“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
– FDR, 1944 State of the Union
“This town is dying”. I will never forget when Ray Gaudette, a selectman in Phillips, said this to me as we toured tax-acquired properties around town. Most of rural Maine has been dying for decades, and it will continue to die, or worse, if we keep electing the same politicians who push the same regressive policies that do nothing but enrich wealthy elites on the coast while the hard-working people of towns like Anson, Kingfield, and Phillips are left to fend for themselves. There are three issues that I’m focusing on in this campaign. I have selected them because they are important policy battles where our representatives need to stand up for the working people of our districts against large multinational corporations who have flooded Augusta with their lobbyists:
Ensuring the Maine Green New Deal by transitioning to a publicly-owned utility. Can you say with a straight face that you’re getting good service from CMP? Even a study for the same firm that consulted for Hydro Quebec as it planned the oh-so-beloved CMP corridor (which I oppose) has shown that a publicly owned utility would reduce costs for Maine ratepayers. That study, however, assumed the state would acquire CMP and Emera Maine’s infrastructure at 1.7 times their value, resulting in a short-term rate increase over several years. I support a fairer deal for Maine ratepayers, many of whom are on fixed incomes, that will still result in the savings that only a publicly-owned, tax-exempt utility with access to low-cost capital can provide, and will ensure the decarbonization of Maine’s electric grid. It has been joked that there are two CMP lobbyists for every legislator in Augusta. They will be unanimous in their hatred of this position. I welcome their hatred.
Supporting local organic farmers. As Rep. Craig Hickman said in his speech at the 2019 Common Ground Fair, “deep down everyone wants to be a farmer”. I support his proposed amendment to the Maine constitution that enshrines an unalienable right of Mainers to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their choosing, and to save and exchange seed. The food sovereignty ordinances that Phillips, Anson, and Starks adopted have been transformative for our local food systems. This amendment can be an important step towards making that transformation statewide.
I also support various bills currently in legislative limbo that would end the use of glyphosate (aka Roundup) near schools, evaluate the continued use of glyphosate, and get government out of the way of farmers who want to site solar installations on their USDA-classified farmland. If elected, I would introduce legislation to ban, or at least severely limit, not only the use of glyphosate but certain neonicotinoids that have been linked to the decline in the global bee population. We must protect the rights of Mainers to grow and consume food that is free of dangerous synthetic herbicides and pesticides.
A few short sentences on rural broadband. The ConnectMaine Authority’s Broadband Plan is one step forward and half a step back when it comes to deploying this vital 21st century infrastructure in our district. The agency needs to update its data with the new deployment information that will be provided by the FCC, or rely on studies already conducted by local nonprofits like the Greater Franklin Development Council in its estimates of the cost of a broadband buildout. Furthermore, it ought to return to its previous definition of underserved communities, where very few households can have service of at least 10 Mbps down / 10 Mbps up, as opposed to the FCC’s definition of 25 Mbps down / 3 Mbps up. The FCC definition simply does not allow for important telehealth uses for our seniors, educational uses for our students, and livestreaming uses for our tourism industry. While I strongly support the $15 million bond that will be on the ballot on July 14th, the $200 million over 5 years that the state appears to be budgeting for only covers 33% of the projected cost.
This funding matrix is anything but ideal. Most of ConnectMaine’s funding scenarios seem to estimate a 25% contribution from municipalities for broadband implementation grants, compared to the 16% that they have contributed over the past 5 years for various broadband planning grants. When the town of Phillips struggles to find $4,000 to fund a food pantry with heat, and the state asks them to find far more than that to build broadband connections to the home, that is not “having skin in the game”. It is taking a pound of flesh. The state should step up to make municipalities pay no more than 15% of any broadband implementation projects. I respectfully disagree with Charlie Woodworth’s proposal, made in his testimony in support of the bond, to increase the phone bill assessment that funds ConnectMaine and make it apply to cell phones. This is essentially a regressive tax. We have to find revenue sources that a hedge fund manager in Cape Elizabeth might feel, but a checkout clerk at Edmunds Market in Phillips or a small business owner in Anson won’t.
Finally, the ConnectMaine Broadband Plan says that “if no private provider is willing to serve, even with a capital subsidy, then a government-owned network may be the only viable alternative”. Just as a publicly-owned utility may be the only way to ensure quality, clean energy delivered to Maine ratepayers, we can’t leave out the option of a publicly-owned ISP providing fiber to the home in rural Maine. We have to treat broadband like the essential utility that it is, whatever the FCC says.
Notice that there’s no mention of the coronavirus in this post. This is because the progressive policies I believe in, where, as that radical democratic socialist Abraham Lincoln once said, “the legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot do so well for themselves in their separate and individual capacities”, are just as needed in the middle of this pandemic as they were before. Snow and wind storms are knocking out power all over the state in our centralized, for-profit power grid. Shortages at supermarkets have been common during this pandemic. The “homework gap” faced by families with limited internet options has never been more stark. These policies will still be the right thing to do after the pandemic, no matter what drastic budget cuts the Republicans try to sell you in the coming months.
Finally, this post is a living document. If you are a resident of House District 112 and you would like me to speak on a subject I have not addressed here, please reach out on Facebook, Twitter, or email. Don’t forget to vote in the primary on July 14th. The broadband bond will be on the ballot too. If you are a registered Maine voter, you can apply for an absentee ballot online here. If you aren’t registered to vote, there is a printable application here. Be sure to read the Secretary of State’s voter registration instructions here.
Stay safe and healthy,