State Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, is seeking her third consecutive term representing Senate District 23, which includes Dresden in Lincoln County and all of Sagadahoc County.
Vitelli is being challenged by Holly Kopp, R-Topsham, vice chair of the Maine School Administrative District 75 school board and a newcomer to state politics.
Vitelli, the assistant majority leader in the Senate, first served in the Senate from Aug. 27, 2013 to Dec. 3, 2014, after winning a special election in District 19, the previous designation for the current District 23.
In 2014, Vitelli lost her reelection bid in a three-way race won by former Topsham Selectman and retired teacher Linda Baker. She took back the seat from Baker in the newly named District 23 in 2016.
Vitelli moved to Maine in 1976 after growing up in eastern Pennsylvania. She came first to Newcastle, then settled in Arrowsic, she said in an interview on Friday, Aug. 28.
Vitelli majored in political science at the University of Pittsburgh, where she developed an interest in policymaking.
After moving to Maine with her husband, journalist Bob Kalish, Vitelli said taught for five years at Head Start programs in Nobleboro and then Brunswick.
She then worked for what is now New Ventures Maine for almost 40 years, retiring in 2018.
The program, which helps Mainers with career, financial, or small-business goals, was created by the Maine Legislature as the Displaced Homemaker’s Program in 1978.
Vitelli said she has had a lifelong passion for education, which led her to join the board of Morse High School in Bath. Both her sons graduated from Morse.
“My family is educators. My father is a college professor, my mother was an art teacher. I have two sisters who are also teachers. Education and learning has been part of my growing up,” Vitelli said.
During her time on the board, she was part of the development of RSU 1, at the beginning of the movement to consolidate schools in Maine in the 1980s.
“That was a ton of work. It was hard, but it was exciting to engage with communities in that way and try and solve some pretty knotty problems,” Vitelli said.
Vitelli has sponsored 158 bills in a variety of different policy areas, according to billtrack50.com.
She is proud of L.D. 1507, a bill passed in the last legislative session that established a Student Bill of Rights.
“Maine now has some of the strongest student loan protections in the country,” Vitelli said.
Vitelli also noted the passage of a suite of four bills, one of which she sponsored, that were designed to increase prescription drug transparency and affordability in Maine. Gov. Janet Mills signed the bills into law in June 2019.
Vitelli said one of her top focuses if reelected will be working to combat climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Vitelli sponsored L.D. 1494, “An Act to Reform Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.” The bill was one of a set of three bills, also signed into law in June 2019, that established the Maine Climate Council and set goals of 80% renewable energy in the state by 2030 and emissions reductions of 80% by 2050.
“I’ve also served on the Marine Resources Committee these last two sessions and I’ve learned that clearly our marine industry, our fishermen, they know and they see and they feel on a day-to-day basis the impact of climate change,” Vitelli said.
Vitelli has also served as chair of the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee, where she sponsored a bill, L.D. 1167, that set targets for state institutions to buy local food.
“I learned a lot about our forest products industry, worked on some sustainable forestry legislation,” Vitelli said.
Another focus during Vitelli’s time in the Legislature has been working to strengthen Maine’s economy, workforce, and small businesses. She served on a select committee and a task force focused on Maine’s economy.
Vitelli said these committees worked to streamline connections between community colleges and universities in the state and the state’s workforce development systems. She said this was something she had been doing in her professional career at New Ventures Maine, so it was a “natural fit.”
“We need to figure out what they need going forward to not just survive, but to thrive again,” Vitelli said of helping small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vitelli also stressed the need to expand broadband internet access to every household in Maine, a need that has been highlighted by the pandemic.
“That’s just a basic infrastructure that we need to ensure. For health reasons, for educational reasons, for business reasons,” she said.
She said it is important to expand health care access and address the opioid crisis, allowing Mainers to get care they need.
“Frankly, this pandemic has shown a lot of the gaps and the holes in our system overall, not just here but nationally,” Vitelli said.
“Our health care system has to better serve everybody,” she said.
Vitelli said what drew her and kept her in Maine is the state’s natural beauty and the sense of community she has found.
“The other thing I think is incredibly special about Maine … is our communities, our small towns, our sense of place, where people have a connection to their towns, their backgrounds, and to the people around them,” Vitelli said.
“It’s the economy of intimacy that makes Maine work,” Vitelli said.
In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, spending time with friends and family, hiking and camping, and climbing Mount Katahdin, a trek she has completed 10 times.