Exclusive Interview by Ramona du Houx

February 9, 2011
Minority Leader of Maine’s House, Emily Cain in her office photo by Ramona du Houx

There were a lot of promises made by Gov. LePage during the campaign that legally just aren’t possible in state government. How will he keep his word?

Reality will hit home on several fronts for the new administration as they get into the budget, and many of the things proposed during the rhetoric of the campaign. Practically, there are things you are not allowed to do because of federal law.

The so-called welfare reform which is really looking at a public benefit structure and a safety net. There are certain things you can or cannot do with federal funds. There are certain programs you can’t change the eligibility for because it’s federal law. There are things in education that we have to do, so we do not loose our federal funding.

On a lot of fronts his administration will run into a reality check from the federal government on what is possible compared to what they think they can do.

Then there is the political reality inside of the state Capitol building. Having been in the majority and done the budget with Democrats from the House and Senate, and in the Blaine House, for the past several years, I know it’s not easy to negotiate with members of your own party. That’s just a truth.

I think with the Republican majority in the House and Senate and a new governor, they will experience the same type of growing pains and family fights the Democrats had over the past eight years.

And most importantly, the reality check will come from the Maine people. Thirty-eight percent responded to a message from the governor and elected a majority in the House and Senate, but there is a big difference between the perception of what goes on here and the reality.

Once the administration begins rolling out their promised agenda, things related to the environment, our natural resources, education, and energy, I think there will be a response from Maine people that says, wait a minute. “I wanted change but I don’t want to change my quality of life.”

It‘s my job as the minority leader to find common ground where I can but always stand with the principles of my caucus and Democrats. My motto in my office is: “We are not just a loyal opposition that always says no. We save our no’s for when we have to say no.”

Over sixty-one percent of voters did not vote for Governor LePage. Do you think Democrats represent them?

I think our priorities are not necessarily different when it comes to improving the business climate in Maine. We all want to create opportunities for people to work, live and thrive in Maine, to have a quality education, to lower costs for education and health care. It’s really about how you get there.
When it comes to safety-net issues and issues of social care for people, Democrats have a solid reputation of leadership and commitment on those issues that most people in Maine connect to. As for the environment and natural resources, Democrats have a strong track record to be proud of—1.3 million acres were conserved over the last eight years. Our education record is a hundred percent for improving our school system, and for creating educational opportunities. Our investments in research and development, across the state, are directly helping with economic development.

We want to improve the business climate with job creation and small-business growth, while we continue to protect working families and our environment.

For the past eight years Pine Tree Zones have added over 8,000 jobs to the state with 310 companies, because of tax incentives. The program works, but candidate LePage stated he would kill it. He also said he didn’t want to invest in any more bond funding. Why, if both these measures are proven job creators?

The new governor and his cabinet have an obligation to look at real research and the actual experience of programs at the state level before they try to get rid of them—like Pine Tree Zones. We have startups doing business based on the research and development conducted at the University of Maine and other educational institutions. Our investments are working. Every dollar in research and development funds awarded from Maine’s Technology Institute leverages more than $14 in public and private funds for the innovation economy. In 2008, even though the economy was in decline, Maine’s technology companies had a 36 percent growth in revenues.

Now, I’m expecting the new administration to deal with reality not rhetoric. They need to look at the hard data before marginalizing or minimizing those programs.

During his Inaugural LePage mentioned extending high school another year and adding vocational classes. We now have community colleges that are highly successful, with a waiting list of eager students looking for opportunities. What do you think of the governor’s proposal?

The challenge for us is we have no specifics. To decrease dropout rates and give more opportunities for kids at a vocational education level sounds like a good idea. We can all be in favor of wanting every child to achieve the highest level of education that they can and want to achieve; I strongly believe in that. But we need to see the specifics, the funding and the structure, so we aren’t duplicating efforts in our community colleges or unknowingly burdening our kids with more regulations.

Maine has been recognized nationally as a leader in renewable energy and weatherization efforts. Will we continue these efforts that are growing Maine’s innovative economy?

I don’t want to move backwards on either front. That’s where REGGI comes in and the Efficiency Maine Trust, our investments in offshore wind and tidal power, as well as weatherization of homes and businesses. The research UMaine is conducting will lead to the first floating wind farms—in the world.

Democrats and Republicans must continue to make the kinds of deliberate investments in research and development, our energy resources, and our transportation and technology infrastructure, because we’ve seen the results.

The Mars Hill Wind farm generates half a million annually for the local town. Ocean Renewable Power has created more than 70 jobs in eight Maine communities, pouring more than $5 million into the local economy over the last five years, and it expects to produce hundreds more in the next ten years.

The Efficiency Maine Trust will weatherize 2,000 homes in two years with Recovery Act funds. They are half way to that goal. But the LePage administration has made threatening overtones regarding the trust. Businesses have started up deliberately to work in weatherization; they may fail if weatherization efforts don’t continue. What are your thoughts?

We established the goal to weatherize all residences and 50 percent of businesses by 2030 and reduce the state’s consumption of liquid fossil fuels by at least 30 percent by 2030. Over 80 percent of homes rely on oil and too much of that heat is lost by homes that aren’t energy efficient.

We need to talk with the administration about the realistic experience that businesses have had. Let’s talk about the job creation that has happened. And in the next few years, let’s talk about the number of dollars that people in Maine have saved, and are going to save, from using less heating oil.

LePage asserted in his inaugural address that, “Maine is the hardest place in the country to start and grow a business.” The fact is, the Tax Foundation recently ranked Maine No. 31, with No. 1 being the best, for business tax climate in fiscal year 2011. Maine dropped from No. 1 in this same conservative Tax Foundation’s ranking of state tax burdens to No. 15 during Gov. Baldacci’s time in office. Thought?

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion—but they are not entitled to their own facts. I’m a database decision maker. I want to use good experience and research to help form public policy decision making. I’m going to hold the new governor to that standard as well. If he has questions on the way programs work and the outcomes that they produce, I expect him to ask for that information before he assumes it’s not there.

I would hold up any of the work we’ve done—Pine Tree Zones, research and development, wind energy, weatherization, managed care in Health and Human services—we’ve done things that are bending the cure, creating jobs, and saving us money in the short term, and at the same time improving our state in the long run.

I expect the new administration to take the time to learn the reality of that information and to leave the political talk behind.

You’ve worked on difficult budgets during the recession, as a member of the Appropriations Committee. And in the end both political parties have come together on issues. Wouldn’t you say this seems to be how state government works in Maine?

We’ve had unanimous decisions coming out of Appropriations on some of our budgets. We are proof positive that we can come together on tough issues. In fact, the current leadership was there for bipartisan budgets and bond investments. So, they know it can work, and that’s how Maine state government works best.

I think it’s incumbent on both sides, but particularly the new majority, to set a tone and process that is inclusive. Our process has always been to work with them, particularly when it comes to budgets and investments for our state’s future. If we can set that tone in the Legislature, the new governor will have to work with us.

Together we made investments in our universities and community colleges, in our roads and our technology infrastructure, and in our energy and conservation sectors. Our state has worked well with the federal government and our congressional leaders to maximize these investments for Maine people and businesses.

Democrats want to work with Republicans to build on the success we already started—to move our state forward not backwards.