We were only freshmen

Democrats in Maine and across the country took a drubbing during last week’s elections, but there were a few bright spots, including the city of Biddeford, where State Senator David Dutremble easily fended off a challenge by Republican James Booth; and where two political newcomers held their party’s seats in the Maine Legislature.

In fairness, it’s not especially hard for Democrats to win elections in Biddeford.

In the western part of the city, voters overwhelming chose Ryan Fecteau over Republican Debbie Davis to represent them in the House of Representatives, holding the seat that is currently occupied by Democrat Paulette Beaudoin, who was barred from running again by term limits.

And Democrat Martin Grohman easily won a three-way race in the central part of the city to hold onto the seat that is now held by Megan Rochelo.

Fecteau and Grohman will both be sworn into office in December, joining several other freshman legislators from both sides of the political aisle.

We asked Fecteau and Grohman to tell us about their priorities. The following are their un-edited e-mail responses.

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau
Ryan Fecteau

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

1. Focusing on ways to encourage and support the return of young people to Maine and also retain those that are still living here/going to school here.
2. Pulling Maine out of nearly dead last (currently 49th) as it concerns homes heated by natural gas (only 4 percent of Maine households) – careful attention to seniors who are especially vulnerable of fluctuating energy costs.
3. Pushing to fund education at 55 percent as mandated by voters. Currently, the failure to meet this mandate pushes the burden to the hyper-local level: property tax payers.
What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
Losing young people and families to neighboring states. Thus losing a skilled work force (in turn deterring businesses from locating here), future entrepreneurs, innovators, and a means to expanding the tax base.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
We must set ourselves from neighboring states by providing incentive to move to Maine. Whether it be a program to assist in paying off student loan debt or creating /funding incubators for the creation of start-ups, the programs must be aggressively advertised across the country. Young people are burdened by student loan debt, they are mobile, and they are looking for opportunities!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
I am not sure. Have not experienced or heard of any troubles with the number of bills introduced. The length of the legislative session is obviously a tight window for presenting and passing legislation; it would seem understandable for there to be a density of legislation despite the number of legislators. More focused on legislation that will positively impact people.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
It will be critical. Folks did not cast votes on Tuesday for gridlock; they voted their frustrations. They want results. A do-nothing legislature, gridlocked by partisanship, will not deliver the results that people are looking for. We need legislative leadership from both parties who are willing to work together for the best interests of Mainers.

Martin Grohman

Marin Grohman
Marin Grohman

What are your top three priorities heading into your freshman year?

Probably just to do the best job I can to represent Biddeford well.  Residents are interested in property tax relief, road and bridge infrastructure, and education.  And of course I’m a business guy – I want to see businesses grow, careers grow.

What do you think is the most serious issue facing the state of Maine?
I’m really interested in expanding access to health care.  Let’s think about a hypothetical parent, a single parent, mother of four, let’s call her Linda Smith.  Now if we cut her off of health care, you might think we’ve saved the State money.  But if she shows up at the ER, one of her kids shows up at the ER, we’re all going to pay for that one way or the other.  And in a world of epidemics and communicable viruses like Ebola, I don’t think having sick people without access to health care is going to work.  Plus, denying access to health care for ideological reasons just doesn’t make business sense to me – as I said, I’m a business guy.  Anyone in the health care business will tell you getting ahead of the problem saves money.
What can the Legislature do, if anything, about that issue? 
Man, I have no idea!
Would you favorably consider a bill that would limit the number of bills a legislator could introduce?
Probably not – I’d have to study it.  I think coming up with rules and regulations in reaction to a single case or a moment in time tends to cause problems.  But I’m willing to listen.
How important is bipartisan cooperation going to be during the next session?
Look, I’m new.  I’m a rookie.  I’ve served on a lot of boards, done some fairly high level stuff, national, international.  But I’ll have to learn the ropes.  That said, I kind of doubt I’ll just cast every vote along party lines, and hopefully my colleagues will value my viewpoint as I value theirs.
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Two for the show

Ryan Fecteau
Ryan Fecteau

Of the 151 seats in the Maine House of Representatives, only 19 of them will offer a primary option for voters on June 10.

One of those 19 Primary Election challenges is taking place right here in Biddeford, and I know both of the Democrats who are battling for their party’s favor.

