House Democratic leader, Rep. Cain, candidly talks about the Gov. LePage ideology that hurts Mainers

Cain highlights how lawmakers have mitigated the harmful damage of the extreme right wing and how the state can move forward in the right direction by creating jobs with a bond package

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 19th, 2012 

Rep. Emily Cain, Maine's Democratic Minority Leader in the state House of Representatives. photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine’s House Minority Leader, Rep. Emily Cain, sat down for an interview about this session. Cain is the spokesperson for democrats in the House of Representatives and since the LePage administration has moved in her public role has increased. Young, energetic, quick witted and intelligent she handles tense situations with ease and grace. She never backs down from her principles and has a clear understanding how to move Maine forward economically while maintaining Maine’s quality of life, Having severed on the Appropriations and Education Committees she brings unique insights to her job which helps during negotiations.

This session has been dominated by Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed cuts that would result in people losing health care. When did this all start?

Before we even arrived back in session, long before Christmas, the Appropriations Committee had held hearings on his supplemental budget that made $220 million in cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services.

First the governor tried to blame “too many people being on the program.” Then he blamed the federal government. He wouldn’t take responsibility for errors within DHHS — these were errors within his own administration — for why that cash-flow problem happened. Since then the Appropriations Committee have been working to address the real problem, which is making sure that health-care workers, pharmacists, and doctors get paid, so they can deliver the services that Maine people need.

The worst part is that the governor and many of the Republicans in the Legislature have been so focused on the measure of success being “how many people lose health care this year by throwing them off programs,” rather than the real focus which Democrats have been working on — which is: how do we make sure the lights stay on, providers get paid, and as few people as possible are harmed in the process. We started this session with a fever pitch and it never let up.

At one stage LePage sat in on a committee meeting and demanded that lawmakers get this DHHS issue taken care of immediately, and in a public meeting he said he would close schools if lawmakers didn’t acquiesce to his demands. Is that healthy for state government?

The governor has been presenting a series of false choices all along, rather than try to address the actual challenge before us. He has been trying to distract from the real problem with dangerous threats, causing a lot of unnecessary fear in Maine communities. He’s pitted one sector of the budget against another and acted like he had the power to close schools. His fear mongering doesn’t help lawmakers address the issues.

Rep. Emily Cain in her office at the State House in Augusta, Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

Why is LePage so adamantly attacking Maine people’s health care?

The governor has been projecting from his primary campaign, long before he was elected, that he has been on a personal crusade to throw people off of health-care services. That has been a priority for him since day one. He has made that clear every step of the way, from his speeches to his first biennial budget proposal, to his parting words to the Legislature in 2011, in the media all summer and last fall — that he wanted more cuts in DHHS for ideological reasons.

It’s so unfortunate, because he has been so obsessed with DHHS that we have not had any focus on economic development and job creation, support for small businesses, support for the next generation of workers or training or education for displaced workers. His lack of focus on key issues that will grow our economy has hurt Maine.

In 2014 the Affordable Care Act will cover the people that LePage is trying desperately to throw off Medicare now. Why is he bothering to put these people in misery now when they will be picked up by the federal health-care act?

I can’t explain why he is so focused on cutting health care. I can say there is a better way. But he and fellow Republicans have stopped the state from preparing to take full advantage of the ACA. He’s fighting every single day for nothing more than a political vendetta.

He has made it clear that a top priority for him, above all else, is throwing people off of health care in Maine.

If you cut back on state funding for health care, how will people manage?

We know it is bad for the economy and people’s health. In the long run — and in many cases the short run — costs will get shifted to private insurance payers, to hospitals, to charity care, to general assistance, to communities and churches. It will set our economy back.

There is nothing about any of the budget work we have been doing since LePage came to office that says these are Democratic proposals. We have been working every day to protect health care for people. There is no question that it is harder to live in Maine today than it was a little over a year ago, particularly if you are poor, elderly, sick, or struggling, and especially if you live in rural Maine.

LePage was not pleased with the compromise, why?

The governor was not happy because the governor is only happy when he gets what he wants. But that’s not what compromise and negotiation is. It is not a Democratic budget by any stretch of the imagination. We put people first and foremost, not political ideology.

Democrats prefer to balance budgets on real numbers.

Democrats have mitigated the most harmful measures, so far. Is that all you can do?

Democrats see a better way. It’s a combination of investment in roads and bridges, research and development, in our natural environment, in protecting our quality of life, in making sure that the educational institutions in our state meet the needs of not just our current students but our adult learners as well — to make sure that there are training opportunities in the modern workforce. We see a better way, and we are anxious for November, so we can hopefully take back the majority and just put a real check on the Paul LePage administration and stop the legislative Republicans who keep siding with him.

The economy is what we need to be focused on in order to emerge from this recession stronger and in a position to grow, going forward as a state, not moving backwards by standing still, because that is what’s happening right now.

Rep. Emily Cain center, with ladies from the Women Work and Community organization at the State House. photo by Ramona du Houx

And during this session is there any hope of a bond package?

