August 31, 2011

Rep. Emily Cain at the Capitol. photo by Ramona du Houx

Two young, dynamic leaders in the Legislature exhibited great commitment and direction to improve Maine last session, as they skillfully worked with their caucuses to hold back extreme, conservative measures. Health and Human Services were spared draconian cuts, and environmental laws stayed intact, as regulatory reform was enhanced by Democratic leadership. Two legislators who worked on these issues and stood up for working people and their families are Rep. Emily Cain and Sen. Justin Alfond.

Here are Rep. Cain’s insights from the session:

Rep. Emily Ann Cain is a fourth-term legislator, having served on the Appropriations Committee, and the Educational Committee. The determined leader is charming, intelligent and utilizes strategy with zeal and skill. Cain has a master’s degree in higher education from Harvard University and is working on a PhD at the University of Maine. Outside the Legislature, Cain works at UMaine in the Honors College half-time as the coordinator of advancement. As well as being an accomplished singer, she ran her first Tri for Cure triathlon this summer. Rep. Cain is 31 years old.

Why didn’t Gov. LePage have a bond package; the people of Maine always vote for them?

“Not having a bond package of 2011 means we are leaving hundreds of jobs on the table. No bonding is like moving backwards by standing still.

“We need the shot in the arm for our transportation industry, for businesses in the research-and-development sector, with more investment in the Maine Technology Asset Fund. We need the shot in the arm for our educational infrastructure, for the safety of our schools, colleges and the university system, so they can keep costs down for accessibility and affordability. We need more funds for conservation like the Land for Maine’s Future program, so we can continue to support Maine’s natural resource economy.

“This is the biggest economic disappointment from this session. Even a modest-size bond package would make a huge difference right now. People want to see consistent long-term investments. They provide short-term job creation with long-term economic benefits, and we can afford them.

“The people of Maine have not been afraid to say yes to jobs. Republicans were too afraid to give Maine people the chance for a bond package.”

Gov. LePage says he want to create jobs, yet his stance has been similar to the Gov. of Wisconsin. How can anyone be for jobs but against labor?

“This entire session has been a disconnect for me, because I think we should be fighting for working families in Maine, those that are in unions and those that are not. I don’t understand why union workers aren’t considered to be just as important as non-union workers in the eyes of some Republicans. For the first time since I’ve been in session, we’ve really seen attacks on working families. I think that’s bad for Maine. I want to focus on how we can create jobs for all the people of Maine.

“Unions have a strong history in Maine, and we have stood proudly and strongly with them. From the Governor’s Office, its been a consistent drumbeat of rhetoric that seems more connected to events outside of Maine, like Wisconsin, rather than addressing things happening within Maine. The sate treasurer has been running around promoting statements he wants people to believe are facts — about our state’s economy — to force an antigovernment agenda against union jobs.

“Democrats are on the side of Maine people and working families every time — whether it was the pension fight, right-to-work legislation, protecting the rights of collective bargaining, child-labor laws — we fought to the end. We stand up and stand with the people of Maine. We have not turned into Wisconsin.”

What kind of message is Gov. LePage sending to businesses that are thinking about coming to Maine or expanding here?

“Part of the Maine brand has always been our hardworking people, and we should be extraordinarily proud of them. They should be part of our pitch to companies that are coming from away to invest in Maine, or companies from Maine that want to expand here.

“We should always value and promote the hard-work ethic of the people of Maine. It’s defined both by organized labor and our small businesses that are on every street corner in Maine and every small town. We should have leadership that brags about all those people — not pit ourselves against each other. That’s a huge disservice to Maine workers, and we hurt our brand when we devalue Maine workers.”

You have served on the Appropriations Committee as a member and as co-chair. As the minority leader of the House of Representatives, you partake in committee budget negotiations. Coming out of this recession, the budget was austere and benefited wealthy Mainers. Why did it pass?

“It was a true compromise. When you look at how far we came from the original budget proposal, we did comparatively well. The Appropriations team was incredible. They put in a hundred percent effort. This was a values-driven process that focused on keeping our promise to state employees, maintaining the safety net, and protecting the most vulnerable by lowering the amount of the tax cuts from $203 million to $153 million.

“Democrat’s are not opposed to tax cuts. We proposed a different way of implementing them that would have been more responsible. Our plan focused on middle-income people and on things like making your Earned Income Tax Credit refundable, rather than just tax cuts for the wealthiest in the state.

“We were in agreement with some things related to structuring of the income tax, and small businesses. Democrats focused on the needs of low- to middle-income families, and workers — to keep money in their pockets.

“The good news is that Democrats have laid the groundwork for staying involved in the budget process next year and into the future.”

What was it like being in the minority for the first time since 1972?

“In the minority we had to redefine how we look at success. Working with my caucus, we have defined success three ways this session:

• First and foremost is the bipartisan work that we have done, like LD 1 regulatory reform and the budget.

• The second way is how we moderated initiatives and prevented harm within proposals like the environmentally extreme measures that were initially rolled out in LD 1. We managed to get rid of the most extreme measures. Our process was to moderate and mitigate harm to Maine people.

• And the third way is where we draw the line. There are stark differences between Democrats and Republicans that came to the front this session. Like with the law that repeals Election Day registration. There is no doubt Democrats are on the right side of this issue. We did not have the votes to win it, though we fought our hearts out.

“It’s a new way of thinking about success. We want to work together when and where we can. We have shown we can be excellent negotiators. We also are not afraid to say no when we identify a piece of legislation that is completely wrong for Maine people.

“I believe the best work we do, we do together. We can never forget that, but we do have strong differences. We have different values and principles. Democrats are on the side of working people and maintaining a safety net for people when they need it. We are on the side of accessible, affordable health care and higher education. We are working to make high-quality local schools that support kids from an early age. We look to our natural resources as a great economic asset that we need to sustain. We want and promote innovation. We value research and development. We want to be able to invest in a ma-and-pa store that has a great idea for a new product, which will grow jobs and employ more people.”

“This session has been an opportunity for us to take ownership of our core values, to defend and promote them. We did not let the Republicans roll back the progress that we have made over the last three decades. We haven’t and won’t stand on the sidelines — we will continue to stand with Maine people. This is our opportunity to remind people we are the best choice for Maine. For our economy, our schools, for people of all ages — we stand up for you.

How did your experience as a residential assistant in college help you to develop and manage a strong, successful caucus which held back most of the extreme Republican measures?

“My job was to help a large group of people to adjust to a new reality — that same concept helped me at the beginning of the session. I wanted people to get their sea-legs right away, so they could function at their highest level as soon as possible in a team effort, which they did extraordinarily well. They were great. I have a great team who listen and channel energy, effort, and work in positive directions.”

What has been your biggest challenge as minority leader in the House?

“When we came back after the election, it was like looking through the looking glass in Alice in Wonderland. We were in the opposite role. I’m the first Democrat to be minority leader since 1972. I have the most amazing caucus, 71 strong — full of energy, ideas and experience, expertise that inspire me every day.

“My biggest challenge has been my biggest opportunity — which was to redefine this role. When I look at this session and how well we have done being on the right side of issues, on standing up for our values and principals, I’m proud.

“Could we have done better? Of course. Are their battles we wish we had won? Absolutely, but at the end of the day there is not one of us who is not proud of our accomplishments; we have no regrets. How can we? We stood up for all the people of Maine. That’s what they sent us here to do.”