PORTLAND — The essence of what government can and should do is at the core of the race in Maine House District 41, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Erik Jorgensen is challenged by Republican Jim Azzola.
“I have been in Maine for my entire adult life,” Jorgensen, 49, said. “I have a kid in the public schools in Portland, I had a job that took me all over the state, and have a pretty good understanding of day-to-day issues.”
Azzola, 55, of 33 Florence St., said he stands ready to dismantle state government and the impediments it places before individuals.
“People don’t have enough freedom, that is the main thing,” he said.
Jorgensen, of 83 Highland St., and Azzola are running in a district covering the center of the Deering neighborhoods on either side of Stevens Avenue. The boundaries were drawn based on data compiled in the 2010 U.S. Census.
The election is Nov. 4.
Jorgensen, the former director of the Maine Humanities Council, is seeking a second, two-year term.
“It comes down to Portland,” he said. “I really believe a healthy Portland is a healthy Maine.”
Jorgensen said he advocates expanding MaineCare by accepting federal funding. Expansion has been repeatedly vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, who has said the state cannot afford to pay for the share the federal government will eventually not cover.
“The master question for Maine in everything is having the oldest population in the nation, it affects everything,” Jorgensen said.
Controlling property taxes, developing better public transportation, home care for the elderly and ensuring transportation infrastructure is safe for bicyclists and pedestrians are critical, too, he said.
Economic development can come from revitalizing urban areas and, embracing the skills and changes immigrants are bringing to Maine, Jorgensen said
“Once they get going, they are tremendous additions to the community,” he said.
Developing cheaper energy will require state help but have economic benefits, Jorgensen said.
“I think subsidies are a part of life with any energy source,” he said. “The best kind of subsidies are the those that incentivize people to act a certain way.”
Jorgensen said he is particularly interested in developing wood biomass sources because it can be done entirely in the state, although he realizes there are competing demands for forest products.
To ease the property tax burden, Jorgensen said he would consider local-option taxes, but support can be risky.
“They are not a bad idea, but they do become a third rail,” he said. “The tax code really needs to be overhauled, but what that might look like, I don’t know.”
He said setting time limits or “sunset” clauses on tax exemptions and breaks should be considered.
Jorgensen said the city share of state education aid is challenged in several ways.
“I think Portland gets hammered in the EPS formula because we have high property values and a lot of poverty,” he said. New charter schools may attract students in a piecemeal manner, he added, that make it hard to cut existing public school programs.
A co-sponsor of the bill by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, to legalize and regulate marijuana sales and taxation, Jorgensen said he supports legalization, but will not make it a high priority if re-elected. He said he also has reservations about the question.
“I’m a parent, it is not a slam-dunk easy decision. I am ambivalent about it,” he said of potential wider use and availability that may come with legalization.
The short list of what Azzola would like to eliminate includes state income taxes, minimum wage and the Department of Education.
“It is really a convergence of various messages,” he said. “It has liberal, conservative and Green elements. I hope that what I have to offer is greater than what may offend people.”
An energy consultant with a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT, Azzola said his first campaign for elected office comes at a good time for him.
“The opportunity presented itself,” he said. “I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule and have always wanted to run.”
Azzola champions individual rights and reliance on free-market principles, but vows to end corporate subsidies and tax breaks, too.
“The best contribution any state can make is to get out of the way to ensure there is an orderly marketplace,” he said. “Let people decide for themselves. There is a collective intelligence.”
He said this does not mean the end of environmental regulation.
“(Government) should set up regulations such that public health and safety is assured,” he said. This could include bypassing the federal government for more regulation on railroad tank cars carrying oil through the state, he noted.
Eliminating, not increasing, the state-mandated minimum wage of $7.50 per hour would stimulate growth, Azzola said, because increasing the wage would lead to employers eliminating unprofitable jobs in the new wage structure.
Azzola said he supports creation of a state bank that would create its own currency backed by silver and gold to boost economic development by drawing global investment, bypassing Federal Reserve policies that he believes keep inflation artificially high, and funding state operations through banking fees.
Azzola was part of the successful city marijuana legalization effort and said he will work for the same thing statewide. He supports laws, however, that carry penalties for crime related to drug use.
Azzola would eliminate the DOE in favor of local control and vouchers allowing school choice based on the marketplace, he said.
He also supports reducing federal funding for student loans in order to draw students to “majors that are more in line with consumer choice.”
Being in favor of eliminating state income and business taxes does not mean Azzola opposes local-option taxes, he said.
“Government works far more efficiently on a local level,” he said. “I would look into those kind of options.”
His campaign has been rewarding, Azzola said.
“You just develop a saleman’s attitude,” he said. “You have to expect occasional rejection and outright outrage at some times. But you see a lot good positive energy.”
Maine House District 41