Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, is hoping to move up to the state Senate after eight years in the House of Representatives. Her opponent for the open District 11 seat, Jayne Crosby Giles, R-Belfast, also served in the Legislature and is returning after an eight-year hiatus from politics.

The winner will represent all 26 Waldo County municipalities in the Senate.

Giles was a state representative from 2006 to 2010, serving what was then House District 43, comprising Belfast, Belmont and Northport. While she could have served two more terms, she did not seek re-election, she said, because she wanted to devote more time to her work as the newly hired CEO of Main Street Finance, a nonprofit community development bank.

Herbig succeeded her in the open seat, was re-elected three times and served for the last two years as House majority leader. Now in her eighth year, she has reached her term limit in the Legislature.

The Senate District 11 seat is open, with term-limited Republican Sen. Michael Thibodeau finishing his final session this year.

The race could decide control of the Senate, where Republicans now hold a single-vote majority. However, in interviews with The Republican Journal, both candidates underplayed the importance of partisan control with Herbig saying the split between rural and urban districts is a larger factor in Augusta than the party divide.

"Things are going great in Portland," she said, "but in Waldo County we continue to have these barriers."

The candidates took different positions on education funding and the 55-percent funding mandate passed by voters in 2004 — a mark that the state has yet to meet.

Giles said that while she served on the Legislature's appropriations committee, she found that getting to 55 percent would have meant cutting into other services. Alternatively, she said trying to save on administrative costs by encouraging schools to work together is a better way to address the funding gap.

Herbig said education funding is "not up for discussion," and "needs to be a priority."  She said the money should come from growing the economic "pie." When asked how she would crack that perennial nut, Herbig said the state needs to invest in high-speed internet and infrastructure. She also framed education as an investment in the state's future.

Giles said Maine can't bank on growth, in part because the population has been flat for many years. Instead, she said, she would look at where the state can save money within existing programs.

"Not to cut services that people really need," she said, "but looking at ways that we can find more savings within state government." One investment she favors is education and training for nurses to meet the needs to the state's aging population.

Both candidates have been campaigning vigorously in what figures to be a close race.

Herbig said the personal connections she has built and her momentum make her the right choice for state senator.

"So many of the bills that I pass are just because of my relationships with folks in Waldo County that come to me and say, hey, we need somebody to listen and we need this problem fixed, and I can get it done."

Giles said she's looking forward to returning and bringing her experience, both from inside and outside government, to the task of representing all of Waldo County. She maintains her extensive experience in small business lending and her work with nonprofits like Broadreach Family & Community Services, where she has been a proponent of early childhood education, will inform her work in Senate.

Joseph Greenier of Stockton Springs, a Democrat who lost the primary to Herbig, is running as a declared write-in candidate for the seat.