Somerset County Commissioner Paul Hatch Is Running for State Senate

By Ramona du Houx

Paul Hatch is determined to do what he believes is right for Democrats, and that’s what he has done all his life. He comes from a long line of labor union activists. He’s owned several businesses, including a supermarket, worked in a mill, and served for four years as a state representative. Since his last term he has been serving as the chair of the County Commissioners for Somerset County, and is now running for state senator against Peter Mills.

When he became county commissioner he walked into a major challenge. Somerset County Jail was overcrowded and understaffed. On a regular basis the town was transporting inmates to modern facilities at the Cumberland County Jail, for prisoners to be arraigned and to accommodate the Skowhegan jail’s other needs. "It was costing us about a half a million dollars a year to board prisoners out," said Hatch. Skowhegan’s jail was in disrepair and not up to codes. The state told the town they had to fix the problem within a year or shut the facility down.

The dilemma had been facing the town for years: the town didn’t have the money for repairs or to build a new jail. For Hatch, "The solution was simple. We just needed to look at it differently and think outside of the box."

Hatch proposed building a new state-of-the-art jail that would accommodate more prisoners than Skowhegan had. The town would then offer jail space to other correctional facilities for a fee, thus paying for the construction of the jail. Last November voters approved the proposal.

Another idea to help save costs and work with other counties is to install a new state-of-the-art, statewide video conferencing system in all Maine’s correctional facilities, so inmates could be arraigned from where they are, without having to be transported anywhere.

Working to save costs with regionalization efforts has moved forward with Hatch as chair of the County Commissioners. His most recent proposal is to build a water/sewage facility for the jail with the town of Madison, thus sharing the costs.

"When you have a good idea you have to run with it. You always do the research, talk it over with folks and get needed feedback, so you can improve it — then it’s time for real action," said Hatch. "There is no time to waste on half measures."

During his time as a legislator Hatch witnessed how Mills works. Mills is known for submitting lots of bills for the Legislature to review — from 75 to 100 per session. Each bill costs the taxpayer $2,500 to $3,000. The problem is, these bills are very rarely designed to become law; they are known as "concept bills" where the writer is floating ideas. Mills is unlikely to ask anyone to cosponsor the bills, and he withdraws them from committee once they are heard. "You have to believe that you are there to do the work of the people, not to float ideas," said Hatch. "It’s wrong to waste taxpayer dollars."

Hatch worked tirelessly to ensure that the citizens’ right to petition was not taken away. During the 120th Legislature, lobbyists swarmed the State House trying to influence how legislators voted. Hatch believes in the citizens’ right to be heard about what types of development will be going on in their towns. "It has to go to the citizens first." The bill would have stopped the process. "They wanted to make it so anything, anywhere could be built. We filibustered the bill," said Hatch, who went on to say that a good friend who led the fight with him lost his seat as a result. Recently, a similar bill was pushed through the 122nd Legislature, and the governor used his veto power to keep Maine’s citizens’ right to petition intact.

"We laid the groundwork for LD 1 tax reform," said Hatch. As a member of the 120th Legislature, Hatch and his colleagues started tax reform when they passed the governor’s Essential Programs and Services (EPS) new school funding formula. EPS enabled the Legislature to have a clear vehicle where the increase of state funding for education, which came from LD 1, could be channeled. The governor’s first bill that he will submit to the 123rd Legislature will be to tax properties fairly, which would stabilize the property tax issue. Hatch will help this effort, "I want to finish what we started."