What Democrtic leaders, Rep. Cain and Sen. Alfond, hope to achieve in Augusta

Democratic minority leaders in the House and Senate answer questions about health care, welfare, the environment, voting rights, and the right-wing out-of-state agenda influencing in Maine. They also express their hope to be able to create a job package, working in a bipartisan way

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

December 12th, 2011 

alt
Democrats say they want a bond package to create jobs this upcoming legislative session. photo by Ramona du Houx

Democratic minority leaders in the House and Senate answer questions about health care, welfare, the environment, voting rights, and the right-wing out-of-state agenda influencing in Maine. They also express their hope to be able to create a job package, working in a bipartisan way.

Representative Emily Cain —

The people of Maine overwhelmingly voted to restore same-day registration. Republicans even ran an extreme ad in the final days that pointed to a “gay conspiracy” theory. Why did they sink to such an outlandish concept?

The Republicans desperately reverted to their same-old campaigns based on fear and misdirection, after multiple failed attempts to create the perception of fraud in our voting system. The good news is that Maine voters saw through this deceitful campaign, rejected the change in the law, and restored sensibility and access to our elections. Democrats believe this attempt to roll back voting rights is just another example of Republicans pushing solutions in search of problems and trying to distract from the fact that they have not focused on job creation and improving our economy.

Over $260,000 was funneled into Maine for the No on 1 campaign. Do you think Maine voters understand that a national right-wing agenda was behind the effort to take away same-day voter registration because we have the presidential race in 2012?

I don’t think most Maine people care about national political maneuvering, but they are worried about heating their homes and making ends meet. Lawmakers owe it to Maine people to focus on policies that will help improve our economy, not rolling back voting rights or demonizing working people at every turn.

In Ohio on the ballot was a measure to give collective bargaining back to the people. It passed overwhelmingly with a 66 to 34 percent landslide. Here some collective bargaining measures were carried over to 2012; how do you think these issues will play out here?

alt
Rep. Emily Cain. photo by Ramona du Houx

The nasty labor bills coming up this session are another page out of the national Republican playbook. Democrats oppose any legislation that undermines the rights of working people. Lawmakers should focus on policies that will help grow jobs and improve the economy, not issues that pit workers and businesses against each other. We won’t emerge from this recession unless we work together.

What are your hopes for this session?

alt
Rep. Emily Cain in Augusta. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Democrats are anxious to have a daily focus on economic growth and job creation this session. We believe the governor and the Republicans must put aside silly distractions and stop scapegoating and dividing Maine people. We must pass policies that will result in job creation and economic growth — both now and in the future. If we don’t invest in fixing our roads and improving infrastructure in our state, we will be leaving jobs on the table and undermining future growth. We must pass a responsible bond package. We must work towards policies that help our small businesses grow and help put Maine people back to work. I believe that potential is there to work across the aisle to get this important work accomplished.

Last session you were successful, working with your caucus and environmental groups, in keeping Maine’s quality of life intact. However, the governor’s efforts continue to try and disband the Land Use Regulation Commission, which oversees our unidentified territories. Will Democrats be fighting to keep LURC as the best option to protect Maine’s environment?

Democrats and Republicans agree that LURC needs improvement, but abolishing the body altogether is a costly mistake for Maine’s natural resources and property-tax payers. Abolishing LURC and transferring its responsibilities to counties will end up costing money and taxpayers will have to foot the bill. Sadly, our natural resources will pay the price. It is the wrong solution. A balanced approach would be more appropriate. Democrats will support changes to LURC to improve its effectiveness, but we will push back against any effort that eliminates the body completely.

Last session you and fellow Democrats stood up for essential government programs. LePage is targeting reform in needed welfare programs. We are still coming out of this recession. What approach will you be taking?

Democrats will continue to fight for working people and the middle class in our state. Policies that hurt struggling families won’t create a single job. Instead, we should be focused on how we can improve our economy to help Maine people get back on their feet. Cutting off support for people in need doesn’t change the need. It just puts more pressure on local hospitals, shelters, and schools.

The health-care law LD 1333 has begun to show how detrimental it is for people throughout the state. What can be done to help these people?

We are seeing the negative impact of the reckless Republican health insurance overhaul across our state. While Democrats feared the law would result in 20 to 30 percent increases in health-care costs for people and businesses in rural Maine and Maine people over age 48, we are now seeing rates skyrocket between 40 and 60 percent across the state. Small businesses from York to Aroostook county have contacted our office to report dramatic rate hikes. Democrats will continue to strongly urge Republicans to reverse the worst elements of this law in January. We hope the public will contact Republican lawmakers to urge them to fix this harmful law. Democrats are ready now, as we were last session, to work with Republicans to take the harmful parts out of the law and work together towards implementing a full insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress almost two years ago.

alt
“If we don’t invest in fixing our roads and improving infrastructure in our state, we will be leaving jobs on the table and undermining future growth.” — Rep. Emily Cain photo by du Houx

Everywhere I go, people still question why there hasn’t been a jobs package, despite LePage’s promises. Will you be pushing for a job bond package?

Absolutely. Republicans left jobs on the table last session by refusing to consider public investments in our state and local communities. When it comes to infrastructure and crucial investments in R&D, standing still is moving backwards. We will keep moving backwards until we make necessary investments in our state’s infrastructure, and the sooner the better! Democrats strongly support a responsible bond package for 2012 — both to create immediate jobs and improve our roads, bridges, and ports. Our long-term economic growth depends on the strength of our transportation network. There are several bond proposals before the Legislature that will invest in our roads, in our schools, in lowering the cost of energy, and in research and economic development in our state. We will urge our Republican colleagues to reject the misleading and extreme Tea Party rhetoric and build on Maine’s responsible track record of bonding for economic growth, to make the critical public investments our state needs right now.