Democrats have already put forward bond bills. Now it’s really a question of Republicans making the right choices or sticking to their rhetoric and unwillingness to actually invest in Maine, in people and opportunity here. That means roads and bridges, research and development, conservation, and community development. Right now we are at a place where we are poised to take it to a new level of investment, to attract federal dollars for research, and transportation that will improve our roods for the long run and our jobs for the short term. If we leave this session without a comprehensive job bond issue of a reasonable size that creates those jobs and opportunities, then Maine people should be mad at the Republicans that stood in the way.

LePage proposed changes to the supplemental budget that involve mental health care, which includes Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor. DDPC is one of only two State DHHS psychiatric hospitals. What’s the impact going to be?

I ask the people who rely on it, and that’s when you have to look at law enforcement in Bangor, with the staff of the Penobscot County sheriff’s office. Dorothea Dix deals with a specific set of challenges with people with mental illness. To move what they offer geographically won’t eliminate the need to have those kinds of services and support in the region.

There is nothing else like Dorothea Dix in the region. I’m worried about the ripple effect on the other county services, particularly when it comes to law enforcement and the shift to our already overburdened hospitals that are dealing with dental cases from citizens who can’t afford a dentist and with people who are sick because they lack health insurance, so the hospital is their last resort. I’m glad to see the city of Bangor take such an active role in looking at how they can repurpose other parts of the Dorothea Dix campus, so they can preserve other functions of the hospital. I think it is great that they are taking such a community approach. It makes me proud to live in the Bangor region.

Maine Heritage Policy Center continues to publish documents that are one-sided in order to promote an ultraconservative agenda. They manipulate statistics to further their goals, which correspond to those of LePage and are influencing state policy. What can be done?

The Maine Heritage Policy Center continues to try and flex its muscles. Clearly Republicans listen, but I think the general public are growing tired of their outwardly partisan no-fact-based rhetoric. I know I am. They seem to have no agenda that is about improving Maine. It is only an agenda that is focused on undercutting people, communities, and forwarding a very partisan national agenda that is out of synch with Maine. People here want to have jobs and good schools for their kids and to feel that Maine offers them opportunities for them, their families, and their neighbors. I feel that there are no Republicans talking about that.

Democrats are talking about how do we make our state the place where people love to be, love to work, and chose to be here every day, because it is the best place to be. Only Democrats are providing that leadership and direction.

Rep. Emily Cain talks about helping to turn the tide of domestic violence in Maine as her sponsored bill to help that goal was signed by Gov. LePage on April 17, 2012 PHOTO: Ramona du Houx

Unfortunately, we are currently in the minority, but we can change that if people help us. That is why, when I have a frustrating day here in Augusta, I work on the 2012 election, whether it is my race for the Senate or helping to get the House of Representatives back to a Democratic majority in the fall. We just have to do it.

Maine people deserve better than what they are getting right now out of Augusta. Democrats need to be the answer to that. I think we can be and should be. I think our values of focusing on the economy and keeping Maine a great place to live and work are Maine values.

Maine’s constitutional officers are in positions that prohibit them from being political and partaking in commerce while they hold their positions. Yet our current constitutional officers violate this code by overtly being political, regularly. What can be done?

Part of getting a majority in the House and in the Senate would be regaining the constitutional offices — the secretary of state, attorney general, the treasurer and auditor — to Democratic control this fall. I think that would be good for the state of Maine.

I think it would stop a lot of the meddling with elections that has come out to of the secretary of state’s office. It would stop the activist nature of the state treasurer, who has been meddling again with the public trust when it comes to the retirement system, the housing authority, FAME, and other entities that he is trying to undermine using his position. Then there is the attorney general, who time and time again seems to take a partisan slant when he’s asked for his opinion.

The most recent issue related to the treasurer was severely troubling, because this is a case where I think, whether you’re an attorney or not, it is pretty clear that Maine’s Constitution says the treasurer cannot participate in commerce. It’s very clear that the treasurer has and continues to do so. And rather than simply state that it is wrong, it’s not OK, it needs to stop; it never should have happened, and therefore it’s a violation of the Constitution — what the attorney general’s office told the treasurer was just “don’t do that anymore.” That was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I don’t think, when it comes to violating the Constitution, a slap on the wrist is justice.

Should he resign?

Rep. Emily Cain. photo by du Houx

I think that the state treasurer never should have been the state treasurer in the first place, because he clearly didn’t take the steps he needed to comply with the Constitution from the very beginning.

Doesn’t it put everything he’s doing in question?

The state treasure has an agenda that is purely partisan. The way he’s interacting with these other agencies is not in the best interest of the people of Maine.

Do you think this election is a chance to restore people’s trust in state government?

Democrats want to be back in the majority so we can bring some sanity back to Augusta, and to bring a refocus on the economy. As long as we are not focusing on the economy when other states around us and the world are, then we are moving backwards by standing still — by missing opportunities. That is a terrible position for us to be in. By putting Democrats back into the majority in the fall in Augusta, we have a chance to turn that around before it is too late.