Profile: Maine Rep. Deborah Simpson
When Deborah Simpson decided to run for the Maine legislature in 2000 to represent the old mill town of Auburn, she was a single mother waiting tables at TJ’s, a local restaurant, while she also went to college. She made half the minimum wage per hour, plus tips.
Although Simpson had always been active in her community—her family, she says, was the sort that always volunteered for campaigns—she had never seriously thought of running for office. She certainly didn’t have any connections to big campaign donors. But when she learned about Maine’s new Clean Elections program, which went into operation that year, she thought she could do it.
“The tipping thing for me was that I could see that with Clean Elections it was doable,” says Simpson. “I could manage to get the qualifying contributions and the budget to campaign. I’d have the resources without having to figure out how to ask for money from donors when I really didn’t live in that world.”
In that first campaign, she won her primary and then went on to win in the general election, garnering 55 percent of the vote. In 2000 and in all her campaigns since, her opponents have also run under the Clean Elections system. The races have been competitive: in the 2004 campaign, she faced both a Republican and an Independent challenger. She won with 43 percent of the vote.
“We all have had equal access to get our message out,” Simpson said. “We get to have a dialogue with the voters, to get out there and try to convince them to vote for us, hopefully based on the ideals and values that we have, that we share.”
During her tenure in the House of Representatives, Simpson used her seat on the Judiciary Committee to champion issues that affect people in their every day lives. “Every year I try to do things I think make the laws work better for people—people who have difficulty.”
Having been a victim of domestic violence herself, Simpson worked in 2006 to pass legislation that helps other victims. The new law requires that a person be notified when the another person he or she has filed a protective order against attempts to buy a firearm. Although such individuals are not permitted to purchase firearms from a dealer, they can often manage to get one through other means. “The law helps women know they should be on alert,” said Simpson. “It lets them know that they should take steps to protect themselves.”
Simpson has also worked on legislation that would help people convicted of a crime to get a new trial based on DNA evidence, a bill that would allow the state to ask cellular telephone providers for the addresses of parents who haven’t paid child support, and another that would speed up background checks for parents hoping to adopt a child.
Simpson is no longer a waitress at TJs, which has shut down. After winning a fourth term to the Maine House of Representatives in 2006, Simpson was term-limited out of office. She didn't stay out of politics very long. In 2008, she ran and won a seat in the state Senate, where she is currently representing District 15 (D-Androscoggin County). She now chairs the Government Oversight Committee and the Joint Committee on State and Local Government, and sits on the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and the Joint Select Committee on Maine's Energy Future.