PORTLAND — The Maine House District 114 election pits Republican Eric Bleicken, a Vietnam War veteran and former U.S. Navy SEAL, against two-term incumbent Rep. Peter Stuckey, D-Portland.
District 114 includes East Deering, the east side of Washington Avenue to Falmouth, and the islands.
Bleicken, 71, described himself as a “disenfranchised Tea Party member, and not a happy one.”
He has never held elected office, although he has been a candidate for congressional and legislative seats in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He is president of Griffin LLC, an incubator for technology-based ventures in the national defense industry.
Bleicken said he brings a “strategic view of what needs to be done” that is drawn from his military experience.
Because of its international border, most of which is unguarded, “Maine is a unique place,” whose security is “both vulnerable and important,” he said.
In addition, the many cruise ships that visit Portland make it vulnerable to terrorism, according to Bleicken. And illegal immigration has created what he called “creeping (Islamic) law, which is unconscionable.”
In contrast to Bleicken, Stuckey, 65, has focused much of his work on issues related to children’s health, education and the environment.
In the Legislature, he serves on the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services. Prior to holding office, Stuckey worked as director of the Children’s Nature & Science Center and East End Children’s Workshop, and as a director at the People’s Regional Opportunity Program. He also co-founded the Good Day Market and the East Deering Neighborhood Association.
“I’m fairly progressive,” he said. “My feeling is that we’re all in this together. I think that represents a clear choice in this election.”
Stuckey is also clear in his opinions about reinvigorating Maine’s economy.
“The idea that giving tax breaks to the wealthy is a way to create jobs is just not supported by the evidence,” he said. “That’s especially true in Maine, where so much of our business is small business and dependent on people who aren’t in that bracket.
“It’s much more critical to be doing things closer to the ground.”
Those things include making health care more affordable for employers and employees, he said. He said he also supports the use of education, job-training and apprenticeship programs to build a more highly skilled, more sought-after workforce.
He cited the example of Maine’s Parents as Scholars program, which helps welfare recipients with children cover the costs of books, transportation, child care and other support in order to complete a college education. “That program is exceptionally effective,” Stuckey said.
Bleicken points to a different example of success. “Gov. LePage is doing an extraordinary job” in economic development, he said, citing the administration’s attempts to cut taxes and reduce the cost of doing business in Maine.
“There’s every reason for businesses to flourish in Maine, but they’ve been fleeing because of the high costs here,” he said. At least some of that cost, Bleicken said, stems from illegal immigration. And he believes the state needs a more far-sighted perspective.
“Maine suffers from a bike-shop mentality. There’s a lack of vision when it comes to new ideas,” Bleicken said. One example, he said, is the proposed east-west highway across northern Maine, which was supported by the governor but has been tabled in response to opposition in the Legislature.
“Sure, (the highway) was a gamble,” he said. “But this is the kind of thing people need to stand up for. Our long-term economic health is at risk.”
When it comes to the state’s social welfare programs, Bleicken draws a hard line.
While there should be a “network for people who truly cannot take care of themselves,” he said, “we can’t ask productive people to take care of non-productive people who can work.”
Controlling the cost of social welfare programs begins with clamping down on illegal immigration, he said. While he doesn’t know the exact magnitude of the problem in Maine, he said it has driven up the costs of social services so that they are “bankrupting the U.S.”
“This country cannot afford to open the floodgates … we need to get a handle on the illegal alien problem,” he said.
Portland is particularly affected, according to Bleicken. As a hub of the state’s population, economy and government services, Portland has become “sanctuary city” for people who are in the state illegally, he said.
But the problem of recipients abusing welfare programs or illegally obtaining benefits is greatly exaggerated, according to Stuckey. “The preponderance of people on the rolls are working hard to get off them. We do a disservice if we think otherwise,” he said.
“You can tighten up the general assistance program, but it’s the bottom of the safety net. If you don’t have it, you’re going to have people on the street … or getting services in more expensive venues,” Stuckey said.
Childhood hunger is a problem that is still under-addressed by government programs, he said.
“It seems to me almost criminal that we can’t find a better way to take care of hunger in children,” he said. “We have huge resources in this country, we just don’t collect them from the right people in the right amounts.”
The nation has huge resources when it comes to energy as well, according to Stuckey. “I absolutely support the development of alternative energy sources … there are some exciting things out there,” he said.
He said he’s particularly interested in the potential of tidal power. But there are pros and cons about wind power, he said, including environmental impacts that “still need to be sorted out.”
“But the best way to reduce our energy costs is to reduce our consumption,” Stuckey said, adding that greater emphasis on energy efficiency is a “win-win” that would encourage business growth and also put people directly to work.
Bleicken has a less optimistic view of alternative energy sources. “Most of them are a pipe dream,” he said. “They’re never going to power our nation.”
Instead, he supports the use of coal, oil shale and nuclear power as energy sources. “We should be an energy exporter. If we get government out of the way, if we cut these resources loose, we can be,” he said.
Bleicken and Stuckey have very different opinions on Question 1, the state referendum that would legalize same-sex marriage.
“I oppose it,” Bleicken said. “I don’t want to legitimize it. Allowing marriage for same-sex couples would send a message, especially to young people, that is wrong.”
Stuckey, who cosponsored the bill to create the referendum, said, “Of course, I’m going to vote yes. I don’t get what the problem is … this is almost a non-issue.”