion laws in Maine, Sprague said she could not say whether she would change the law or not until she had considered the specifics of a bill put before her.

Matlack expressed support for current Maine law protecting a woman’s right to an abortion and said she would like a safe haven bill to protect women who come to Maine for abortions from other states that have “draconian” restrictions.

On the question of whether to allow gender-affirming surgery for minors, Matlack supported letting parents and young people decide these matters with their doctors.

Sprague countered saying, “I would outlaw it completely. There’s no need of doing that. That’s butchering your body because someone has talked you into that.”

The most heated exchange of the evening was between audience members and the moderator after the question was asked: “Do you believe that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020, and will you accept the results of the election here in Maine?”

“That really doesn’t have anything to do with my district,” Sprague said.

This was greeted by loud applause.

Luther said, “It’s a legitimate question on the minds of many of your constituents.”

At this point, a man in the audience interrupted, saying, “That was a legitimate answer. Move on. Move on!”

Another audience member said, “That’s you goading her. And that’s illegal.”

“Well, it’s not exactly illegal,” Luther said.

The man then argued that the question was in violation of the Constitution.

“Should we take a break?” Luther asked.

The man then made a few more comments about the Constitution and swore at the moderator to indicate his displeasure with the questions and the discussion. He then left the building.

“Let’s just have audience silence for one minute and we’ll resume,” Luther said.

“Without your personal opinion?” a woman in the audience asked.

“I’m the moderator here,” Luther said. “I think I have a right to ask a question to be answered.”

“She did answer it,” the audience member countered.

“She declared a non-answer,” Luther said. “It’s OK for me to ask a rebuttal question.”

After some further disruption, the forum continued.

Matlack said she believes the election was valid and that she has great confidence in local election clerks and the Secretary of State’s office to carry out a fair election.

One of the other issues the candidates differed on was the topic of school funding. Sprague said she favors school choice.

Matlack said she did not support diverting tax dollars from public schools to allow for school choice.

“We provide public education,” she said. “We have a good education system and it’s funded by our local property taxes…No, I believe it would dilute our education and deprive more children of a good education than it would improve education of children who decide to go wherever they want.”

Members of the League of Women Voters said they reached out to all of the local state candidates in hopes of holding similar events, but this race and District 44 (see separate story) were the only two in which both candidates were available.

To watch the video, visit YouTube.