Of course, since this is Biddeford, a city that consistently sends a Democrat to Augusta, at least in this central district, whichever candidate wins on June 10 will most likely be able to coast comfortably onward to Freshman Orientation Day at the Statehouse.

This evening (May 22) Ryan Fecteau and David Flood will participate in a televised debate that will be held in the Little Theater at Biddeford High School.

I will be live Tweeting from the event, but I encourage my fellow voters in Biddeford to attend and learn more about the candidates.

Expect Fecteau to lean toward progressive themes and talk about youth and new energy. Expect Flood to talk about his succesful business experience and moderate views.

Fecteau has been running a visible and strong ground game. It’s not yet clear where Flood’s campaign has been over the past few weeks.

David Flood
David Flood

Added Bonus: Former Mayor Joanne Twomey will be in attendance, rooting for Fecteau. Now, there’s a reason to vote for Flood!

 

Smoke on the water

Pot%20leaf_40Attitudes regarding marijuana have dramatically changed during the past two decades.

Those in favor of legalizing the drug are finding increasing support from an expanding constituency, including millenials who can now vote and health care providers who say the drug can benefit their patients.

Even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — not a likely Cheech & Chong fan — says it is time for marijuana to be legalized.

In an interview with Scott Simon on National Public Radio, the former justice said: “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that’s] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction.”

Talk about a dramatic shift. In 1987,  after admitting that he once used marijuana, Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg was forced to back away from the nomination process.

And last year, voters in both Colorado and Washington defied federal law and legalized the use of marijuana as a controlled substance.

But the quest to legalize marijuana in all 50 states face an uphill battle, best evidenced by what has happened in the Maine Legislature.

In November The Legislative Council, a 10-member group of legislative leaders,  split on a proposal that would have sent a statewide referendum question to voters. Because the vote was tied, it failed and cannot be considered again until the next Legislature convenes in 2015.

It was the third time the Legislature has rejected proposals by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) to legalize marijuana. Russell could not be reached for comment.

But State Rep. Alan Casavant (D-Biddeford) said he is glad the proposal failed.

“I voted against it every time,” Casavant said.

Casavant, who spent more than 35 years teaching high school, said he experienced first hand the impact of marijuana on his students.

“Legalizing it would be nothing more than a continued erosion of our culture,” he said. “I have heard all the arguments for and against, and I can’t support it.”

Casavant also said the issue should not be debated on a state-by state basis. “For it to happen, we really need some guidance from the federal government. It’s a very complicated issue. Where do you draw the line on intoxication, for example?”

Casavant says he is sympathetic to those who need marijuana for medicinal reasons, but says the risks still outweigh the benefits, even when considering that marijuana could provide a bumper crop of new tax revenue.

“As the mayor of a city, as a legislator, I am very aware of how we need new sources of revenue that will not impact people who are already struggling to keep up, but despite those realities, I can’t support this. Not now.”

State Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) said he is “evolving on the issue.” Chenette said he had initial apprehension about the issue when first approached for his support by Russell.

“Being a college student so recently, I have witnessed the rampant use of marijuana on campus,” Chenette said. “I am concerned about how young people will use it, but I also see the other side. I would be in favor of sending the question to referendum, but I have yet to formulate a strong opinion one way or the other. It’s something that warrants more study.”

Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford is hoping to be a member of the next legislature.

Fecteau, 21, says he generally supports the legalization of marijuana but does not want to see it included in the Maine Democratic Party’s platform because it could be wedge issue in a year when Maine Democrats need to be focused on bigger fish, including capturing the Blaine House.

“I think it should be treated the same as alcohol,” Fecteau said, adding that additional revenue from the state sale of marijuana could provide much-needed tax relief for seniors and revenue that could help fund critical programs.

With a little help from my friends

A few days ago, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page about the legalization of marijuana.

That informal survey drew more than 100 responses in 24 hours.

I was surprised by some of the responses. I was also fascinated to see that an almost even split of Republicans and Democrats were on each side of the issue.

Moreover, both men and women overwhelmingly support legalization (male approval led female approval by only a slight margin).

Women with children were equally split. Among male opponents, more than 75 percent are politically conservative, yet nearly 40 percent of male supporters are conservatives.

Here are a few charts to break it down for you:

weed2

 

women

 

men