Former Ga. legislator challenges incumbent Breen in Senate District 25

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FALMOUTH — The election in Maine Senate District 25 will feature two candidates familiar with state government – although only one of them has experience in Maine.

Incumbent Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, is seeking a second term. Her challenger, Falmouth Republican Charles “Bart” Ladd, is a former Georgia state senator and representative.

Breen, 50, of Falmouth Ridges Drive, is a former town councilor and former middle school teacher. She was elected to the Senate in 2014 after several recounts and a decision by a special Senate committee.

Ladd, 59, of Foreside Road, an engineer by education, is a former U.S. Air Force combat pilot who was born in Boston; he is a now a pilot for Delta Airlines. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1991 to 1999, and then in the Georgia state Senate from 1999 to 2003, when he lost a primary re-election bid. He and his family moved to Maine in 2011.

Senate District 25 includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Action against LePage

In the wake of an obscene, profanity-laced voicemail left to State Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, many in and out of the Legislature have called for some level of action against the governor.

Breen said she was disappointed the Senate president, Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, did not call the Senate back into a special session to address the issue. That means the Senate won’t be able to discuss it until January, she said, when there will be a new Legislature.

“So we’ll see how the majorities work out, how the 128th Legislature wants to deal with it,” Breen said. “I certainly think what he did was unacceptable and reprehensible. I would have liked to go back into session and address the issue.”

In terms of specific action, like a censure or impeachment, Breen said the Legislature can only censure other members and not anyone in other branches of government. As for impeachment, she said that begins in the House of Representatives, with the senate acting as a jury in that process.

Breen said legislators “certainly could have reprimanded” LePage.

Ladd said he would have pushed for a censure, but an impeachment process would have been “crossing into treacherous waters.” While he said a censure wouldn’t have an effect other than a political one, he said it would “let the people of Maine know we’re serious.”

“(LePage has) obviously brought a lot of bad publicity to the state, and beside being crude and embarrassing, it’s unacceptable for an elected official,” Ladd said. “But I think you have to take this intermediate step before going on with anything.”

Opioid crisis

Breen said there is a need for a comprehensive approach calling for “robust law enforcement, robust education and prevention, and robust evidence-based treatment” for opioid users.

Breen said she was a lead senate sponsor on a bill that made Narcan – a medicine that can reverse opioid overdoses – available through “pharmacists rather than through only prescription.” She said this is necessary because often emergency medical responders arrive too late.

Ladd said in order to have a better sense of how best to allocate resources towards the crisis, he would have to be in the Legislature first. He said more needs to be done to address the problem, but he would need to learn more from “being on the inside” to see what resources are available.

No. 1 problem

Both Breen and Ladd said the economy is a major problem facing the Legislature. Breen said the Legislature must continue to take incremental steps to support growth of the economy and continue supporting industries “that are providing the best jobs and make sure that we have the work force that those industries need.”

Ladd said Maine is in “a demographic death spiral” and there need to be efforts to grow the state’s population. He said Maine has a lot to offer, but is being “dragged down” because of an aging population and tax burden on its citizens.

He said the state has to give people a reason to want to live in Maine full time, and property taxes are forcing people out of their homes. To combat this, Ladd said he would push for similar legislation he passed in Georgia, called the Homestead Option Sales Tax, which provides a combination of property tax relief for homeowners and funding for capital projects through a 1 percent sales tax.

Ladd said it was a “penny sales tax” that cut property taxes for homeowners in his district in Georgia by 40 percent, based on a calculation of the result of the sales tax from one year divided by the homestead properties from the following year.

Ladd said his program was “vastly different” from the Maine Homestead Exemption, which gives property owners of at least 12 months an exemption of $15,000. The value of a home, minus that exemption, is the sum that is multiplied by the millage rate to create the tax. Ladd said what HOST does is further reduce the millage rate.

Ladd admitted his equation is complicated, but maintained that it worked in Georgia, and that people from out of state were paying for the schools rather than property owners.

Clinton vs. Trump

Breen said she supports Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because “she’s eminently qualified and imperfect, just like everybody else who has run and served as president.”

Ladd said he had “no recommendation” as to who to vote for, but said there was no way he would support Clinton. He said he had been a strong supporter of Republican candidate John Kasich.

Key local issue

Breen said one of the biggest issues she has heard from constituents is “having the kind of economy and the kind of jobs that will bring kids back to Maine to work. So I will continue to look for mechanisms and incentives that will help.”

One mechanism to address that is a program called Opportunity Maine, she said, which is an income tax credit of up to $4,000 for college graduates who live and work in Maine to offset student loan payments.

“This is a very overt mechanism that it doesn’t matter where you get your degree, if you come live and work and Maine you will now be eligible for these income tax credits,” Breen said.

Ladd said property taxes are the key local issue in all the towns in Senate District 25, not just Falmouth. He said the first thing he can do once in office would be to start “whittling away at some of the tax burden and who pays for the schools and who pays for the services.”

Citizen initiatives

Both Breen and Ladd oppose Question 1, which seeks to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as an agricultural product. Breen said there is not enough scientific information on how marijuana effects the brain. Ladd said he is “1,000 percent” against it, because “it’s an accident waiting to happen” in terms of underage people getting marijuana and getting into dangerous situations.

On Question 2, which would establish a 3 percent tax on household incomes of more than $200,000 to fund education, Breen said she supports it because “it has great potential for property tax relief in my district” as well as bring “significant dollars” into the school district. Ladd said he opposes it, because the tax would continue to push people away from living in Maine, and he doesn’t think all the money will end up going to the schools.

Breen supports Question 3, which would require background checks for the sale and transfer of guns. Ladd does not support it, and said all it would do is burden law-abiding citizens.

Breen supports Question 4, which seeks to raise the $7.50-an-hour minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. She said there are more people in poverty and who are food insecure in the state now, and she doesn’t believe anyone working full time should have to go through that.

Ladd is against raising the wage, and said local economies suffered in cases around the country when the minimum wage was raised. He said in Seattle, for example, after the minimum wage was raised from $9.50 to $11 in 2015, jobs were lost and employment went down.

However, a study by the University of Washington claims the opposite, that job growth increased from mid-2014 to late-2015. The study’s researchers did not find compelling evidence that raising the minimum wage led to increased business failures.

Ladd also noted that even at local fast-food restaurants, the minimum wage is advertised as high as $11 an hour, so there isn’t a need to legislate an increase.

On Question 5, which would establish ranked choice voting in the state, Breen said she is in favor of the measure because it will promote civility. Ladd said ranked choice is “an interesting concept,” but he believes the two-party system of the United States made “our country uniquely strong.” He said he would rather see a run-off style election, where a candidate has to secure at least 50 percent of the vote to win.

Both candidates support Question 6, which would borrow $100 million for transportation projects.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.