PORTLAND, Maine — While Mainers look ahead to November's general election, a primary race is scheduled for June 14 in Maine. Democrats in Cumberland County will vote for the district attorney position on the ballot.
Incumbent Jonathan Sahrbeck will face off against Kennebec County Assistant District Attorney Jackie Sartoris. Sahrbeck is running as a Democrat after changing his political affiliation last year. He won the district attorney seat as an Independent in 2018 after both the Democrat and Republican candidates dropped out of the race.
Outside the Cumberland County Courthouse on Thursday, Sahrbeck said his policy record shows he aligns with Democratic values.
“And then comparing that [record] with other [district attorneys] in Maine who are Democrats and nationwide were doing. I thought that it was a good fit for me to enroll because my record as district attorney has been very progressive when it comes to reforms," he added.
When he switched from an Independent to a Democrat, Sahrbeck said many people within the party supported his move and supported him in running for reelection as a Democrat.
Sartoris has worked as a prosecutor within the Treatment Courts in Kennebec County and said Thursday that she disagrees that Sahrbeck's record aligns with Democratic policy.
“I really hope that people are starting to wake up and understanding that electing people that have demonstrated their Democratic values in a Democratic primary, that is absolutely essential," she said over a zoom interview.
While most of the work of the district attorney is behind closed doors, Sartoris said it's important for constituents to know the values of the Democrat they elect match their values as a Democrat living in Maine.
Besides the debate about party values, both Sartoris and Sahrbeck agreed that work needs to be done to strengthen trust in Maine's criminal justice system, and more support is needed for Mainers struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Every few weeks, Sahrbeck and public health officials meet to discuss the opioid epidemic in the Portland area and across Maine. Sahebeck said going out to people and learning about these issues is vital for the district attorney.
“That’s really demonstrated to me. There is an appetite for community coalitions that there is an appetite for people to work together to find out more, to see what we can do to help each other," he added.
Sartoris said she wants to help Mainers avoid the criminal justice system if they need more substance use support and services rather than prosecute them in the criminal justice system. She said, if elected, she would track and monitor those cases and help build a "history of recovery" rather than a history of conviction.
She also mentioned one way to ensure trust between the district attorney's office and the public is to focus on unreported crimes, which she said involve hate crimes and crimes against women.
There is no Republican or Independent on the ballot awaiting the winner of this primary, which means Sartoris or Sahrbeck will have an inside track at the DA position.
The June 14 primary may be a month away, but on Thursday, the City of Portland announced absentee voting would begin next Tuesday. Voters can vote in-person absentee at city hall. All absentee ballots must be submitted by 8 p.m. on June 14.