Senator Justin Alfond—

The people of Maine voted by 60 percent to restore same-day registration. Folks celebrated at Bayside Bowl, your business. Tell me about the grass-roots campaign and why you think the vote went so well?

alt
Sen Alfond is co-owner of Bayside Bowl. He shares his business experience with other lawmakers to help progress issues. photo by du Houx

The campaign was an unprecedented effort by Maine residents and progressive organizations. I think common sense and the “if it ain’t broke…” mentality won the day. Maine voters are proud and resoundingly defeated the barriers that the Republican Party, legislators, secretary of state, and the governor tried to implement.

Over $260,000 was funneled into Maine for the No on 1 campaign. Do you think Maine voters understand that a national right-wing agenda was behind the effort to take away same-day voter registration because we have the presidential race in 2012?

Yes. Most voters saw through the purely political efforts of the majority Republicans to try and game the electoral system to their benefit.

Do people understand the way in which the Maine Heritage Policy Center is invading Maine’s politics, from backing extreme measures like No on 1 to testifying in committees influencing the outcomes of legislation?

Every person has a right to testify in support or opposition to legislation before the Legislature. I think Mainers are waking up to the fact that national right-wing interests have targeted Maine as a place where they can deregulate and push a conservative agenda.

You sit on the Education Committee and Cultural Affairs Committee, as well as being the minority leader in the Senate. Sen. Kevin Raye pushed through a law that changes funding to schools, saying it makes the system “equal.” However studies show it will do the opposite. What’s the danger here, especially during a time when funding is so limited?

alt
Electrician installing solar panels on the roof of a building. Both lawmakers agree more R&D bonds are necessary to grow Maine's clean an innovative economy.

Sen. Raye’s bill was not framed at making the Essential Programs Services (EPS) funding formula equal, but rather correcting what he billed as a funding “injustice” to rural Maine schools. His law takes funds away, around $6.1 million yearly, from mostly larger schools and diverts them to rural schools under 1,200 students. However, the facts never support his argument. His bill was built on the fact that most school districts all think the EPS funding formula is unfair. I want to invest more in rural school systems as well, but not at the expense of students in urban and suburban school districts. This was the first time a legislator successfully intervened in the EPS funding formula. I believe we should be working to ensure all school districts get the funding they need, regardless of where they live and who represents them.

You were successful in helping businesses with permitting reform. How can you build on what you achieved?

Implementation and marketing of the new permitting reforms will be my main goals.

The governor and Senator Raye continue to try and disband the Land Use Regulation Commission, which oversees our unidentified territories. Will Democrats be fighting to keep LURC as the best option to protecting Maine’s environment?

Yes. Democrats will continue being inclusive by listening to all concerns and perspectives from those in the field. Democrats want the best parts of LURC to continue while solving the challenges with LURC. Democrats are ready to make improvements and adapt LURC. The idea that LURC should be gutted or eliminated is not the answer.

Last session you and fellow Democrats stood up for essential government programs. One in six need some sort of government assistance. More middle class families are falling through the cracks, because of the protracted recession. Should we be hearing a call for creating jobs instead of the governor targeting welfare recipients with “reforms”?

Absolutely. Democrats’ top priority is creating an environment where jobs can be sustained and created — especially from small businesses across the state. Democrats know that for businesses to stay and locate here, we need to have educated and adaptable graduates and workers. We need to become a highly educated state, so that business leaders want to be in Maine. Unfortunately, Governor LePage and the Republicans continue to push many issues that do not create any jobs. For example their welfare and health-care cuts will not only hurt our elder, young, and those who truly need help but somehow they ignore the fact that these costs are just shifting to the hospital emergency rooms.

alt
Justin & Racheal Alfond’s newborn son, Jacoby

Everywhere I go people still question why there hasn’t been a job package, because LePage promised to create jobs. Will you be pushing for a job bond package?

The first priority of Maine Democrats is to create an environment where jobs can be sustained and created. The use of bonds to invest in our infrastructure is one tool to put people back to work. For example, the construction industry has over 20 percent unemployment, and I’m sure the construction trades would like the work. It’s also strategic because interest rates are at record lows, and Maine not only has strong bond ratings but we also have been conservative in how we retire and add new debt. There is nothing but rhetoric stopping Maine from investing in a strategic bond package to create jobs and upgrade our infrastructure. I hope that the majority Republicans will work with Democrats not only on a bond package but also to stay focused on the economy this short session.

The health-care law LD 1333 has begun to show how detrimental it is for people throughout the state. What can be done to help these people?

Republicans who serve in leadership positions should have allowed Anne Graham’s proposal to fix some of the issues on LD 1333. PL 90 [or what was LD 1333] was influenced and driven by the Maine Heritage Policy Center. The market driven reforms are built around the backdrop that more young people will enroll creating lower premiums and more competition in Maine. Many of these assumptions have played out in other states and the results are lower outcomes for patients and more influence by insurance companies. Additionally, I am very concerned that insurance companies are now taking elements of the new law and jacking premiums of many rural small businesses across the state. Sadly, the Republicans on the Legislative Council could have addressed some of these small business concerns with a legislative request from Rep. Anne Graham. However, it was denied, so I urge all Mainers to contact their representatives with examples of how this new law is increasing rates and decreasing access.